by Douglas Messerli
As the third in a series of films using the tropes of American gangster films, Fassbinder’s Der amerikanische Soldat (The American Soldier) is the least narrative and the most abstract. Like the two other previous works, Love Is Colder Than Death and Gods of the Plague, the action, embedded in the underworld of Munich, involves tough-guy punks who returning to that German city, look up their old friend Franz Walsch (played in Fassbinder in the earliest film and Harry Baer in the second, and resurrected and again played by Fassbinder in The American Soldier) who vaguely reacclimatize themselves to the city by visiting old haunts—bars and neighborhoods—and, after reestablishing a close relationship with his male friend that borders on a homoerotic if not utterly homosexual bonding, finding themselves facing the barrel of a gun. If that homoerotic bonding is missing from the third film—although The American Soldier ends with a far stranger homosexual situation that the first two—it is because the central character of the third film, Ricky (Karl Scheydt) is a loner who, although encountering some of the same figures who appear in the other two films, in particular the porn-seller Magdalena Fuller (Katrin Schaake in this version), doesn’t really sexually commit to anyone. If fact, one might argue, Ricky is not so much a character-as-type in this instance as he is a type-as-pretended character. For in The American Soldier is it clear that Fassbinder is less interested in any coherent narrative plot that in simply illuminating the archetypal figures underlying the whole series of loosely inter-connected films.