Today a cult film, The American Friend is based on the novel "Ripley's Game" by Patricia Highsmith and won the German Critics Prize in 1977. Frame maker Jonathan (Bruno Ganz) believes he is dying from a blood-disease.
Jonathan's American friend, displaced cowboy Ripley (Dennis Hopper), decides to use his illness to his advantage. Ripley introduces him to a gangster who proposes to the dying man that he should become a professional mob assassin, assuring a large legacy for his wife and children. Since he is facing death anyway, what has he to lose? Ripley had originally intended to allow Jonathan to do the dirty work that he didn't feel like doing, but has second thoughts when he becomes friends with the doomed man.