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 Post subject: The 11 Winnetou Films Of The 1960s.
PostPosted: Sat May 26, 2007 10:56 am 
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Location: U.S.A.
Now that a new forum section has been added for the films, television programmes, and plays based on Karl May’s work, I shall start off by listing films that involve May’s most famous character, Winnetou, chief of the Mescalero Apaches.

May’s work was far more extensive than just the stories with or about Winnetou. He wrote stories that take place in the Middle East and Mexico. There are in fact some connexions between these different groups of stories. In the Winnetou stories, the main characters include Old Shatterhand, a young German adventurer who travels to the Old West and ultimately becomes a blood brother to Winnetou. In the Winnetou stories aimed at adult readers (the “travel narratives”), the narrator is Old Shatterhand, who was supposed to be Karl May himself (thus, Winnetou calls Shatterhand “Scharlih”, mispronouncing “Charlie”). Old Shatterhand was a world-traveller, and in the Middle East, he was known as Kara Ben Nemsi, the protagonist of the Oriental Odyssey series.

I suspect that English-speaking people become acquainted with Karl May primarily through Winnetou, and particularly through the German films produced in the 1960s. Thus, I shall initiate this new forum section by discussing these films, on which I will post topical messages as time permits.

There were eleven Winnetou films produced between 1962 and 1968. These were large-scale films, beautifully photographed in wide-screen formats, and filmed at spectacular locations in Croatia, part of the former Yugoslavia. In 1962, producer Horst Wendlandt, supposedly inspired by his ten-year-old son Matthias, spent 3.5 million Deutsche Marks to make “Der Schatz im Silbersee” (“The Treasure of Silver Lake”), making it the most expensive film production in Germany up to that time. The risk was justified, however, since the film met with immense popularity and became the most successful German film to that point. It received the first “Goldene Leinwand” (“Golden Screen”) award in 1964, because it had sold at least three million tickets within an eighteen-month period. Critical to this success were the casting of French actor Pierre Brice as Winnetou, and American actor Lex Barker as Old Shatterhand (both of whom continued in their roles throughout the series), and the beautiful, almost-elegiac musical score composed by Martin Böttcher (who scored nine of the eleven films; his leitmotif “Old Shatterhand Melodie” became a popular hit in Germany). Pierre Brice’s transcendent portrayal of Winnetou perfectly captured the spirit of Karl May’s character, and has made the actor famous to this day.

The success of “Der Schatz im Silbersee” had another far-reaching consequence: it led directly to the production of Italian Western films (the so-called “spaghetti westerns”). Indeed, had it not been for Karl May, Sergio Leone might have remained little known outside of Italy, and Clint Eastwood might still be a television star.

The Winnetou films, and their commercial success, also inspired the production of the “Indianer” Western films in the former East Germany, starring Gojko Mitic, who had first portrayed several Indian characters in the former series, and who portrayed Winnetou on the open air stage at Bad Segeberg, Germany from 1992 to 2006, taking over from Pierre Brice.

Some of the Winnetou films were based on specific Karl May stories, and some were not, but even the former lacked, to significant degrees, fidelity to their sources. Yet these films, unique amongst Westerns in style and sensibility, capture the genuine “Karl May-feeling”. While they were not the first Westerns to present American Indians in a positive light (Anthony Mann’s “The Devils Doorway”, starring Robert Taylor, and Delmer Daves’ “Broken Arrow”, starring Jeff Chandler and James Stewart, both of 1950, are significant early examples), they, and the East German Westerns they inspired, were very significant for this aspect.

Karl May’s vision of the Wild West was unique: highly romanticised, overflowing with adventure, and reflecting a potent spiritual and moral sensibility. This comes through very strongly in the films, for they were faithful to these qualities of May’s work, even if the screenwriters made free with the plots.

The Winnetou films, and other German Westerns, were never as popular in the United States as the Italian Westerns. In part this can be explained by infelicitous editing, and the poor dubbing of Winnetou (who was given an atrocious American voice and clichéd Indian phrasing). But I think it is the very thing that makes the films so special and wonderful—Karl May’s vision—that caused them to be met mostly with indifference in the United States: the American tradition is pragmatic, not romantic.

A few days ago, in an e-mail message to Marlies Bugmann, I wrote: “One could say that May’s Wild West was idealised: the West as a beautiful dream.” Later that day, I showed a DVD of “Der Schatz im Silbersee” to some-one who had no prior experience of Karl May or German Westerns. This person independently described the film as “like a dream”; thus, at least one American can understand, and value, May’s vision. I hope that, in time, more English-speaking people will discover, or re-discover, the Winnetou films, and perhaps, become inspired to read some of the superb translations of Karl May now available.

The eleven Winnetou films are:

[1] “Der Schatz im Silbersee” (“The Treasure in Silver Lake”, U.S. title, “The Treasure of Silver Lake”), 1962, starring Pierre Brice as Winnetou and Lex Barker as Old Shatterhand. Based on the novel of the same title. Music by Martin Böttcher. Directed by Harald Reinl.

[2] “Winnetou 1. Teil” (“Winnetou Part 1”, U.S. title, “Apache Gold”), 1963, starring Pierre Brice as Winnetou and Lex Barker as Old Shatterhand. Based on the book of the same title. Music by Martin Böttcher. Directed by Harald Reinl.

[3] “Old Shatterhand” (U.S. title, “Shatterhand”, U.K. title, “Apaches Last Battle”), 1964, starring Pierre Brice as Winnetou and Lex Barker as Old Shatterhand. Not based on a Karl May story. Music by Riz Ortolani. Directed by Hugo Fregonese.

[4] “Winnetou 2. Teil” (“Winnetou Part 2”, U.S./U.K title, “Last of the Renegades”), 1964, starring Pierre Brice as Winnetou and Lex Barker as Old Shatterhand. Based on the book of the same title. Music by Martin Böttcher. Directed by Harald Reinl.

[5] “Unter Geiern” (“Amongst Vultures”, U.S. title, “Frontier Hellcat”), 1964, starring Pierre Brice as Winnetou and Stewart Granger as Old Surehand. Based on a book of the same title, which was in turn compiled from the stories “Der Geist des Llano Estacato” (“The Ghost of the Llano Estacado”) and “Der Sohn des Bärenjägers” (“The Son of the Bear Hunter”). Music by Martin Böttcher. Directed by Alfred Vohrer.

[6] “Der Ölprinz” (“The Oil Prince”, U.S. title, “Rampage at Apache Wells”), 1965, starring Pierre Brice as Winnetou and Stewart Granger as Old Surehand. Based on the novel of the same title. Music by Martin Böttcher. Directed by Harald Philipp.

[7] “Winnetou 3. Teil” (“Winnetou Part 3”, U.S. title, “The Desperado Trail”), 1965, starring Pierre Brice as Winnetou and Lex Barker as Old Shatterhand. Based on the book of the same title. Music by Martin Böttcher. Directed by Harald Reinl.

[8] “Old Surehand” (U.S. title, “Flaming Frontier”), 1965, starring Pierre Brice as Winnetou and Stewart Granger as Old Surehand. Based on the book of the same title. Music by Martin Böttcher. Directed by Alfred Vohrer.

[9] “Winnetou und das Halbblut Apanatschi” (“Winnetou and the Half-Breed Apanatschi”, U.S. title, “Half-Breed”), 1966, starring Pierre Brice as Winnetou and Lex Barker as Old Shatterhand. Not based on a Karl May story. Music by Martin Böttcher. Directed by Harald Philipp.

[10] “Winnetou und sein Freund Old Firehand”, (“Winnetou and his Friend Old Firehand”, U.S. title, “Thunder at the Border”), 1966, starring Pierre Brice as Winnetou and Rod Cameron as Old Firehand. Not based on a Karl May story. Music by Peter Thomas. Directed by Alfred Vohrer.

[11] “Winnetou und Shatterhand im Tal der Toten” (“Winnetou and Shatterhand in the Valley of the Dead”, U.S. title, “In the Valley of Death”), 1968, starring Pierre Brice as Winnetou and Lex Barker as Old Shatterhand. Not based on a Karl May story. Music by Martin Böttcher. Directed by Harald Reinl.


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