Cast & Crew
In frontier Arizona, Old Surehand, a self-appointed lawman and blood brother of the young Apache chief Winnetou, is the sworn enemy of the Vultures, a band of outlaws disguised as Indians who terrorize prospectors and settlers. When the Vultures capture Annie, who is transporting her father's moneybelt filled with diamonds, Martin Baumann, who is in love with Annie, rescues her. Baumann mistakenly believes that the Shoshone are responsible for the slaughter of his family, and he is captured by the tribe for insulting their chief, but Old Surehand saves Baumann's life by performing feats of skill and strength. Old Surehand, Winnetou, and Baumann then hear that the wagon train in which Annie is traveling is about to be ambushed by the Vultures, and they fight off the gang until the Shoshone come to the rescue.
Charles M. Wakefield
The thirty-five western novels of Karl May sold in the tens of millions internationally and gave the brooding Germans a means of escape via a taste of post-Civil War American frontier life. The books also beget a fad for westernalia that has endured to this day. German fuehrer Adolf Hitler was a fan and commanded his Third Reich to read May's novels as morale boosters; the Nazi-built amphitheatre in Bad Segeberg continues to stage Karl May plays while annual Karl May festspieles are held throughout the country. Because he wrote in the first person, with Shatterhand revealing himself as a German national, it was assumed that May's fictions were drawn from his own experiences. May encouraged this assumption but in truth the writer traveled abroad only once in his lifetime, in 1908 (and no farther west than Buffalo, New York), shortly before his death. The writer's seeming knowledge of frontier life was cadged entirely from the books he catalogued as an inmate librarian of Zwickau Prison. A sickly child suckled on dime novels, May matured into a robustly romantic youth with a penchant for fabrication, which saw him jailed for various crimes, among them selling bogus medicines and participating in an insurance scam. Gorging himself on the novels of James Fenimore Cooper and Zane Grey, as well as on a number of pertinent encyclopedias (among them Heckewelder's Account of the History, Manners and Customs of the Indian Nations), May redefined himself as an expert on the American West. Submitting his stories for publication even before his release from Zwickau in 1874, May became the object of bidding wars between rival publishers. May's first novel was published the following year and his first Winnetou novel was put before the public in 1893.
In the novels of Karl May, Shatterhand turned his back on a job with the railroad due to his disapproval of Yankee narrow-mindedness and outright racism. This backstory has an appealing parallel to the career of Stewart Granger, who assumed the role (for all intents and purposes) in 1963. Born in London in 1913 as James Stewart (the name change should be self explanatory), Granger saw his stock as a jobbing actor on the London stage rise after his wartime service. In 1943, he played his first lead in The Man in Grey for Gainsborough Pictures. When fellow Gainsborough trouper James Mason was drafted by Hollywood, Granger inherited the meatier roles that had been Mason's métier. By the end of the decade, Granger's athleticism (he insisted on performing his own stunts) attracted the attention of the Hollywood studios, which saw him as an heir to Errol Flynn. In 1950, Granger and his new bride, actress Jean Simmons, signed with MGM but Simmons got the more interesting roles while Granger was stuck in swashbucklers such as the 1952 remake of The Prisoner of Zenda, Scaramouche (1952) and Fritz Lang's Moonfleet (1955). Although he became an American citizen in 1956, Granger grew sufficiently disgusted with the crassness of Tinsel Town to quit Hollywood after making North to Alaska (1960) for Twentieth Century Fox. Divorced from Simmons that year, Granger made one film back in his native England before decamping to the Continent. As a free agent, Granger brought a touch of class to war movies, espionage thrillers, comedies, costumers and Biblical sub-epics, and made three trips to Yugoslavia to play Old Surehand to Pierre Brice's Winnetou.
Although the part had made him an international star (and a recording artist to boot), Pierre Brice disliked the limitations of playing the stoic Winnetou. One would think Brice and the underappreciated Granger might have bonded over this creative common ground but in truth the two hated one another. (Throughout his life, Granger was never one to shy away from badmouthing colleagues who disappointed him, with notable exceptions being John Wayne and Deborah Kerr, with whom he enjoyed a brief affair on the set of King Solomon's Mines in 1950.) Whatever his true feelings for the material, Granger brings a sense of the swashbuckler's natural buoyancy to Frontier Hellcat, 1964 (in Germany, Unter Geiern), punctuating Surehand's ripostes with a wink and a killer smile. Lacking Lex Barker's brawn, Granger relies on agility and speed to best his antagonists, not only shooting from the hip but using a rifle... one-handed!
In support of his stars, director Albert Vohrer (one of several replacements for the departed Harald Reinl) reassembled much of the Winnetou repertory, including Yugoslavian actors Götz George and Gojko Mitic (who later donned the moccasins of Winnetou for a couple of TV movies), and introduced Milan Srdoc as Surehand's bewhiskered sidekick Old Wabble. A 23 year-old Elke Sommer was retained to play the "frontier hellcat" of the US title. The voluptuous blonde Berliner, a discovery of Vittorio De Sica, scored a plum role that year in A Shot in the Dark (1964), Blake Edwards' follow-up to The Pink Panther (1963), again starring Peter Sellers as the indefatigably clueless Inspector Clouseau. Sommer and the manic British comedian were reteamed years later in Richard Quine's comic remake of The Prisoner of Zenda (1979), in which Sellers played the dual role essayed by Stewart Granger a quarter of a century earlier.
Producer: Horst Wendlandt
Director: Alfred Vohrer
Screenplay: Eberhard Keindorff, Johanna Sibelius; Karl May (novel)
Cinematography: Karl Lob
Music: Martin Bottcher
Film Editing: Hermann Haller
Cast: Stewart Granger (Old Surehand), Pierre Brice (Winnetou), Elke Sommer (Annie Dillman), Gotz George (Martin Baumann Jr.), Walter Barnes(Martin Baumann Sr.), Sieghardt Rupp (Preston), Mihail Baloh ('Reverend' Weller), Renato Baldini (Judge George Leader), Mario Girotti (Baker Jr.), Georg Mitic (Wokadeh), Louis Velle (Gordon), Voja Miric (Stewart), Stole Arandjelovic (Milton), George Heston (Miller), Dunja Rajter (Betsy).
C-85m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Richard Harland Smith
My Life and Efforts by Karl May, First Edition 1910, translated by Günther Olesch
"World Westerns: The European Writer and the American West" by Richard Cracroft, A Literary History of the American West, 1987
Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone by Christopher Frayling
Sergio Leone: Something To Do With Death by Christopher Frayling
The Film Encyclopedia by Ephraim Katz
Released in West Germany in December 1964 as Unter Geiern at 102 min; in Yugoslavia in 1965 as Medju jastrebovima; Paris opening: August 1966 as Parmi les vautours.