Rampage at Apache Wells / Der Ölprinz Review

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Der Ölprinz (1965)

Director: Harald Philipp - Cast: Stewart Granger, Pierre Brice, Harald Lepnitz, Walter Barnes, Mario Girotti (Terence Hill), Macha Meril, Antje Weissgerber, Heinz Erhardt, Paddy Fox, Milivoje Popovic-Mavid, Slobodan Dimitrijevic

The second of three Rialto films with Stewart Granger as Old Surehand, this is one of the few Karl May movies based on an actual Karl May novel. However, the main character in the novel is Shatterhand, not Surehand. Granger wasn’t supposed to be in the movie, and only replaced Lex Barker, who wasn’t available at the time.

Der Ölprinz has a bit more story than most other adaptations, but is otherwise standard Karl May stuff about money-hungry villains, renegade Indians, and Old Surehand and Winnetou preventing a massacre. Director Harald Philipp had to work with a fairly limited budget and could therefore not work out some of his plans and was forced to use scenes from previous films. For the oil fire in the opening scenes, stock material from Winnetou II was used, and in a nice gesture, rivaling production house CCC (who had started their own series of Karl May movies) offered Philip the use of some of the old sets for Old Shatterhand to create the western town of Chinlo.

Harald Leipniz is the oil prince from the title, a sneaky villain who sells worthless claims to rich people. He wants to do a particularly good stroke of business by selling a large ‘oilfield’, located near Shelly Lake, in Indian territory, to the Western Arizona Bank, but his plans are crossed up by a group of colonists, who want to settle at Shelly Lake. A settlement near the lake means trouble with the Indians and possibly the interference of the army, so the Oil Prince kills the wagon master of the settlers, and replaces him with one of his own men, who must lead them elsewhere. Winnetou and Old Surehand are on his trail and discover what has happened. Winnetou offers to replace the dead wagon master, but then the Oil Prince kills the son of a Navajo chief, and puts the blame on the settlers ...

For Brice it was a rather difficult production, he nearly froze to death during the raft scene because he refused to use a protective diving suit under his clothing, and hurt his right hand so badly he could not use his famous silver rifle during the entire film. On the positive side he discovered that he had a hobby in common with actress Meril, who was, like Brice, a passionate cook. The film wasn’t popular among contemporary audiences who preferred Lex Barker to Stewart Granger. The emphasis on the fate of the settlers (rather than the Indians), seems to betray some influence of John Ford. The conclusion, with Old Surehand proving the innocence of the settlers, is particularly stupid, and the film also squanders the character of Old Wabble, one of May's most interesting creations. In the novels the 90 year old Old Wabble is a grumpy, but basically good-natured old chap, nicknamed King of the Cowboys, who slowly evolves into one of the most fervent and dangerous opponents of our heroes. But here he is only used as a sidekick.


Like most Karl May adaptations, the film offers some excellent location work. The raft scene could've been great, but unfortunately scenes shot on location, are alternated with scenes shot in the studio, the actors jumping around in the splashing water of a giant bathtub. Although the film was released in the US and several European countries, the casting of actress Antje Weissgerber and comedian and musician Heinz Ehrhardt (who were very popular in Germany but virtually unknown abroad) is an indication that the international appeal of the series was in decline and the films were more and more aimed at the home market. Terence Hill and Walter Barnes have their usual cameo appearances and Harald Leipniz turns in a very decent performance as the slimy heavy, a guy who probably could sell ice-cubes to the Inuit.

Karl May and National Socialism

The fact that the storyline is a bit closer to the original Karl May story, has a rather unwelcome side-effect. There has been a lot of discussion whether May's novels - who were popular among national-socialists - propagated a questionable, racist philosophy or not. Karl May thought of native Americans as admirable natural men, and he was by no means a nazi avant la lette, but the basic idea of his stories is that a good Indian, is by definition an Indian who tries to be as white as possible, by adopting the white man's way of life and religion. In the novels this is far more emphasized than in the films. We have grown up with the likes of Shatterhand and Surehand, so we can accept, more or less, their superiority, but in Der Ölprinz there's one scene with Winnetou talking to the Navajos, telling them they have to give their land to the white men, because they can teach the Indians a lot and are so good to them. It's quite painful to watch.

The Karl May Movie Reviews


--By Scherpschutter

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