Der Schatz im Silbersee (The Treasure of Silver Lake) is a West German-Yugoslav co-production from 1962, the first of the so-called Kraut Westerns of the 1960s, adapted from a Karl May novel of the same name. Director Harald Reinl, having to a large extent defined the popular genres of post-World War II West German cinema with Heimatfilme, war films, and Edgar Wallace thrillers, now set his sights on the works of the popular adventure novelist (1842-1912). Produced by Horst Wendlandt for 3.5 million marks, it was the most expensive German post-war movie up until then.
In an effort to increase international sales, it was decided to give the part of the leading hero, Old Shatterhand, to American actor Lex Barker, while Frenchman Pierre Brice was cast as Winnetou, the noble Apache chief. Since costs of filming the story in the American Southwest were prohibitive, it was decided to shoot the film (and its sequels) in Yugoslavia, which offered some spectacular landscapes that could double for America with the addition of a few fake cacti etc.
The "Tramps", a bunch of desperadoes led by the nasty "Colonel" Brinkley (Herbert Lom), kill the owner of half a map leading to a treasure near Silver Lake. The victim's son, Fred Engel (Götz George), sets off in hot pursuit, running into Old Shatterhand. They accompany him to the homestead owned by the resolute Mrs. Butler (Marianne Hoppe), where they are met by Patterson, owner of the second half of the map, and his daughter Ellen (Karin Dor). But the Colonel also wants the other half of the map, and soon the Butler farm is under attack, only to be saved in the nick of time by an Osage war party brought by Winnetou. But the Colonel escapes with many of his men.
The good guys now set out to find the treasure of Silver Lake ahead of the Tramps, going through the land of the Utahs. The Colonel had massacred a Utah village, so the Utahs regard the other group as enemies. But after Old Shatterhand defeats their chief Great Wolf in personal combat, they smoke the Peace Pipe and offer their help. Unfortunately the Colonel in the meantime succeeded in capturing Fred and Ellen, and now knows where to find the treasure. Leaving his captives behind, he and a few trusted men cross Silver Lake to a cave, where the treasure is guarded by an old blind Indian guardian. The Colonel strikes him down, but then the sight of the pile of gold is too much and the Tramps knock the Colonel out and start to fight among themselves for the treasure. But the Colonel comes to and quickly guns them all down. But in his moment of triumph the dying guardian pulls a chain which sets off a mechanism which hurtles the treasure and all into a mud-filled pit where the Colonel dies.
Back on the other side of the lake, the good guys succeed in freeing Fred and Ellen and overcoming their guards. In the final shot, Winnetou and Old Shatterhand are paddling off in a canoe, onwards to new adventures!
The commercial success of Der Schatz im Silbersee at the time was noticed by the Cahiers du Cinéma, who called it a "Black Forest Western", and even across the Atlantic, where The Western was at that time once again seen as a dying genre. The film was followed by a prequel Winnetou I (1963), and several sequels.
The series is fondly remembered and loved by generations of children in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.
Der Schatz im Silbersee provides examples of:
- Action Girl: Mrs Butler is an Action Woman par excellence. She shoots like she was growing up with the gun.
- Big Bad: Colonel Brinkley, a ruthless bandit seeking the titular treasure.
- Blood Brothers: Winnetou and Old Shatterhand.
- Breakout Character: In the novels, Lord Castlepool appears in just one book, Der Schatz im Silbersee, but after the movie of that, Eddi Arent reprised the character in two sequels, Winnetou II and Winnetou und Shatterhand im Tal der Toten.
- The Cavalry: Inverted. Here the plucky settlers are waiting for the Indians to save them from the evil white guys.
- Dismantled MacGuffin: Mr Engel received a treasure map from an old Indian, but he was careful and split it in half.
- Kick the Dog: Colonel Brinkley unloading his pistol into a henchman for questioning his scheme.
- Love Interest: Fred Engel and Ellen Patterson.
- Eating the Eye Candy: Several men try to eat Ellen with their eyes.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Winnetou and Old Shatterhand are blood brothers and the most faithful and loyal of friends.
- MacGuffin: The treasure map and the treasure itself. That's what the bandits are after.
- No MacGuffin, No Winner: Nobody gets the treasure. Because Cornel was greedy and wanted everything for himself, the guardian of the treasure destroyed it in the swamp.
- Peace Pipe: After Old Shatterhand defeats their chief Great Wolf in personal combat, they smoke the peace pipe.
- Plucky Comic Relief:
- Sam Hawkens (Ralf Wolter), a man who lost his scalp. He may seem ditzy, but he's very capable.
- Gunstick Uncle, a poet who cannot resist and must talk in rhymes. An excellent shot.
- Lord Castlepool, the butterfly-collector who joins Winnetou's and Old Shatterhand's party. He is actually a very accurate shot.
- The Power of Friendship: The aesop of this story.
- Quintessential British Gentleman: Karl May lived at a time when wealthy British globetrotters were a common trope, and the Scottish Lord Castlepool is a good example. In the novel he is less of a comic relief character than in the film, but he is obsessed with making wagers and travels through the Wild West in search of adventure, paying his guides 50 Dollars per adventure.
- Running Gag: People keep shooting whatever hat Lord Castlepool is wearing of his head, starting with a pith helmet. In the final attack, he puts on his nightcap.
- The Sociopath: Colonel Brinkley, a bandit who thinks nothing of massacring an entire village to get a Treasure Map, guns down one of his own men for questioning him, and slaughters a Utah camp's women and children for no apparent reason. When he does find the treasure, he promptly starts killing henchmen so he doesn't have to share.
- The Western: A typical example.
- The X of Y: The Treasure of Silver Lake.