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That was Winnetou, the Apache chief, the most glorious of Indians. His name lived in every log-cabin and at every camp-fire. Just, sagacious, true, brave to to point of audacity, guileless, a friend and protector of all who needed aid, be they red or white of hue, so he was known throughout the length and breadth of the United States and beyond their borders.
—Karl May: Der Sohn des Bärenjägers, 1887
Winnetou is one of the best known novels written by the German author Karl May. Although May only traveled to America himself after his novels became successful, the novels are famed for their accuracy in geographic terms. All trips and journeys of the main character can be followed in an atlas. Several of the novels have film adaptions made in Germany in the sixties.
Adaption number one is 'Winnetou 1. Teil' (Winnetou 1st part, 1963), directed by Harald Reinl, starring Lex Barker as Old Shatterhand, Pierre Brice as Winnetou and Mario Adorf as Frederick Santer. They were parodied in Der Schuh des Manitu.
The tribe of the Apaches possesses a big hoard of gold. The first scene of the movie shows Winnetou, son of the chief, handing a sack of gold to a young Indian, who is supposed to deliver it.
The obvious villain is Santer, who, in the next scene tries to get the information out of the Indian. Unsuccessful, because one of his Mooks is brilliant enough to shoot the Indian when he spits in Santer's face.
The Apaches have one more problem to deal with; the railroad company is building right through their land, but they can't risk a clash, because a war would probably wipe them out.
Meanwhile a young German engineer who has the nickname 'Old Shatterhand' is escorting a trek of covered wagons with firearms and firewater, both very sought after by the Indians. Shortly before the same attack, three westmen warn them. Sam Hawkens is explaining to Shatterhand that, although he has a very nice gun, he is still a very green Greenhorn. We learn soon after that Shatterhand is everything else but a greenhorn, in the following Chase Scene he has many possibilities to show off and prove how Badass he is.
Shatterhand and his trek reach the town, where Santer is the most important man and also the one who altered the plans for the railroad, so he could win some hundred thousand dollar for himself. Shatterhand visits him and we now learn he is employed by the Great Western to check on why the route is changed.
Soon after that he meets Winnetou for the first time and the rest of the film is pretty much him fighting Indians, becoming friend with Indians, falling in love with Nscho-Tschi ('Beautiful Day'), Winnetous sister and several gunfights, in which people participate who let themselves be shot conveniently easily.
While Old Shatterhand is against the evil oil speculator Forrester, Winnetou attempts to gather chiefs of other nations to come to a modus vivendi with the white men. A wedding between Merril (Mario Girotti), a lieutenant of the US cavalry and Ribana (Karin Dor), the daughter of an Assiniboin chief, is meant to cement the peace. But things go awry and nearly end in catastrophe if not for the timely intervention of (you guessed it) Winnetou and Old Shatterhand. Lord Castlepool from Der Schatz I'm Silbersee makes a welcome second appearance.
Another story where a band of crooks tries to foment an Indian war but is foiled by Winnetou and Old Shatterhand, only this time Winnetou tragically is shot dead. Rik Battaglia, the actor who played the villain, got harrassed in real life afterwards.
The Winnetou novels and films provide examples of:
- Catch Phrase: Sam Hawkens' constant "If I'm not mistaken, hihi."
- Comic Relief: Sam Hawkens
- Hey, It's That Guy!: In Winnetou II, Klaus Kinski plays Forrester's main and most evil henchman. Mario Girotti became a big star in the 1970s under the name Terrence Hill.
- Love Interest: Belle and 'Nice Day'
- Plucky Comic Relief: The photographer for the Oxford Times ("Very lovely !")
- Mighty Whitey: more so in the novels, but also included in the films
- Prequel: In the way the movies were produced, Winnetou I is this. Winnetou and Old Shatterhand were shown as very good pals in Der Schatz I'm Silbersee, now we finally get to see how they met the first time.
- Sequels: Several, all listed on the Der Schatz im Silbersee page.
- The Western