Treasure of Silver Lake (1962)

a.k.a Der Schatz im Silbersee
 
Herbert Lom and Lex Barker star in the first Karl May Western, from director Harald Reinl. UFA German R0 boxset disc.
 

The Film

By the 1960s the German film industry was on the way to recovery after the damaging effects of the Second World War. After a decade of small scale dramas and neo-realist productions the film companies had the budgets to make films on a grander scale - the obvious source of inspiration for these films were the novels of Karl May - widely read across the German speaking world, they were incredibly popular. While the later European Westerns were often politically charged and gritty, the Karl May Westerns were family targeted adventure films with big scale action scenes remniscent of the classic American Westerns and classic black and white good/evil characterisation:

Somewhere in the Old West, bandits hold up a stagecoach - on board, Colonel Brinkley (Herbert Lom) has shot dead the passengers and executes the driver. The coach horses run into town and Fred Engel discovers the body of his father is on board; rashly setting out to track down the killer he runs into Old Shatterhand (Lex Barker) who has discovered the site of the attack, and mistakenly attacks him. Shatterhand calms him down and they ride on, with some friends from the town, to follow the trail of the killers. It transpires that Engel's father had one half of a map, leading to a fortune in treasure at Silver Lake, that the Colonel has now stolen. Both Shatterhand's men, and the Colonel's head to find Mr Patterson who holds the second half of the map, and then on to find the treasure - but when Shatterhand is accused of destroying an Indian village and the Colonel kidnaps Patterson's daughter, things become more complicated...

Karl May's original novel, written in 1890, is rather loosely adapted for the screen here. While the basic concept remains, most of the characters and settings have been altered - a lengthy sequence aboard a paddle steamer is missing, as is the character of Aunt Droll, while the characters of Old Firehand and Old Shatterhand are merged into one. Unfortunately the film does seem noticably sanitised compared to the original novel (aimed at the 15 - 20 youth market, compared to the film's almost family friendly tone) - and although the Colonel is still very bad (shooting a man in cold blood), he is not the sadistic villian of the novel, making his massacre of an Indian village seem rather out-of-character.

Generally though, these changes (many of them presumably caused by time and budget limits) do not harm the film, and the screenplay is quite sucessful - effectively carrying the film between its numerous exciting set-pieces without dragging - although the pace of the film is generally slow and the subsequence series entries were cut down to 90 minute runtimes. Comic relief is provided by the eccentric Lord Castlepool character (although in this film as opposed to the sequels and the novel, he is refered too as an Austrian Duke) who is travelling the Old West looking for butterflies, his scenes can be a little grating at times, and his appearances are often very convenient but fortunately brief. The story as a whole is generally predictable, although the fate of the Colonel is rather surprising and there are a few unexpected moments along the way.

Director Haral Reinl gives a decent display, although he would hone his talents better in the later films. The attack on a fortified farm stands as an action highlight with some well staged large scale fighting scenes, while the sequences at Silver Lake show some stunning location finding - although Reinl doesn't quite exploit the gorgeous Croatian scenery as much as he would in the rest of the series. The orchestral soundtrack from Martin B÷ttcher is very effective and was a big hit in Germany.

Big American actor Lex Barker and the comparatively diminutive Frenchman Pierre Brice give their first of many performances as Shatterhand and Winnetou and look very effective in their roles. Widely travelled character actor Herbert Lom plays the Colonel with a shock of red hair - he gives a good, straight faced performance that brings a realistically nasty attitude to his character, without the comic book evil that he could have become. The very attractive Karin Dor gives a good performance Ellen Patterson, and would play several more characters in the series. We also meet Eddi Arent as Lord Castlepool, and Ralf Wolter as Sam Hawkens - regular characters in the series.

Treasure in Silver Lake is the first of eleven Karl May Westerns and introduces the audience to a variety of recurring characters, as well as the generally repeating storyline of all the films (bay guy wants something, upsets Indians, Winnetou and friend have to save the day and stop a war). Decently written and directed, it suffers a little from slow pacing. Generally recommended, this is a good place to start exploring the world of the Karl May Westerns, although it is not the best film in the series.

In brief:


Anyone famous in it? Lex Barker - an American actor who made his name in Europe in adventure and horror pictures.
Herbert Lom - a character actor who starred in every genre of Euro-cult cinema.
Directed by anyone interesting? Harald Reinl - An Austrian director who shot a variety of films based on classic literature including most of the Karl May Westerns.
Any violence? Quite a lot of gun, fist and knife fights, some blood.
Any sex? None
Good soundtrack?A fitting orchestral soundtrack that proved very popular in the German music charts.
Who is it for?
An exciting adventure film from a less cynical era and relatively family safe.

The DVD

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio  - 2.35:1 anamorphic wide-screen. Colour.
The image is very good - some noticable grain but great colours and detail. Some scenes are occasionally in a slightly lower quality, but mostly unnoticably.
Audio German 5.1 and mono. Strong audio. The remix is rather poor - with some noticable digital echo.
English mono. Sounds good, some hiss. A few shot dialogue scenes are in German only.
Subtitles German HOH
English - this track translates the English soundtrack, so there are some discrepancies when watching the German as the translations are different. Impressively it even recreates the rhyming language used by one of the characters.
English subtitles are also provided for the German scenes on the English audio track and are "forced".
Extras The disc includes:
  • Bonus Trailer reel (same as other discs)
Packing DVD Title: Der Schatz im Silbersee
Only available in the Karl May Collection 1 boxset.
Region Region 0 (worldwide) - PAL
Other regions? Other German releases from Kinowelt - no English options.
Cuts? The film is believed to be fully uncut and includes the scenes cut out of the English language prints. Titles and credits are in German.

Summary

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All text in this review written by Timothy Young -19th November. 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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