Treasure of Silver Lake Review
Made in 1962, in a pre-Leone Europe, this was the first adaptation of a Karl May novel set in the West, featuring Old Shatterhand, the famous frontiersman, and his friend Winnetou, chief of the Apaches. The movie was a phenomenal success and helped creating a cultural and financial context for the spaghetti westerns. Der Schatz im Silbersee was not the first Winnetou novel, therefore Winnetou and Old Shatterhand are already ‘blood brothers’ at the start of the movie. Their first encounters would be the subject of the second Karl May movie, Winnetou I. The choice for this particular novel, Der Schatz im Silbersee, was probably suggested by the fact that it’s one of the more ‘adult’ novels of the series. The body count is relatively high and the villain, a renegade army officer, is a brute who burns people in their houses. In the movie this is watered down considerably, still the violence is more graphic than in most later adaptations.
The story is quite simple and combines two themes that would turn out to be particularly prolific within the European western: the treasure hunt and the vengeance tale. A sadistic villain, called Colonel Brinkley, has heard rumors about a treasure hidden near a so-called Silver Lake. A map, torn into two different parts, reveals the exact location of the treasure. Brinkley has killed the owner of the first half of the map, a man called Engel, and is now in search of the second half, which is in possession of Engel’s friend Patterson. But Engel had a grown-up son, Fred, who seeks revenge for the violent death of his father. Fred teams up with Winnetou and Old Shatterhand and eventually they all meet at the Silver Lake.
Winnetou and Old Shatterhand only appear in the second half of the book (the main character is Old Firehand, not present in the movie), but are brought more central to the plot here. The character of Fred Engel has also been altered: in the book he’s a child, in the movie he’s old enough to avenge his father (and to have a love interest). A young man filling the boots of his father is a theme very dear to Karl May, and it seems to me that Fred Engel was based on the famous Martin Bauman, a character from another May novel Der Sohn des Bärenjägers. Several action scenes were sped up a little, to make them look more spectacular; instead the procedure creates a sort of Comedy Capers effect. But the scenes set around and on the lake are breathtakingly beautiful. The movie was entirely shot in former Yugoslavia (Croatia); the lake scenes were shot in the Plivice Lakes National Park; the Butler Farm was built in the Grobnik Valley, near Rijeka. The cinematography of the beautiful Croatian landscape was one of the series' major assets, and would even become more important in later entries.
Although Barker and Brice are top-billed, the opposition between Colonel Brinkley and Fred Engel is more essential to the narrative and the film works best when it concentrates on their actions. Herbert Lom, best known as the neurotic commissioner Dreyfus from the Pink Panther movies, turns in a deliciously maniacal performance as the red-haired Colonel Brinkley. Fred Engel is played by German actor Götz George, who would become a national monument as commissioner Horst Schimanski in the long-running TV series Tatort; he’s in his early twenties here, and his physique and athletic abilities are impressive. Karin Dor is a special delight as the lovely Ellen Patterson; she’s repeatedly tied to poles and gazed at by the villains, but never touched by a single one of them. Comic relief is provided by a fashionable butterfly collector and a trapper who insist on telling everything in rhyme. Their scenes belong to the dreariest of the movie, and these unfunny things would only become worse in the years to come.
Director: Harald Reinl - Cast: Lex Barker, Pierre Brice, Herbert Lom, Götz George, Karin Dor, Ralf Wolter, Eddi Arent, Marianne Hoppe, Mirko Boman, Sima Janicijevic, Jozo Kovacevic, Slobodan Dimitrijevic
The Karl May Movie Reviews