Herbert Lom and Lex Barker star in the first Karl May Western, from director Harald Reinl. UFA German R0 boxset disc.
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:
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...
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
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
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.
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.
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?
Reinl - An Austrian director who shot a variety of films based on
classic literature including most of the Karl May Westerns.
Quite a lot of gun, fist and knife fights, some blood.
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.
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.
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.
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".