Chingachgook, die grosse Schlange (1967)

a.k.a. - Chingachgook the Great Snake

Gojko Mitic stars in a Frontier Western Indianerfilm based on a novel by James Fenimore Cooper. FRF USA R0 DVD

The Film

The Rialto Film series of 1960s Westerns based on the books of Karl May proved highly popular among West German audiences, so the East German DEFA Films company looked to create their own Westerns, producing Die Söhne der großen Bärin (1966), a historical movie based on the Indian Wars of the late 1800s and emphasising the brutality of the American soldiers and settlers towards the Natives.

In the early days of the west, the Delaware and Huron tribes are locked in their age-old conflict, but now there is a growing danger as the British and French forces begin to encroach on their territory, fighting to colonise the Americas. Chingachgook (Gojko Mitic) a Mohican, living with the Delwares since his tribe was exterminated, is preparing to marry Wahtawa when it is discovered that she has been spirited away by the Huron. Along with his friend, the trapper Deerslayer, he sets out in persuit. Deerslayer meets his friend Harry Hurry and they travel to the floating house of Tom Hutter on the lake. Chingachgook arrives there too, but finds Harry and Tom have a real hatred of the Red Men and plan to visit the Huron village to collect scalps. They are quickly captured by the Indians and Chingachgook and Deerslayer have to work out how to save the men and Wahtawa...

After the success of Die Söhne der großen Bärin (1966), based on a historical novel by Communist Party member Liselotte Welskopf-Henrich, DEFA took a very different approach with their second film, looking to the fictional work of American writer James Fenimore Cooper and his book The Deerslayer (the first part of the series that included the iconic Last of the Mohicans). Again the film looks to emphasise the brutality that the settlers had against the Native Americans and this time, thanks to the period, can take shots against the British as well.

The story follows the book quite closely which does lead to some compression problems as the writers seem insistant on including most of the elements of the lengthy book into the short film runtime, the denoument regarding Tom Hutter's past in particular seems incredibly rushed and would have been better left out as it just seems randomly stuck in. Fortunately the rest of the story works well and the determination to include the whole story into the runtime means that the pacing is pretty brisk, particularly compared to slow pacing of most of the other Indianerfilm. On its own merits, the story is entertaining with a good selection of characters, a decent love interest story and building up to an action packed climax.

Veteran German director Richard Groschopp does some solid work behind the camera, with some great looking location shots in Bulgaria - the mountain backed lake looks absolutely perfect for the East American setting. The editing has improved somewhat from the very amateurish display in Die Söhne der großen Bärin, although the action scenes still do not flow particularly smoothly. Wilhelm Neef returns to provide another good main score, although again the incidental scores, probably library music, are inappropriately jazzy in places.

Gojko Mitic returns to again play the lead role and although not the most impressive actor, he gives some very impressive gymnastic displays (carefully filmed so that we can see he didn't use a double) and fortunately the part never really requires him to emote. Young Rolf Römer looks good as the Deerslayer, although he and the rest of the cast cannot escape a distinctly German appearance that never quite gels with the setting.

Decently adapted from James Fenimore Cooper's novel, Chingachgook, die grosse Schlange is an enjoyable example of the Indianerfilm and well paced, although slightly rushed in places and the editing can be a little shaky at times. Recommended to fans of the series and of the books and certainly of interest to all fans of the Frontier Westerns.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Gojko Mitic - Jugoslavian born actor who starred in the first Indianerfilm Die Söhne der großen Bärin (1966)
Directed by anyone interesting? Richard Groschopp - a German director who made a large number of films dating back to the 1930s, although none of them gained any notice in the West.
Any gore or violence ? A little blood
Any sex or nudity? None
Who is it for? Recommended to fans of the Frontier Western and the books of James Fenimore Cooper.

Visuals Aspect Ratio - 1.85:1. Not anamorphically enhanced. Colour.
Original aspect ratio believed to be 2.35:1, cropping on the sides is very evident
Good colours and detail, although there is noticable grain and a few tramlines.
Audio German audio - sounds fine.
Subtitles English - translate the German.
Extras This disc includes:
  • Interview with Gojko Mitic - he discusses how he came into films and this film in particular. In German with English subs (9 minutes).
  • On screen text notes on the background to the film.
  • Brief on screen text biographies of the two leading actors and the director.
  • Picture gallery - manually scrolling publicity stills for this film as well as 'Apachen' and 'Chingachgook, die grosse Schlange'.
  • A newly created trailer for the DEFA Western collection - includes selection of clips from the three available films as well as several more not yet on DVD. Interesting but tantalising viewing. (10 minutes)
Region Region 0 (ALL) - NTSC
Availability Available on its own or in the Westerns with a Twist boxset, along with 'Apachen' and 'Chingachgook, die grosse Schlange'.
Other regions? Also available on DVD in Germany, with no English options.
Cuts? Cut status unconfirmed - no apparent cuts. German language print.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 8th August 2009.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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