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Winnetou I

Apache Gold
Vinetu I / La Revolte des Indiens Apaches / La Valle dei Lunghi Coltelli

West Germany/Yugoslavia/France/Italy 1963
produced by
Horst Wendlandt for Rialto Film, Jadran Film, S.N.C.-Film, Atlantis Film
directed by Harald Reinl
starring Pierre Brice, Lex Barker, Mario Adorf, Marie Versini, Ralf Wolter, Walter Barnes, Mavid Popovic, Dunja Rajter, Chris Howland, Branko Spoljar, Hrvoje Svob, Tomislav Erac, Husein Cokic, Demeter Bitenc, Niksa Stefanini, Vlado Krstulvic
screenplay by Harald G. Petersson, based on the novel by Karl May, music by Martin Böttcher, cinematography by Ernst W. Kalinke

Winnetou, Rialto's Winnetou, Old Shatterhand

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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After the immense success of Der Schatz im Silbersee/The Treasure of Silver Lake, it did not take Rialto Film long to produce a second Winnetou film, this one chronicling the first meeting of its heroes Winnetou and Old Shatterhand (and this years before prequel was even a proper word), with as little as possible changed regarding cast and crew ...

 

But before anything else, a quick synopsis:

... having just arrived from Germany to help build the Great Western Railroad, engineer Old Shatterhand (Lex Barker) has to find out that someone has altered the initial plans and now the train is going straight through Apache territory - something the Apaches (understandably) do not like one bit. The culprits are soon iodentified - evil businessman Santer (Mario Adorf) and push-over train inspector Bancroft (Branko Spoljar), and to keep the situation from culminating, Shatterhand promises Winnetou (Pierre Brice), the son of the Apache chieftain (Mavid Popovic) and the Apaches' German counsellor Klekih-Petra (Hrvoje Spod) that the company will retreat from Apache territory for good within eight days ... which is when Santer and his gang of desperadoes intervene, shooting Klekih-Petra and making Winnetou their prisoner, later giving him away to his arch-enemies, the Kiowas, whose chieftain Tangua (Tomislav Erac) is in league with Santer.

Eventually, Old Shatterhand can free 'Winnetou from the Kiowas' camp, but for some reason he doesn't make himself known, he only steals one of Winnetou's trinkets as proof ...

Later, Old Shatterhand and company - eccentric scout Sam Hawkens (Ralf Wolter) amongst them - plan an attack on  Roswell, where Santer and his men hide out, but at first their attack seems futile, since all the baddies hide out in the saloon which they can defend like a fortress. It is only when Shatterhand has the good idea to redirect the traintracks so they go right through the saloon that the attack proves to be successful ... but Santer and his closest associates manage to escape - and then the Apaches attack Rosell, and - misjudging the situation, they take OId Shatterhand and company captive and plan to execute them. Old Shatterhand tries to prove he is Winnetou's friend and has freed him from the Kiowas, but his only proof, the trinket, was left behind in his jacket in Roswell, and Winnetou takes him for a cheat. Only Winnetou's sister Nscho-tschi (Marie Versini, looking not a bit Native American) believes him, since she has fallen in love with him, and rides to Roswell to fetch Shatterhand's jacket.

Meanwhile, the Apache chieftain, without actual proof that Old Shatterhand is one of the villains, offers him a deal: Should Shatterhand defeat him in a one-on-one battle on the Rio Pecos, he and his friends are free ... and of course, Shatterhand wins, and without killing the chieftain, too. And at the hour of his triumph, Nscho-tschi returns with the proof that Old Shatterhand has indeed saved Winnwtou's life - of course, now Old Shatterhand and Winnetou immediately become blood brothers, and Nscho-tschi is promised to Old Shatterhand, not only that, Winnetou is willing to send her to a white man's school ... now all they need is some of that Apache gold they keep hidden somewhere to be able to afford Nscho-tschi's life among the white men ...

Unfortunately though, Santer and his men not been idle and have made up a plan to follow the Apaches to their hidden treasure cave ... and iot all ends in a battle in which both Nscho-tschi and Winnetou's father the chieftain lose their lives, but also all of Santer's men. Santer himself is met with an especially cruel fate: He has somehow survived the massive shoot-out, but now he hangs from a cliff, with his strength to hold on rapidly decreasing ... and right below, the Apaches have planted their spears with the blades looking upwards ... ouch !

In the end, our heroes Winnetou and Old Shatterhand move on disillusioned to find further adventures.

Chris Howland is the comic relief in this one, but he practically does not intervene with the film's story as such ...

 

As a film, Winnetou I was essentially shot in the same mold asits predecessor Der Schatz im Silbersee, a romantic Western adventure with larger-than-life heroes and villains (with Mario Adorf turning in a fine, evil performance), in front of extremely scenic landscapes (shot in Yugoslavia) and to cheesy yet catchy music by Martin Böttcher. As with Der Schatz im Silbersee, the outcome is great. Yes, it's cheesy, it's unreflected, but at the same time it is a film that, while watching it, makes you feel like the little boy who wants to reenact every scene of it (which I, as well as all my friends, did when we were little boys). And, in contrast to many Hollywood Westerns of its time, it clearly takes the side of the Indian race - even if there is not a single native American in the cast.

Which actually leads to my only point of critique: Marie Versini as Winnetou's sister - she doesn't look a bit Indian, and most of her acting is unintentionally funny rather than anything else, especially in the scenes when she has to speak in Apache language. But then again, she was immensely popular with the audience of the day, and was even asked back to play Nscho-tschi in another Winnetou film, Winnetou und sein Freund Old Firehand, even though her character has died in this one ...

In all though, Winnetou I is recommended viewing for all (B-)Western fans.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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produced by and starring
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directed by
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written by
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starring
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