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East German Westerns


In the comments to yesterday’s post on German Civil War reenactors, people mentioned Germans’ love of westerns. This reminded of the remarkable box set released by First Run Features a few years of East German westerns from the 1960s.

While I’d be hard pressed to call them good, they are pretty interesting. They are pure Noble Savage, which seems to dominate German ideas of the American West for at least the last century, if not two. Moreover, they are intended as a sort of low-level propaganda, with evil white Americans looking to rape and kill Indians and steal their land. There’s Chingachook, a retelling of The Deerslayer. Apaches and The Sons of Great Bear both revolve around mining claims.

Of course, if the East Germans wanted to show some powerful films about the evils of the American military and white American settlers, they should have just waited a few years to show the far superior American film Little Big Man. Whether the East German propaganda agencies were aware of Americans’ own critique of their history developing in the 1960s and 70s is not something I have any clue about, but these films are more useful to think about how they attempted to paint anti-American images rather than a real critique of American settlement.

Plus the Indians are mostly played by Serbs, which is awesome.

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  • DrDick

    If they wanted to go completely over the top, they could have shown Soldier Blue, which was intended as an allegory of our involvement in Vietnam.

  • Or In the Year of the Pig for that matter.

    • Hogan

      Hell, they could have remade John Ford’s Fort Apache.

  • Give it up for Karl May

    • Left_Wing_Fox

      There still is a remarkable amount of fascination amongst the Germans for North American Aboriginal culture, thanks to the works of Karl May.

      This middle-of-nowhere Atlantic Canada town actually has a fair number of German tourists coming through on the way to visit the Mi’kmaq reservation west of here. They’ve managed to build quite a nice cultural center an resort out there.

      The relationship between the Germans and the few Mi’kmaq I’ve spoken to about this strikes me as similar to the relationship between, say, the original cast of Star Trek and their fans.

      • Well put. You definitely run into Germans doing reservation “tourism” in New Mexico too. I was at Acoma Pueblo once, and the Acoman tour guide asked everybody not to take pictures of the graveyard out of respect for the Acoman dead. These German tourists were outraged, and continued to demand to know why they couldn’t take pictures, what was the big deal over just a picture of a graveyard, etc. They definitely came off as entitled jerks who viewed Natives as some relic to be photographed and shown to the folks (volks?) back home. It was a repugnant affair through and through, though the host did an excellent job being patient yet firm.

      • DrDick

        That pretty well describes the reaction of the Indians I have known who encountered it. They always come away a bit dazed and bewildered by the experience.

  • wengler


  • Western Dave

    There are generally more Germans than white Americans at the Gallup Inter-tribal Ceremonials every year. And during the summer months, at least one carful of Germans a day stops at Herman’s Garage, in Thoreau NM, to photograph the non-working if historic pumps simply because it appeared in a German documentary on Route 66 with accompanying book. As owner Jimmy Herman has a pretty serious speech impediment the resulting conversations are pretty fun to watch if frustrating for the two parties trying to communicate.

    • Bart

      Many years ago in Scotland I had my photo taken in front of the red phone booth used in “Local Hero”.

      • Western Dave

        Best. Movie. Ever.

        Many years ago I biked to the beach used in the movie. It was so windy that it was the only time I ever had to peddle downhill.

  • Mrs Tilton

    For those of you who can understand German, I’d recommend the film Der Schuh des Manitu by Bully Herbig. Schuh is that extraordinarily rare thing, a German comedy that is funny.*

    The film parodies not American westerns but the German western tradition begun by May. The primary target is the old Winnetou films starring Pierre Brice.** (The Winnetou stories and films are, very roughly, like the American Lone Ranger, except that the Indian Winnetou is the hero and the paleface Old Shatterhand the sidekick.)

    The film couldn’t possibly work dubbed into English, but if your German is good enough that you can follow people speaking in a (light) Bavarian accent and if you don’t hate films like Zoolander, The Anchorman and the Naked Gun series, check it out.***

    * Some others that occur to me: Der Wixxer; Wer früher stirbt, ist länger tod; Kehraus; Almanya.

    ** Herbig was once on a talk show. The host brought old Brice onto the stage to confront him. Brice told Herbig that 9/11 was caused by the sort of disrespect that Schuh des Manitu showed to the Winnetou films. It was all Herbig could do to keep from laughing. Watching at home, I was under no such constraints.

    *** Schuh has an interesting parallel to the Naked Gun films. Both feature an actor (Leslie Nielsen; Sky du Mont) who spent a career paying matinee-idolish roles in indifferent-to-bad films****, only to discover late in life that he had a genius for comedy.

    **** OK, in Nielsen’s case, mostly indifferent-to-bad. Don’t want to diss Forbidden Planet.

  • they should have just waited a few years to show the far superior American film Little Big Man

    They would have loved the wife.

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