Fred Engel's (Götz George) father owned half of a map to the legendary
treasure of Silver Lake, but while riding on a stagecoach he is killed by
Cornel Brinkley (Herbert Lom) and his gang, the tramps, and his part of
the map is stolen. Infuriated, Engel swears to track down the killers and
bring them to justice ... but in the meantime, German scout Old
Shatterhand (Lex Barker) and his friend, the Apache chieftain Winnetou
(Pierre Brice) have, after finding traces of the stagecoach robbery, also
decided to pick up investigations, and eventually, Engel comes to think
Old Shatterhand is his father's killer. It takes Shatterhand's strong fist
and a vouch by his friend and sidekick Sam Hawkens (Ralf Wolter) to
convince Engel otherwise.
Soon, Shatterhand learns the truth about the treasure of the Silver
Lake, and about the other half of the map which is with old man Patterson
(Jan Sid) at Mrs Butler's (Marianne Hoppe) farm, which at closer
inspection resembles a fortress. Soon enough, Winnetou, Shatterhand,
Engel, Sam Hawkens and prairie poet Gunstick Uncle (Mirko Boman) arrive at
the farm, shortly before the Tramps put them under siege ... but someone's
missing on the farm - Patterson and his daughter Ellen (Karin Dor). Soon
the two of them become captives of the Tramps, but Winnetou and Old
Shatterhand manage to sneak out of the farm to free them, and while
Shatterhand brings them to safety inside the farm, Winnetou rides off to
fetch the Osaga Indians.
Things at the farm soon heat up, and before long, the Tramps, robbed of
Patterson, attack and even manage to force their way in ... when Winnetou
arrives with the Osagas to fight off the Tramps ... but unfortunately,
Brinkley and a small group of his men escape, and they just won't give up
At the farm, Winnetou and Old Shatterhand decide to go looking for the
treasure, along with Fred Engel, Patterson, his daughter Ellen, Sam
Hawkens, Gunstick Uncle and the eccentric British butterfly collector Lord
Castlepool (Eddi Arent).
And while Winnetou has decided to spy on the Tramps, the others soon
become captives of the Utahs, who think they have massacred their wives
and children (which was actually done by the Tramps), only Ellen gets away
- and is captured by Brinkley.
Our heroes are only set free again when Old Shatterhand manages to
defeat the Utahs' chieftain in a duel, when they learn that Brinkley has
Ellen and will only release her in exchange for the map. So they take a
gamble, and send Fred Engel over to the Tramps' camp, with him
claiming he ias the only survivor of the Utah attack and has not got the
map as such but memorized it - which assures the Tramps will kill neither
him nor Ellen before they have actually found the treasure ...
Eventually, the Tramps make it to the Silver Lake before Winnetou and
Old Shatterhand and the others, but it is in the actual cave contqaining
the treasure that Brinkley and his closest associates get at each other's
throats to get the lion's share of the gold they find. Only Brinkley
himself survives the fight that ensues, but then - by a devillish
mechanism of the treasure cave - is flushed into an underground swamp with
all the gold, where he dies tragically ...
For our heroes meanwhile it's an easy feat to defeat the rest of the
Tramps, free Engel and Ellen, and ride off to new adventures ...
With their Edgar
Wallace-series, the Danish-turned-German production outfit Rialto
has hit box office gold in the late 1950's, which is why they, in 1962,
could afford to take a gamble: produce a Western, based on a book of
popular German writer Karl May.
The concept for the film which eventually emerged into Der Schatz im
Silbersee sounds quite horrible: Location filming took place at some
quite scenic spots in former Yugoslavia - which, while looking great, did
not resemble the traditional picture of the Old West too closely -, the
central role of Apache cheiftain Winnetou was played by Pierre Brice, a
handsome Frenchman who looked nothing like a Native American, while the
the only German character in this (German) film about America was played
by Lex Barker, the only American actor in this film about America.
As I said, on paper this looks horrible, nevertheless, Der Schatz im
Silbersee became the highest grossing film of the year and the most
successful German film so far. Rialto
soon turned the stories about Winnetou into a film-series, producing 8 more
films, with 2 additional ones being produced by Rialto's
chief rival CCC-Filmkunst,
all starring Pierre Brice and most starring Lex Barker as well.
But was it a good film ?
Surprisingly, yes it was. Der Schatz im Silbersee was not so
much a modern or psychological Western, which Hollywood produced at that
time, nor was it of course on par with the works of John Ford, Raoul Walsh
or Howard Hawks, to name but a few, it is rather reminiscent of
Hollywood's B-Westerns where the emphasis is on action and heroes, where a
man is still a man and where villains (Herbert Lom is at his most evil
here) are clearly distinguishable ... but Der Schatz im Silbersee was made with a higher
budget and more care than Hollywood's typical B-product.
The result is a gripping adventure film in Western settings, with a
fairy-tale atmosphere thanks to the romantic Yugoslavian landscapes and
Martin Böttcher's schmaltzy but catchy music, which gave each character
his own theme long before Ennio Morricone did the same in Once Upon a
Time in the West (1968). Of course the film is not free of kitsch, and
of characters one could have done without, but ultimately the movie warms
one's heart, and it gives the receptive viewer the feeling to be a boy
again who at one point in his life loved and acted out these Western
fantasies ... if only for the length of this film.