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Pierre Brice, French Chieftain of the Mescalero Apaches - A Biography

by Mike Haberfelner

May 2007

Films starring Pierre Brice on (re)Search my Trash

 

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For those who have not experienced Pierre Brice's Winnetou films when they were young boys, his career must seem positively grotesque: He's a French actor who has risen to fame in Europe (but especially the German language countries) playing a Native American chieftain in a string of West German Westerns filmed in Yugoslavia.

But for whoever has seen the Winnetou films between, say, ages five and ten, this attractive Frenchman who looks nothing like a Native American has become the epitomy of the strong, the brave, the virtuous Indian, who was not so much the noble savage as in other similar themed films but a long-haired saint with a gun. And ironically, especially through Pierre Brice's Winnetou-movies, the image of the Native Americans was seen in a much more positive light in Germany from the 1960's onwards than in the USA, where Hollywood producers to this day still have problems to properly portray native Americans and their plight.

Oddly enough, while Brice was a smashing success as Winnetou, he was never too big a success outside of the series. But while other actors - e.g. Christopher Lee, whose Dracula role will stick with him forever, and who ironically was offered the Winnetou-role before it went to Pierre Brice - later try to distance themselves from the roles that made them famous, Pierre Brice embraced his typecasting, inasmuch as he played the role on the big and the small screen and on stage for 35 years, wrote a handful of plays about Winnetou, directed a stage production after he had finally grown too old for the role - and even nowadays in interviews, he often seems to be in character, plus he has called his autobiography published in 2004 (more than 40 years after the first Winnetou film) Winnetou and I, as if to prove how far his identification goes ...

 

Considering his youth however, it is rather surprising that Pierre Brice had his biggest successes (by far) in Germany. Pierre Brice, who was born into nobility as Pierre Louis Baron de Bris in 1929 in Brest, France, was 11 years old when the Nazis invaded France. Since he was brought up a patriot, he would detest the German occupants, and would at age 15 join his father in the Résistance.

After the war is over and France is freed, Brice joins the army out of undying patriotism, and is trained to be a scubadiver in Algeria before he fights in Indochina as a paratrooper for four years - a war he emerges from pretty much unscathed.

 

1951, Brice returns from the war and wants to turn his life around and become an actor. He takes acting classes at the Russian actor Grégory Chmara and thinks he's a made man. But initially, Pierre Brice is less than a smashing success, instead of acting on stages and in movies he becomes a model for advertisments and photo novels, acts as a door-to-door salesman and travels with the circus.

 

Pierre Brice's first movie appearance is 1955's Ca va Barder/Give 'em Hell (directed by John Berry), a typical pulpy and comedic crime vehicle for its star Eddie Constantine [Eddie Constantine bio - click here]. Brice's role in this film was only very small though ...

With films like Le Septième Ciel/Seventh Heaven (1958, Raymond Bernard), Les Tricheurs/Youthful Sinners/The Cheaters (1958, Marcel Carné) - which also featured a pre-star Jean-Paul Belmondo -, Le Miroir à Deux Faces/The Mirror has Two Faces (1958, André Cayatte), L'Ambitieuse/The Climbers/The Restless and the Dead (1959, Yves Allégret) - which starred import actors Edmond O'Brien and Richard Basehart -, and L'Homme à Femmes/Ladies Man/Murder by Two (1960, Jacques-Gérard Cornu) - also starring Catherine Deneuve and Mel Ferrer -, he slowly climbed the casting ladder, but it soon became apparent that his career in France wasn't likely to take off: He simply did not have the same kind of talents and charisma as Alain Delon (to whom he was sometimes compared), nor did his good looks go down too well with the (then booming) nouvelle vague.

Pierre Brice was more of a typical matinée idol, he was well-built and very handsome, his face looked heroic by default, he could easily pull off any kind of adventurer and he looked convincing enough in any kind of period costume ... and while the French nouvelle vague at the time had absolutely no need for matinée idols, in neighbouring Italy, which produced sword and sandal films (or peplums) and similar adventure movies a dime a dozen, Pierre Brice was welcomed with open arms ...

  • I Cosacchi/The Cossacks (Giorgio Rivalta, Viktor Tourjansky) from 1960 - a film co-scripted by Damiano Damiani and starring Edmund Purdom and John Drew Barrymore - is a comparatively somber and relatively accurate depiction of the conflict between Chechnya and Russia in the mid-1800's under Chechen leader Avar Imam Shamil (Purdom).
  • La Donna dei Faraoni/The Pharaoh's Woman (Giorgio Rivalta, Viktor Tourjansky) takes Brice, along with Linda Cristal, Armando Francioli and John Drew Barrymore, to ancient Egypt to fight over the Pharaoh's throne with cunning and intrigue.

  • Il Mulino delle Donne di Pietra/Mill of the Stone Women (1960, Giorgio Ferroni) is a strange little Gothic horror shocker, years before the Italian filmindustry started to mass-produce horror. The film is very bizarre and often lacks logic, but is atmospheric and chilling nevertheless. Pierre Brice by the way plays the lead in this one, supported by Scilla Gabel, Wolfgang Preiss, Dany Carrel and Liana Orfei.
  • In Le Baccanti/The Bacchantes (1961, Giorgio Ferroni), Brice plays Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, who comes down to earth to pay the city of Thebes a visit, only to find himself at odds with the city's King Pentheus (Alberto Lupo). The film is loosely based on a play by ancient Greek playwright Euripides.
  • Il Giorno più Corto/The Shortest Day (1962, Sergio Corbucci) is a World War I-comedy starring the popular comic duo Ciccio Ingrassia and Franco Franchi. The stellar cast - which has Pierre Brice way down the list - also features Totò, Annie Girardot, Ugo Tognazzi, Tomas Millian, Anouk Aimée, Virna Lisi, David Niven, Simone Signoret, Susan Strasberg, Fausto Tozzi, Gordon Scott [Gordon Scott bio - click here], Steve Reeves, Gianni Garko, Rik Battaglia, Scilla Gabel, Stewart Granger, Mark Damon, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Vittorio Gassman, and Mario Giorotti, the later Terence Hill.
  • Il Rossetto/Lipstick/Red Lips (1960), Damiano Damiani's first feature film as a director, is a change of pace inasmuch as it is a modern day crime movie shot in gritty black and white, with Brice once again in the lead.
  • Akiko (1961, Luigi Filippo D'Amico) is a comedy starring Japanese import Akiko Wakabayashi.


Apart from these films, Brice also was in a couple of crime thrillers, Un Alibi per Morire (1962, Roberto Bianchi Montero, Piero Costa) and Los Atracadores/The Robbers (1962, Francisco Rovira Beleta), and Douce Violence/Sweet Violence/Sweet Ecstasy (1962) one of these typical erotic melodramas Max Pécas used to make at the time, this one (just like Zarte Haut in Schwarzer Seide/Daniella by Night from the previus year) starring Elke Sommer. Still, none of the above films would mark an actual breakthrough for Brice, he was more or less an actor for hire with the ability to carry certain types of films ...

 

Of these films, the (otherwise little known) The Robbers might have been the most imporant for Pierre Brice's future career because it was presented at the Berlinale in Berlin (duh), West Germany, where Brice was invited to promote the film - and where he caught the eye of producer Horst Wendlandt, head of Rialto Film, who was at the time planning to film Der Schatz im Silbersee, a Western novel by popular German author Karl May (1842 - 1912), and with the shoot only weeks away, he was still lacking an actor to play the seminal part of Winnetou, the chieftain of the Mescalero Apaches (a part that was allegedly previously offered to Christopher Lee as well as Horst Buchholz, Gustavo Rojo and Heinz-Ingo Hilgers, who had already played the character on stage). Why Wendlandt thought that Pierre Brice would be right for the role we will never know. Sure, Brice was a suitably handsome actor for such a role and he had proven himself as a heroic lead time and again, but he was also almost unknown in Germany and he looked nothing like a Native American.

 


At the time the part was offered to him, Pierre Brice had never even heard of Winnetou let alone his author Karl May and had serious doubts if he could even pull off the role of an Indian chieftain, but in the end he signed for the film nevertheless, allegedly after he had read several of Karl May's novels, and joined the cast also consisting of Lex Barker [Lex Barker bio - click here] as Winnetou's white bloodbrother Old Shatterhand, Herbert Lom as villain, Ralf Wolter as traditional sidekick Sam Hawkens, plus Karin Dor [Karin Dor bio - click here] and Götz George, to film Der Schatz im Silbersee/Treasure of Silver Lake (1962) under the direction of Harald Reinl [Harald Reinl bio - click here].

 


As a concept, Treasure of Silver Lake was not much different from the peplums and similar period pieces Brice made in Italy, here as there you have heroes too good to be true, villains too evil to be true, a careless treatment of historical facts, certain liberties in regards to its sources, an overemphasis on virtues like friendship, loyalty, selflessness and courage, a fairytale approach to the genre, an easy-to-follow plot, and everything carried by plenty of action. What set Treasure of Silver Lake apart from these films was a very careful direction, great use of the Yugoslavian landscapes that did look nothing like the plains out West they were supposed to represent but looked impressive nevertheless, and a very romantic score by Martin Böttcher that was sounding nothing like a traditional Western score but perfectly complimented the on-screen goings-on nevertheless.

... and then there was of course Pierre Brice, who gave a passionate interpretation of Winnetou the Apache chieftain who's always fighting for justice and on the side of the poor, and whose impact easily overshadowed his co-star, B-veteran Lex Barker, who was first-billed in the credits.

(By the way, initially Rialto Film was less than convinced about a Native American lead character and they seriously thought about turning Winnetou into a marginal figure in the film - which from today's point of view seems absurd ... and thank God they didn't do it.)

By German standards, Treasure of Silver Lake was a big picture, and thus Rialto Film - up until then mainly known for their Edgar Wallace series of crime thrillers - was no doubt expecting a tidy return at the box office (even if at the time the industry by and large agreed that the film was doomed to fail) - but the actual (financial) success of the film exceeded all expectations by far, and before long, Treasure of Silver Lake became the most successful film in West Germany in 1962/63, easily outdistancing the competition from Hollywood and the like. And suddenly, Pierre Brice, who was virtually unknown in his homecountry and was barely holding his own in Italy, was a star in West Germany ...

 

Of course, it was, it had to be only a question of time before Rialto Film would decide to do a sequel to Treasure of Silver Lake, but before that would happen, Pierre Brice returned to Italy to do a few more production-line period pieces:

  • Col Ferro e col Fuoco/Invasion 1700/Daggers of Blood (1962, Fernando Cerchio), a film based on a novel by Henry Sienkewicz of Quo Vadis-fame, takes Pierre Brice as the lead actor to 18th century Eastern Europe, together with Jeanne Crain, John Drew Barrymore and Akim Tamiroff.


  • Umberto Lenzi's L'Invincibile Cavaliere Mascherato/Terror of the Black Mask/The Invincible Masked Rider (1963) is a Zorro-film in all but name, but it also includes some horror-touches and the bulbonic plague [Umberto Lenzi bio - click here]. Brice actually gives an amusing performance as effeminate weakling (who only in the end turns out to be the real hero) in this one. For some incomprehensible reason, this film was marketed as a Robin Hood-picture in German language countries.
  • Lenzi's Zorro contro Maciste/Samson and the Slave Queen (1963) actually is a Zorro-film, with Pierre Brice as the masked hero, but one that has the American avenger pitted against the ancient muscleman Maciste (Alan Steel = Sergio Ciani) in some thought-up midieval realm (Italian peplums and period pieces were not always great on plausibility or historcial accuracy, let alone realism - and yup, the film is as odd as it sounds.)


1963 also marked the return of Pierre Brice to the Winnetou-series with Winnetou I/Apache Gold, again directed by Harald Reinl, and again with a music score by Martin Böttcher. Winnetou I, which also stars Marie Versini as Winnetou's sister, Mario Adorf as main villain and Croatian beauty Dunja Rajter, is what would nowadays be called a prequel (dreadful word, by the way) to Treasure of Silver Lake, as it depicts the first meeting of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand (Lex Barker), but initially they find themselves fighting on opposite sides, and it takes the whole movie (and a love story between Old Shatterhand and Winnetou's sister) until they realize each other's righteousness and become friends and blood brothers.

 



Just like Treasure of Silver Lake, Winnetou I became a tremendous success, and there was of course little doubt that Rialto Film would eventually follow the film up with Winnetou II/Last of the Renegades (1964, Harald Reinl) - in which Winnetou finds his love Ribanna (Karin Dor) but loses her to a young army Lieutnant (Mario Giorotti = Terence Hill) in the end for the sake of peace - and Winnetou III/Desperado Trail (1965, Harald Reinl) - in which Winnetou dies at the hands of baddie Rik Battaglia but at least manages to save his Apache tribe -, both films equally impressive and of equally high quality as Treasure of Silver Lake and Winnetou I ... and both pretty much as successful.

 



But before any of these two films was even made, legendary bandwagon jumper Artur Brauner of CCC-Filmkunst made an especially daring attempt to jump yet another bandwagon when he did not only announce he would be making a Winnetou-film of his own, he would even hire Pierre Brice, along with his costars Lex Barker and Ralf Wolter to star in the film, in the roles they also played in the Rialto-films.

The film in question, Old Shatterhand/Apaches Last Battle (1964), directed by Hollywood veteran Hugo Fregonese, also starring Guy Madison, Rik Battaglia, Daliah Lavi (who has a brief nude scene) and Gustavo Rojo, with music by Riz Ortolani, is definitely inferior to Harald Reinl's films, it's more of a traditional Western and lacks the larger-than-life, fairy tale like atmosphere of the earlier films, and it is based on an especially shoddily written and convoluted script that lacks any and all coherence. On a financial level though, Brauner's blatant rip-off paid off, even if it could not match the success of Winnetou I ...

 

Seeing how rival CCC-Filmkunst made a tidy profit off their series, Rialto Film then had both the series leads sign exclusive contracts that would disallow them to play their roles for any other producer - to which Artur Brauner reacted with signing Lex Barker for two other series based on the novels of Karl May, the Kara Ben Nemsi-series (3 movies) and the Karl Sternau-series(2 movies) - while Rialto suddenly saw itself confronted with the need of a new co-star for Pierre Brice for some of their next Winnetou-films, Unter Geiern/Among Vultures (1964, Alfred Voher [Alfred Vohrer bio - click here]) - which was made between Winnetou II and Winnetou III - and thus they hired Hollywood veteran Stewart Granger to add his own style to the series. Unfortunately, Among Vultures was nowhere near as good as Harald Reinl's efforts, it lacked the fairy tale style that had by now become a part of the series, Vohrer failed to use the Yugoslavian landscape to the same advantage as Reinl did, the budget was tighter, the script not quite as good, and Stewart Granger - by and large a far better actor than Lex Barker - seemed to be unable to adapt his slightly ironic acting style to the requirements of the series and thus always felt a bit out of place in the film. And while Lex Barker and Pierre Brice have become good friends on the set of the Winnetou-films, Stewart Granger always felt himself to be above it and he and Brice did not get along at all.

 

Still, Stewart Granger was re-used as Pierre Brice's co-star in the series two more times, in Der Ölprinz/Rampage at Apache Wells (1965, Harald Philipp), which was released shortly before Winnetou's death in Winnetou III (which featured Lex Barker as Brice's co-star), and Old Surehand/Flaming Frontier (1965, Alfred Vohrer), which was hastily produced and released only months after Winnetou III, just to convince disappointed and protesting fans that despite the death of the lead character, the Winnetou-series is going on - and with the lead character, too, ironically. But just like Among Vultures, these two films fail to impress, and the golden age of the Winnetou-series was rapidly coming to an end, especially when plans to turn Old Surehand into a trilogy were cancelled and Stewart Granger was removed from the series.

Why on earth anyone thought that B-Western veteran Rod Cameron would be a good co-star for Pierre Brice in Winnetou und sein Freund Old Firehand/Thunder at the Border (1966, Alfred Vohrer) is beyond me, Cameron seriously lacks charisma and acting talent, is visibly too old to do action (he was 56 when the film was made), and he wasn't even a big name in Germany at the time this was made. The resulting film is a very weak Western miles away from the best films of the series ...

But with Winnetou und das Halbblut Apanatschi/Half Breed (1966, Harald Philipp), it even got worse.The film, planned as a launchpad for Bavarian actress Uschi Glas (unconvincingly playing the titular half breed) is a badly written and cheaply made Western full of annoying characters and cheesy subplots and is almost an insult to all Winnetou-fans, and neither Pierre Brice nor Lex Barker - who has finally returned to the series - can save this one, especially because they are only supporting actors here and leave the main action to Götz George, who is giving a truly obnoxious performance here as the hero doing magic tricks here - which is quite a shame, because normally, George is a quite accomplished actor. Hardly surprisingly, Half Breed failed to become a hit.

 

After Half Breed, Rialto cancelled the Winnetou-series and hasn't done one Winnetou-film since, with or without Pierre Brice ... but in 1968, CCC-Filmkunst decided it was time to try and jump the Winnetou-bandwagon one more time, using not only Pierre Brice and Lex Barker - released from their binding contracts with Rialto - in the film Winnetou und Shatterhand im Tal der Toten/In the Valley of the Death but all of the series' key ingredients, including Ralf Wolter as perpetual sidekick, Karin Dor and Rik Battaglia, as well as the direction of Harald Reinl and the music of Martin Böttcher. But even though everything in In the Valley of the Death seemed to be in the right place, the film is on one hand cursed by a weak script by Herbert Reinecker, a man more famous for his crime screenplays, and on the other hand, too much water has gone down the river since Treasure of Silver Lake, the basic plot of which In the Valley of the Death closely follows. Not being a total failure, the film did not become the success CCC-Filmkunst had expected it to become, and thus a new Winnetou-series simply wasn't launched.

 

While he was working on the Winnetou-series, Pierre Brice wasn't limiting himself to the role of the Apache chieftain though and was making quite a few other films as well:

  • Die Goldene Göttin vom Rio Beni/Duelo en el Amazonas/Golden Goddess of Rio Beni (1964, Eugenio Martín, Franz Eichhorn) is a modern day jungle adventure of the white jungle girl variety that's not even half bad (if you like this kind of film that is). The jungle girl is played by Gillian Hills by the way while Brice plays the explorer-hero.
  • Schüsse im Dreivierteltakt/Operation Solo (1965, Alfred Weidenmann) is a James Bond rip-off with Pierre Brice in the lead, supported by Heinz Drache, Daliah Lavi, Anton Diffring, Senta Berger and Terence Hill (then still credited as Mario Girotti).
  • The CCC-Filmkunst-produced Die Hölle von Manitoba/A Place Called Glory (1965, Sheldon Reynolds) was quite clearly another attempt to rip off the Winnetou-series, as it was a Western starring the series' both lead actors, Pierre Brice and Lex Barker, as cowboys supposed to duel each other. But even if the film was made as a mere cash-in on the Winnetou-series (and failed at the box office), it's a rather decent B-Western.

  • The same cannot be said about another attempt to cash in on the series, the modern day crime thriller Gern hab' ich die Frauen gekillt/Le Carnaval des Barouzes/Killer's Carnival (1966, Sheldon Reynolds, Alberto Cardone, Robert Lynn), an anthology movie which not only stars Brice and Lex Barker but also Stewart Granger and Karin Dor of Winnetou-fame - but for some reason, Brice, Barker and Granger do not have a single scene with each other, instead each of them stars in his own sloppily written segment, with Brice's slapstick spy story definitely being the worst.
  • The Romanian-French co-production Dacii/Les Guerriers (1967, Sergiu Nicolaescu) takes Brice back to ancient Rome to give the period piece another try.
  • The drama Le 13ème Caprice (1967, Roger Boussinot) and the Joseph Arbaud-adaptation Le Regret de Pierre Guilhem (1968, Jean De Nesles) took Pierre Brice back to his native France where he by far wasn't the star he was in Germany, but since neither of these films was a big success, they did little to change that.

By the late 1960's, the Winnetou-series was over, and Pierre Brice, Germany's most popular actor until very recently, suddenly had to realize that with the series his career was a thing of the past. And when in 1973 Lex Barker died, it seemed that all hopes to revive the series could be abandoned ...

That's not to say that Pierre Brice was forced to give up acting for good, he played in quite a few movies during the early to mid-1970's, and some of them were even good, but none of them could even remotely rival the Winnetou-series in terms of success. Some of the more interesting films are:


  • La Notte dei Dannati/Night of the Damned (1971, Filippo Walter Ratti), a softsex-horror melange in which Pierre Brice, despite being top-billed, has only a small role.
  • Un Cuerda al Amanecer/You are a Traitor and I'll Kill You (1972, Manuel Esteba) is a cheaply made and rather sorry Spaghetti Western, made years after the genre's golden age.
  • The crime comedy La Pupa del Gangster/Get Rita/Gun Moll (1975, Giorgio Capitani), in which Brice has a supporting role, is one of the many films Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren made with each other over the years - but unfortunately it's not their best film.
  • Star Maidens (1976) is a sci-fi series about a female dominated totalitarian planet, with Brice playing Adam, who makes an escape to earth. The series was done in typical (borderline ridiculous) 1970's style, but was ultimately cancelled after just one season of 13 episodes and nowadays, unlike many other sci-fi-series from that era, still awaits rediscovery.

Seeing his film career going nowhere, or at least nowhere in particular and nowhere fast, Pierre Brice returned to the role of his life, Winnetou, in 1976, but this time live on stage for the Karl May-Festspiele in Elspe, West Germany, where Pierre Brice once again became a phenomenal success - despite the fact that Pierre Brice played the Apache chieftain with a French accent (other than in the movies, he was of course not dubbed on stage).

Because of his success on stage, he returned to Elspe to play Winnetou in the seasons 1977 to 1980.

In 1980 though, playing Winnetou was no longer enough for Pierre Brice, and he wrote the play Winnetou, der Apache (co-authored with script writer Jean-Claude Deret) especially for the Wiener Stadthalle, Vienna, Austria, where the Karl May-Festspiele from Elspe would do a few indoor performances during the winter each year (and where I saw Pierre Brice in several performances when I was still a young boy).

 


At around the same time, Pierre Brice was also resurrected as Winnetou on the small screen, for the 14 episode series Mein Freund Winnetou/Winnetou le Mescalero (1980, Marcel Camus), which was largely scripted by Jean-Claude Deret, the co-author of Winnetou, der Apache and which incorporated many of Pierre Brice's original ideas. Unfortunately, Brice's ideas were not necessarily the best: while it's a very honourable experiment to try and educate the audience about the Native American ways of life in a drama series, the whole thing is bound to fail when it at the same time lacks action and adventure the audience has come to expect and as a result becomes preachy when it is meant to be exciting.

(By the way, Ralf Wolter returned to the series from the films to play the perpetual sidekick Sam Hawkens, while Lex Barker's role, Old Shatterhand, was played by Siegfried Rauch, but he was only treated as a supporting character.)

 

The relative failure of Mein Freund Winnetou/Winnetou le Mescalero left Pierre Brice undaunted though and the following year he tried to take the Winnetou-franchise on tour under the roof of a circus tent ... but the whole enterprise failed after only a few performances when the tour-manager took off with the money.

In 1982, Pierre Brice returned to the Karl May-Festspiele in Elspe and stayed on until 1986.

 

In 1988 though, Pierre Brice returned once again as Winnetou, on the open air stage of Bad Segeberg - Elspe's main competitor concerning Karl May-stageshows -, where he stayed until 1991, when he (once again) retired for the role. During this time Pierre Brice was also honoured by the Winnebago Indians for his achievements for the international perception of Native Americans and he is given the name Rainbow Man.

In 1999 Pierre Brice returned to Bad Segeberg, but this time not as an actor (he was 70 by then and - without wanting to sound ageist - a bit too old to play the heroic young chieftain) but as director, with Gojko Mitic - supporting player of many of Brice's Winnetou-films and famous for playing Indian heroes in countless East German Westerns (called Indianerfilme) - taking over as Winnetou.

 


In 1987, Pierre Brice did one of his very few film-appearances during the 1980's, in the Lisa Film-produced German comedy Zärtliche Chaoten/Loveable Zanies (Franz Josef Gottlieb) [Franz Josef Gottlieb bio - click here, Lisa Film history - click here] starring Thomas Gottschalk, Helmut Fischer and American import Michael Winslow - but the film is nothing short of incredibly unfunny, and Pierre Brice in a supporting role spoofing his Winnetou-persona, can do little to save (or sink) the film.

 


Lisa Film also hired Brice to star in the third season of their popular series Ein Schloss am Wörthersee/Lakeside Hotel (1992) - a series he guest-starred in earlier seasons - after the series original star, Roy Black, had died under alcohol-related circumstances. As Brice's co-star, Lisa Film hired Uschi Glas, with whom Brice also was in Half Breed ... and that wasn't where the Winnetou-analogies ended: For example, Brice would often be seen with horses in the series, and a Martin Böttcher like theme was played to his scenesjust to make sure that everyone catches the drift ...

 


By and large, Lakeside Hotel was, I'm afraid to say, shit, and Brice's next projects for Lisa Film, the adventure film Der Blaue Diamant/Hunt for the Blue Diamond (1993, Otto W.Retzer) co-starring Ernest Borgnine, Brent Huff, Julia Kent, Sonja Kirchberger and Christine Schuberth and the medical romance series Klinik unter Palmen/Jungle Hospital (1996) co-starring Klausjürgen Wussow, Julia Kent, Sonja Kirchberger asnd Raimund Harmstorf were not much better.

 

Then, in 1998, Pierre Brice (at age 69) returned to his favourite role Winnetou yet again for the TV-two-parter Winnetous Rückkehr (Marijan David Vajda), co-scripted by Pierre Brice, his longtime writing partner Jean-Claude Deret, and Werner Waldhoff, and once again with music by Martin Böttcher. But unfortunately, the film about an ageing Winnetou trying to help a group of settlers and a tribe of Indians was rather poorly and cheaply made, was hampered by Brice as Winnetou taking to preaching way too often (again in French accent, he was not dubbed at least in the German version) and by and large lacked any real action and excitement - and unsurprisingly, the film failed to be a success ...

 


After Winnetous Rückkehr, Brice has given up playing Winnetou for good, and it's probably for the best letting a new generation of actors sink their teeth into the role, but that doesn't mean he has necessarily given up being Winnetou: While his acting career in the 2000's only consists of unremarkable guest-roles in unremarkable German TV-series, in interviews he still sees himself as the larger-than-life chieftain of the Apaches - but he repeatedly puts himself to good use as that, like having become an UNICEF goodwill ambassador, a role the real Winnetou would have been proud of, and doing a lot of charity work.

 

How popular the Winnetou-films still were in the 2000's is best documented by the phenomenal box office success fo the film Der Schuh des Manitu (2001, Michael Bully Herbig), a very crude spoof of the Winnetou-series from almost 40 years earlier. The film eventually became the most successful movie ever in the German-language countries, easily outgrossing Hollywood-blockbusters like Titanic (1997, James Cameron) ... much to the dismay of Pierre Brice, who deplored the film because of its lack of respect and (following a very weird way of deduction) made the film itself and its director/star Michael Bully Herbig directly responsible for the (then recent) 9-11 terrorist attacks in an interview sitting next to Michael Bully Herbig. Well at least Pierre Brice isn't somebody talking behind someone else's back, but his kind of deduction was pretty much the mother of far-fetched.

 

But even if Pierre Brice does not like Der Schuh des Manitu (a sentiment shared by myself by the way), above all else this film shows how timeless the Winnetou-series and especially Brice's performance as Winnetou have become. And even though Pierre Brice has never become too big a star outside of the series, the Winnetou-films are an amazing cinematic heritage without which the Western would be a poorer genre and which was one of the first series to prove that it is possible to produce Westerns outside of America - which directly led to the birth of the Spaghetti Westerns before long - and which, thanks to Pierre Brice's talent and charisma, dramatically changed the perception of Native Americans both in movies and in real life - and all that despite the fact that Pierre Brice was French and looked nothing like an Indian !!!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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