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Among Vultures Review

From The Spaghetti Western Database

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Unter Geiern (1964)


Director: Alfred Vohrer - Cast: Pierre Brice, Stewart Granger, Elke Sommer, Götz George, Walter Barnes, Paddy Fox, Gojko Mitic, Mario Girotti (Terence Hill), Sieghard Rupp


The first of three movies in the series with British actor Stewart Granger taking over from Lex Barker as Winnetou's white 'blood brother'. Both Barker and Granger are 'Old', but Barker was 'Shatterhand', Granger is 'Surehand'. His hand is so sure that he can split an arrow aimed at him with a bullet in mid-air! Even Robin Hood would have been flabbergasted.


First remark: The Surehand as portrayed by Granger, has very little in common with the character created by Karl May. In the books Surehand is a man with a troubled past, a tormented soul seeking redemption (and eventually finding it, in the Christian faith). The Old Surehand played by Granger is, quite on the contrary, a jolly good fellow, who’s wearing Sunday trousers under buckskin and secretly touches beautiful Elke Sommer's behind (don't miss that scene!).

Second remark: The film's script combines elements from two different Karl May novels, but Old Surehand appears in neither of the two. The reason for this, is quite prosaic: Originally Lex Barker would appear once again alongside Pierre Brice as Old Shatterhand, in a movie called Winnetou und der Bärenjäger, but Wendlandt thought Granger was a big catch, and asked his screenwriters to rework the entire script and write Granger/Old Surehand into it.

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The story is standard Karl May fare: a gang of bandits, called the Vultures, is terrorizing the surroundings, attacking farms and caravans heading West, using false evidence to put the blame on the Shoshone Indians. It's up to Winnetou and Old Surehand to prevent a massacre. The story about the Vultures has been taken from Llano Estacado, one of Karl May's better stories (1), a near gothic novel about a young man, called Bloody Fox, seeking revenge on those who have slaughtered his family. In the film Bloody Fox is replaced by another character, Martin Baumann, from another story, Der Sohn des Bärenjägers.

The film was aimed at a slightly more mature audience than the previous movies. The slaughter of the Baumann family (although not shown) is quite shocking, and the shootout near the end between the Vultures and the settlers, is remarkably violent. But the bulk of the movie is the usual heroic Karl May stuff, with Old Surehand put to a survival test by the Shoshones, and Winnetou leading the Indian braves in true cavalry style to the aid of the settlers when all seems lost. Reportedly Granger was paid $ 75.000 (2) for the part, which makes him the best-paid actor of the series, and he virtually directed his own scenes. He had different ideas about the movie than most other people on the set, and his approach led to a rather incongruous movie, with a dramatic story line of a young man, Martin Baumann, seeking the murderers of his family members, and a lot of funny and would-be funny scenes – featuring Surehand - thrown in.


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It wasn’t an easy production. Brice had always taken his role as the peaceful Apache chief seriously and was shocked by Granger’s tongue-in-cheek approach, which occasionally verges on parody. Elke Sommer behaved like a diva, and openly expressed her disdain for the movie (some say the English title, Frontier Hellcat, refers to her behavior, not in the movie, but on the set). Vohrer handles the action scenes quite well (helped by the athletic Götz George) but makes very little of the Croatian landscape. Once more Walter Barnes and Mario Girotti (yes, Terence) are party members, and the super evil villain is played by Sieghardt Rupp. Not a familiar name maybe, but surely a familiar face for everybody who has ever seen A Fistful of Dollars.



Notes:

  • (1) Most editions of Karl May’s novels contain several separate stories, often featuring different characters. Llano Estacado is part of Surehand I (Unter Geiern), but the main character is Shatterhand, not Surehand. The story is often published separately and is the only part of the novel that has been translated into English :



The Karl May Movie Reviews

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  • Among Vultures Review


Simon Gelten
Simon Gelten is a long time contributor to the SWDb. "I'm not as old as Tom B. but I'm working on it. I hope to catch up with him by the end of the next decade.", he says. Simon saw all movies by Sergio Leone and several by Sergio Corbucci in cinema, most of the time in Eindhoven, the city where he was born. Currently, Simon is living in Turnhout, Belgium. Simon is active within the database as both Scherpschutter and his alter ego Tiratore Scelto.
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