One day author Patricia Highsmith received a call from her agent, saying some 'crazy German director' was determined to film one of her novels. When director Wim Wenders met with Highsmith at her Swiss home, she pulled out the manuscript for a new Ripley novel - an unpublished work whose film rights had not yet been snapped up by a producer.
Better known for "Strangers on a Train" - made into a classic thriller by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951 - Highsmith gained greater prominence when her novel "The Talented Mr. Ripley" was filmed as "Purple Noon" in 1960, and under its original title, in 1999. Featuring the amoral Tom Ripley, the popular character has been respectively played by Alain Delon and Matt Damon; so it's rather fascinating to watch iconoclastic Dennis Hopper take a stab at Ripley - part American cowboy, part overly sensitive criminal, who takes great offense at a brief display of attitude from Bruno Ganz at the film's beginning.
Wenders' commentary track is emboldened by the presence of Dennis Hopper, and the first hour offers some lively discussion about the film's locations in New York City, Paris, and Hamburg - three international centers whose tourist qualities are downscaled to near mundane for the benefit of the film's unglamorous characters.
Wenders admits he has an inability to understand, let alone create dark characters - a problem that's sometimes plagued his later attempts to create memorable villains for his own nostalgic thrillers - yet Hopper offers an subtle interpretation of a wandering amoral crook, which never falters amid the production's heavy usage of improvisation. Wenders rewrote scenes the night before the next day's filming, and Hopper improvised several passages that were largely retained in the film. Initially a frustrating ploy for stage-trained Bruno Ganz, the actors eventually settled into a symbiotic rhythm - one of several intriguing aspects discussed in the commentary, with Hopper describing his Method training, and recollections of Nicholas Ray and James Dean.
Wenders also details his Hamburg locations - then a crumbling series of tall homes in a gray industrial tract that, architecture aside, could easily pass for the decaying tenement housing of the Bronx. The director also discusses his own career at the time of "The American Friend," and the team of actors - many veteran European and American directors - employed for the film.
There's also some amusing anecdotes concerning Hopper and John Ford, and Hopper's physical state when arriving in Germany after a flight from the Philippine jungle after his tour of duty in "Apocalypse Now." The last half hour becomes rather dry, though, and Hopper disappears quietly until the ending, where the two discuss Hopper's trippy "The Last Movie."
As with Anchor Bay's other Wenders releases, this DVD includes a lengthy montage comprised of deleted material, trims, outtakes, and a few behind-the-scenes shots of Wenders in action. The gallery includes a pair of deleted scenes involving Ripley's housekeeper - a character ultimately dropped from the final script and film - and Ganz' wife (Lisa Kreuzer) at her job as a voice artist for a film dubbing company. Pretty much all of the excised material is unnecessary for the film, but it offers an intriguing glimpse how entire characters and background material can be shorn without harming the integrity of a movie.
Like the film proper, the deleted material is presented anamorphic, and scenes missing original audio are tracked with extracts from Jürgen Knieper's haunting score. An optional director commentary gives some background to the unused material, including an unused title plate with Nicholas Ray painting a black canvas. As with the film, optional English subtitles appear over any German dialogue.
Also included is the film's German trailer, and detailed biographies for Wenders, Hopper, and Bruno Ganz.
Note: Soundtrack is a German/English track with optional English subtitles that only appear over German dialogue.
Wenders and Nicholas Ray would collaborate on the latter's performance swansong, "Lightning Over Water," in 1979.
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan