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Westerns with a Twist

The Sons of Great Bear
Directed by Josef Mach. 88 min.

A vicious frontiersman, Fred 'Red Fox' Clark (Jiri Vrstala), kills an elderly Indian (A. P. Hoffmann) while attempting to discover the whereabouts of the Bear Band's secret gold reserves. The old man's son Tokei Ihto (Gojko Mitic) goes rogue and he joins the Indian rebels who are resisting the US government's plans to revoke their settlement treaties. Clashes with the US Cavalry and a final showdown with Clark and his gang of murderous frontiersmen take place when Tokei Ihto convinces his people to leave their barren reservation and follow him in search of a new settlement across the Missouri river. This show was the East German DEFA studios' first Western and it's not a bad effort. A couple of the film's action sequences are staged in a charmingly na´ve kind of way but the bulk of the action here is well executed. Some of the film's occasionally campy music cues play a little incongruously at times but the show's cinematography is of a good quality. Jiri Vrstala makes for an excellent bad guy: he comes on like Klaus Kinski's even nastier older brother.

Chingachgook: The Great Snake
Directed by Richard Groschopp. 87 min.

North America, 1740: the struggle for colonial dominance finds the English enlisting the Delaware Indian tribes as mercenaries
while the French make similar use of the Huron tribes. When Huron raiders kidnap Chingachgook's (Gojko Mitic) bride to be from a Delaware settlement, the fearless warrior begins tracking them down with his frontiersman pal, Deerslayer (Rolf Romer).  The trail leads the pair into clashes with English and French troops, murderous frontiersmen and Huron warriors. This show's introductory sequence employs a stilted documentary-like approach but a more traditional filmic narrative format is adopted for the main body of the film. There are some impressive sets here (a log cabin built in the centre of a lake) and some superb action sequences too. A couple of the show's music cues do play a little incongruously but this remains an entertaining
production. Based on a story by James Fenimore Cooper, Chingachgook represents another reasonably solid effort by DEFA.

Directed by Gottfried Kolditz. 94 min.

For several years an Apache tribe has abided by a peace treaty that allows the Mexicans at Santa Rita to mine the tribe's land for copper. A team of American prospectors, led by the duplicitous Johnson (Milan Beli), are seeking to mine gold in the
locality and they arrange for the Apaches to be brutally massacred when they attend a yearly celebration that is organized by the residents of Santa Rita.  Ulzana (Gojko Mitic), the elderly but wily Nana (Colea Rautu) and six other Apache warriors survive the massacre and set out for revenge.  Their plans become complicated by the outbreak of war between the USA and Mexico. Made in 1973, Apaches is much more grittier and self-assured than the two 1960s-shot films that accompany it here. And
the film's music is much better too: it almost veers into Ennio Morricone territory at times. Square-jawed, muscular and athletic, Gojko Mitic is a convincing Indian brave-cum-hero in all three of the films presented here but he really comes into his own in Apaches. Coming on like a cross between Jack Palance and Piero Lulli, Milan Beli makes for a formidable bad guy. Superbly paced and full of surprises, Apaches remains one of the best Indian-oriented Westerns that I've ever come across.

The picture and sound quality of all three films is essentially very good.  It seems likely that the films were originally shot with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 but these 1.85:1 editions remain welcome releases. Each title can be bought separately.

Extras: each disc features an interview with Gojko Mitic, film notes, biographies, a photo gallery and a DEFA Westerns


Review reprinted from in the fanzine "Westerns...All'Italiana"

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