A Film Legacy
Few Americans Know About

   

Between 1912 and 1968, German cinema screened 23 movies made after novels by Karl May, most of them only loosely connected to the stories of the respective novels.  Some of the most popular of these movies were the ones of the 1960s, set in the American Old West and featuring May's most popular, beloved characters - WINNETOU™ and OLD SHATTERHANDÔ Most of these 1960s movies were shot in the former Yugoslavia, with rugged landscapes providing the backdrop of America's Old West.

Although these were German language films, some American and international actors became huge stars and successes in Germany from their roles in these Karl May movies.  In 13 movies, American actor Lex Barker (best known for playing the role of Tarzan from 1949-1953) starred either as OLD SHATTERHANDÔ or as Kara ben Nemsi or as Dr. Karl Sternau.  Three movies have seen British actor (also well-known to American audiences of the time) Stewart Granger in the leading role of Old Surehand, one movie starred American actor Rod Cameron as Old Firehand, and there were also movies featuring German stars known to American audiences, such as Elke Sommer and Klaus Kinski.  Ten movies featured French actor Pierre Brice as the fictional Apache chief WINNETOU™.

For 10 movies of the 1960s, German composer Martin Böttcher wrote landmark film scores, whose success also helped the movies' international success and influenced the Italian movie industry to make Western movies of their own and create a whole new genre, the "Spaghetti Western" (whose most successful composer Ennio Morricone came to fame just after Martin Böttcher).

In foreign distribution, most of the movie titles were not translated directly into the target language, but new movie titles were made up.  For American distribution, such movies as Der Schatz im Silbersee (1962) was renamed Treasure of Silver Lake for American audiences, WINNETOU™ – 1. Teil (1963) became Apache Gold, and OLD SHATTERHANDÔ (1964) was renamed Apaches Last Battle.  These films are rarely seen in the U.S. these days; however, they are available for purchase online, particularly from German websites.  A good source to check out is Amazon.com for more information.  (Clicking on this link will lead directly to Amazon.com DVD sales.)

This legacy of films based on Karl May novels began with silent films in the 1920s, but these are now probably lost to the world.  With the movies of the 1960s, they are typical of mid-1960s' public sentiment and standards of filmmaking, and they can appear a bit dated to a contemporary audience.  Yet, much of the German image of America (Amerikabild) comes from the western stories which inspired much of the German movies and television programs of the 1960s. 

The romanticism of the Old West has left such an indelible mark on Germans that an appropriate comparison might be made to Gene Rodenberry's Star Trek and the "Trekkie" following, as Germans not only continue to read May's books and watch movies based on them, but they also gather in the thousands to dress up like cowboys and Indians and hang out in teepees with various "cowboy clubs" and annual themed festivals.  Some links to published articles on this cowboys-and-Indians cult phenomena with the Germans follows:

 

More Recently...
  

 

This popular German parody of Karl May
Westerns was a huge box office hit in 2001.
It is available on
DVD (Region 2, German).

The biggest German movie in recent years was Der Schuh des Manitu (translates to "The Shoe of Manitu") in 2001.  So many German moviegoers flocked to see this satiric comedy that the film broke box office records for a German movie.  Part of the attraction was how the film satirized the German westerns that most Germans, particularly males, had read as kids.

 

Sources:

http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/enc1/karl_may

http://german.about.com/library/weekly/aa020408a.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_May

Movie posters: http://www.chief-winnetou.tk/

Movie scenes:  Michael Petzel: Karl May Filmbuch. Bamberg, Karl-May-Verlag, 1998.


Treasure of
Silver Lake

(
Der Schatz im Silbersee)
1962
 

Starring:
Lex Barker
Pierre Brice
Ralf Wolter

Movie Info &
Photo Gallery


Apache Gold
(Winnetou - 1. Teil)
1963
 

Starring:
Lex Barker
Pierre Brice
Ralf Wolter

Movie Info &
Photo Gallery


Apaches Last Battle
(Old Shatterhand)

1964

Starring:
Lex Barker
Pierre Brice
Ralf Wolter
Daliah Lavi

Movie Info &
Photo Gallery


Frontier Hellcat
(Unter Geiern)

1964
 

Starring:
Stewart Granger
Pierre Brice
Elke Sommer

Movie Info &
Photo Gallery


Last of the Renegades
(WINNETOU™ - 2. Teil)
1964
 

Starring:
Lex Barker
Pierre Brice
Klaus Kinski

Movie Info &
Photo Gallery


Flaming Frontier
(Old Surehand - 1. Teil)

196
5
 

Starring:
Stewart Granger
Pierre Brice
Letícia Román

Movie Info &
Photo Gallery


Rampage at
Apache Wells

(Det Ölprinz)

1965
 

Starring:
Stewart Granger
Pierre Brice

Movie Info &
Photo Gallery


WINNETOU™: The Desperado Trail
(WINNETOU™ 3. Teil)
1965
 

Starring:
Lex Barker
Pierre Brice
Ralf Wolter

Movie Info &
Photo Gallery