Color, 1962, 111m.
Directed by Harald Reinl
Starring Lex Barker, Herbert Lom, Pierre Brice, Gotz George, Karin Dor, Eddi Arent, Ralf Wolter
Universum/Tobis (Blu-Ray & DVD) (Germany R0 HD/PAL), Kinowelt (Germany R2 PAL), Video Film Express (Holland R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9), Something Weird, PR Studios

During the 1960s, Europe became a thriving epicenter of pulp cinema, and Germany was no different. Like its Italian and Spanish counterparts, Germany found great success churning out horror-tinged thrillers and stylized westerns. However, in their case they already had a firm bedrock of source material to adapt thanks to two of the country's most popular authors. English crime novelist Edgar Wallace provided the basis for a lengthy string of outrageous shockers with a stable of German character actors switching parts all over the place, while Germany's own Karl May, a prolific western writer who never visited any of the locations in his books, inspired a string of films featuring his most iconic characters, rugged frontier hero Old Shatterhand and his Indian friend, Winnetou. These films featured many of the same actors and crew from the Edgar Wallace films, as well as iconic themes for both series written by composer Martin Böttcher. The Winnetou/Old Shaterhand stories were exported around the world and, though not as widely known today as the Edgar Wallace cycle, they remain a strong pop culture staple in Germany and even inspired a key moment of gamesmanship in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds.

The most widely acclaimed and commercially successful film in the series is Treasure of Silver Lake, released in Germany as Der Schatz im Silbersee. Former Tarzan actor Lex Barker made his debut here as Shatterhand (a role he reprised six more times) as did his co-star, Pierre Brice, who went on to play Winnetou in even more films for both the big screen and television. Shot in Germany and Croatia, it's a standard revenge story amped up to operatic degrees as young, handsome and headstrong Fred (George) sets out for vengeance against the bandits who killed his father to obtain half of a valuable treasure map. The leader of the killers, the seemingly respectable Colonel Brinkley (Asylum's Lom), now has his sights on obtaining the other half of the map and snatches up the beautiful Ellen (You Only Live Twice's Dor) to get the job done. Meanwhile, after brawling in a case of mistaken identity, Fred teams up with the stoic Old Shatterhand and Winnetou to navigate a treacherous terrain of Indians and natural perils before confronting the evil colonel at the site of the treasure itself.

Colorful, fast, and beautifully shot in scope in scenic locations doubling admirably for the American West, this film doesn't even try for historical accuracy. It's a complete adventure fantasy in an idealized version of the West filtered through a lens similar to that of the Italian spaghetti westerns, albeit with the expected German quirks (including a typically goofy performance from hambone Eddi Arent, a familiar face from the Edgar Wallace films). It's not hard to see how this became a huge success in its day, particularly with a hissable pro like Lom carrying the villainous duties here, and the rest of the films followed suit to provide one of the most consistently entertaining franchises of the decade.

Many video editions of this title have circulated over the years, most of them terrible. America has had the worst luck with a string of cropped, scratchy, poorly-dubbed bootlegs and bargain releases that didn't come close to doing this film justice. It's fared better in Europe with a few anamorphic DVDs, but for the most bang for your buck, the German Blu-Ray is easily the way to go. The transfer looks terrific from start to finish with robust colors and no damage in evidence at all; from the wide landscape shots to intimate close ups, everything looks pitch perfect. A remixed 5.1 version of the German audio is included, but it sounds forced and gimmicky with some distracting reverb during the music. Stick with the mono audio options here, in either German or English. Optional subtitles in both languages are also offered, and surprisingly, the English ones aren't dubtitles; they're a different translation straight off the German track. Neither dialogue option really matches the lips of the actors during their dialogue due to the international composition of the cast, so it's recommended to test both and decide which sounds better to your ears. (I'd favor the German, but either one is viable.) However, the extras are in German only with no subtitle options, which limits their appeal a bit; included are a video interview with Horst Wendlandt, a restoration featurette, a trailer, and a video documentary about the May films. If you're a fan of Euro westerns and want something a little different from the usual Italian fare, this would be a great place to start.

Reviewed on 9/20/11.