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Karl-May-Forum • View topic - - hands for Karl May

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The first English language forum dedicated to one of the most enigmatic and successful German writers of all time
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 Post subject: - hands for Karl May
PostPosted: Mon Jun 18, 2007 10:00 pm 
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How do you think about the idea of Karl May for his heros:

Old Shatterhand
Old Firehand
Old Surehand

And, how do you think about the film "Firehand" Rod Cameron and the
film "Surehand" Old Surehand???

Lex Barker is perfect as "Shatterhand" - but the others?


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 2:32 am 
What do I think of Karl May's heroes? Very colourful - in every aspect. Just the other day, in the German language forum, I said that since 1912, there has NOT been another writer who created such a caleidoscope of genre-mix, querky heroes and villains, and plethora or exotic locations (dialogue partners there had similar if not the same views).
As to the cast ... well ... I read Pierre Brice's autobiography and have formed a private view on the Old Surehand casting, which I shall keep to myself, that alone may be telling.
Old Firehand casting was nothing like the true 'Huehne' or 'Recke' of Karl May's description.
However, neither the movies, nor the characters are true to Karl May's portrayal.
I strictly separate Karl May text from Karl May movies. The two exist side by side, interact on some levels, can be enjoyed in their entirety, but separately.

None of the movies, not even the first, Treasure of Silver Lake, has adhered to Karl May's plot - S.L. perhaps remotely.

The only characters who were spot-on were Winnetou and Old Shatterhand (P.B. and L.B.).


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 7:50 am 
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There can be no purely objective criteria by which to judge the fidelity with which a literary character is portrayed in a film. Each reader creates a mental image of both the physical appearance and the manner, based upon what information the author provides. It could be argued that the author’s opinion on casting, if available, would be the most legitimate; but then one hears of the opinions of authors regarding the casting of film versions of their work, and sometimes these opinions seem incredible to others.

There is widespread agreement amongst Karl May fans that Pierre Brice as Winnetou and Lex Barker as Old Shatterhand were inspired casting choices. There is no question that they were both absolutely superb in their parts; and Pierre Brice now is Winnetou—his portrayal has become inseparable from the character. Neither Barker nor Brice appear exactly like the physical descriptions given by May. For example, Barker was six feet, four inches tall, and broad-shouldered, whereas Old Shatterhand (who is Karl May’s alter ego) was supposed to be of average size for the time (which was well under six feet). Pierre Brice is officially five feet, eleven and one-quarter inches tall; this figure strikes me as somewhat inflated, as was often the case in “official” figures of this kind. Winnetou was not described as a large man, so in stature, Brice fit the part well, especially in reference to the much larger Barker (though in the stories, the two characters would have been of similar size). Otherwise, Barker and Brice fit the physical descriptions reasonably well, being perhaps idealisations—unrealistically handsome—which would be in keeping with Karl May’s sensibility. In manner, both portrayals were as accurate as possible, given the constraints of the parameters of the films. They both captured the spirit of the characters.

Old Surehand and Old Firehand were described by May as very tall and powerfully-built men. Stewart Granger, at six feet and three inches, had the stature for the part of Surehand, though his hair was short and certainly did not reach to his waist as in the character description. The first two of Granger’s three Winnetou films were based on stories that did not include the character Old Surehand; in those films, his character was essentially a replacement for Old Shatterhand, just as Old Shatterhand had displaced Old Firehand in the film “Der Schatz im Silbersee” (“The Treasure of Silver Lake”). Granger thus created his portrayal rather freely, and did not change it when he made “Old Surehand” (“Flaming Frontier”), which was based on a story about that character. Granger’s work in the Winnetou films can not be fairly judged on the basis of faithfulness to the original character of Old Surehand. He brought a welcome light-hearted and witty approach to his characterisation, which was, in my opinion, extremely likable. While there was nothing quite like it in the works of Karl May, it was certainly somewhat in keeping with the Karl May-feeling.

It is no secret that Stewart Granger disliked working on the Winnetou films. It has been told that he complained about everything, using the most vulgar language. He was a thorough professional, however, and none of his ill-temper shows in the films. (And note that film stars who had worked in Hollywood, and become accustomed to “star treatment”, often had difficulties with the conditions prevailing in overseas productions. I can cite, off-hand, examples like Brian Donlevy, when he made two science fiction films for Hammer in the U.K. in the 1950s, and Richard Widmark, when he made “To the Devil, a Daughter” for Hammer in 1976. Despite their abrasive interaction with the production teams, they provided excellent performances.) Granger never quite understood the nature of the Winnetou films, or the Karl May stories. I believe he once asked, rhetorically, “Why are these characters all ‘Old’?” At that point in his career, even the name of his character—Old Surehand—was a point of concern and annoyance. Speaking for myself only, I am glad that Granger made his three Winnetou films, and wish he had made the two “Old Surehand” sequels that were planned.

Rod Cameron, at a strapping six feet, five inches, certainly fit May’s physical description of his character Old Firehand. Firehand was supposed to be middle-aged—about forty years old—and, while Cameron was about fifty-six when he made “Winnetou und sein Freund Old Firehand” (“Thunder at the Border”), he looked about right for the part. His portrayal was friendly and engaging, and quite charismatic. Since the film was not based on any Karl May story, and since, like “Old Shatterhand” (“Apaches Last Battle”), it was deliberately made in a different style than the other Winnetou films, it is difficult to assess how accurate Cameron’s performance was, in reference to the character as created by Karl May. However, it would be reasonable to suggest that, unlike Lex Barker and Stewart Granger, Cameron did not invest his performance with the idealised qualities May intended for many of his heroic characters, including Old Firehand (and it did not help that, since the film was scored by Peter Thomas, Cameron did not have the benefit of an ethereal “Old Firehand-Melodie” by the great Martin Böttcher—perhaps Karl May fans should take up a collection and commission such a piece from Mr Böttcher! ....and I do not say this entirely in jest....). It is too bad that Rod Cameron made only one Winnetou film; I should have liked to see him in an actual Karl May story.

If one desires to be particularly picky about a discrepancy in appearance and manner, between a Karl May “Old” character and his film depiction, consider Old Wabble in Stewart Granger’s three Winnetou films, as portrayed by the likable Milan Srdoc, who was in his forties at the time. Old Wabble was supposed to be over ninety years old, with very long white hair. In the films, the character was transformed into a jittery sidekick to Old Surehand.

But the films—all of them—are unique and beautiful works of art, and they are full of the Karl May-feeling, even if they are not literally faithful to May’s stories.


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 8:46 am 
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........and speaking of Pierre Brice’s autobiography, “Winnetou und Ich”: it would be delightful to see an English translation :wink: . In addition to the German edition, there are now, I believe, Czech and Rumanian versions. While it would be unrealistic to expect an English translation (because, alas, Mr Brice is not well-known in English-speaking countries), it is surprising that there is as yet no French edition, given the fact that Brice is French :? ........


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PostPosted: Tue Jun 19, 2007 9:01 am 
I just received the Orient box and the Surehand box and can't wait to watch them (I won't spoil our get together fun by watching them before that) ... so yes, they are a work of art in their own right - not for nothing they get airing year after year after year after year.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 20, 2007 10:25 pm 
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Philip, I like also Rod Cameron in his part of "Old Firehand". He looks quite good and is much better in the part of a Karl May hero as Stewart Granger (on the other side is Granger's style excellent for western movies).

The problem of the "Old Firehand" movie is the bad story and the music (I miss also the "Old Firehand-Melody"). And, the German voice of Pierre Brice in the movie is a desaster.

Marlies - yes, Karl May movies and novels are two different parts. I like the movies, but I read also the novels. The style of the 1960s Karl May movies is unforgettable... Remember the great cast (Lex Barker, Pierre Brice, Ralf Wolter, Marie Versini, Rik Battaglia, Gustavo Rojo, Mario Adorf, Herbert Lom, Guy Madison, Karin Dor ....).


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 21, 2007 6:51 am 
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Reiner: Yes, Stewart Granger’s portrayal of Old Surehand is very different than what Karl May intended. May’s heroes were serious men, not given to humorous asides or a flippant manner (although, when Old Shatterhand narrates, in the travel stories, there are quite a few very witty observations—but these are between Shatterhand and the reader; Shatterhand’s behaviour and speech in the adventures is almost always serious). Since I came to know of Karl May’s work through the films, Granger’s style as Old Surehand did not seem “wrong” to me, in the context of his three Winnetou films. I did realise, the first time I saw a Winnetou film, that I was seeing something very special, and I understood the Karl May-feeling before I ever read one of his stories. I think that, if we look beyond the comical part of Granger’s performances, we can see that his Old Surehand is still in the realm of the idealised, romantic Karl May hero.

Rod Cameron took his part as Old Firehand seriously, and in addition, the character, in his interpretation, was very engaging and likable. The sub-plot, with Jace idolising Firehand, before finding out that the latter was his father, was most amusing, as was the interplay between Cameron and Nadia Gray; although none of this had anything to do with Karl May. But I agree that the story had very little Karl May-feeling. The film (for other readers, “Winnetou und sein Freund Old Firehand”) has a bit of the style of the Italian Westerns, probably intentional, which does not do for Winnetou or Firehand at all! And while Peter Thomas’ score for the mini-series “Mein Freund Winnetou” was not bad (though entirely lacking the Karl May-feeling) his music for "Firehand" was forgettable and of the wrong sensibility. In fact, the Firehand film is a perfect demonstration of the extraordinary importance of Martin Böttcher’s music in creating the world of Winnetou on film.

One nice aspect of “Winnetou und sein Freund Old Firehand” was the return of Marie Versini as Nscho-Tschi. And yes, the casting of all of the Winnetou films was superb! I would add to your impromptu list the extremely charismatic Götz George, who certainly added some amazing energy—and acrobatics—to three of the Winnetou films. It was also a pleasure to see familiar character actors, such as Vladimir Medar. And we must not forget Gojko Mitic, who started out his “Indianer” career in five of the Winnetou films, most notably as Wokadeh in “Unter Geiern”!

--Philip


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 21, 2007 10:40 pm 
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... The casting was fantastic!!!

All of these actors/actresses did a wonderful career.

And the public never forgot any of them...


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