German week: Deadlock

Forget about the “spaghetti western” (Ennio Morricone never liked the term anyway), no European country loves western more than Germany. Pretty odd for a country that never really made westerns… what Germany did do was reinventing stories of existing westerns. Because of the success of Django, the Germans were quick to rename every Italian western “Django”, whether a character called Django was present or not.
The most interesting film here is Preparati la bara, a western starring Terence Hill. This film is released in Germany under two titles: one is an intact version which is called Django und die Bande der Gehenkten, the other version is cut to pieces and seems to have been made later. By this time, Hill had become famous for the movies in which he co-starred with Bud Spencer,which is why Hill’s character occasionally wonders where “the fat one” would be hanging out. Spencer, you may have guessed, had nothing to do with this film. Preparati la bara was re-edited, not only cutting the violence out but also adding extra comedy bits. And so the Germans managed to make two new films out of existing footage…watch Django und die Bande der Gehenkten by all means, but if you ever spot Joe, der Galgenvogel stay away from this re-edited monstrosity.

So did the Germans make any westerns themselves? Hardly any. The best example is the film adaptations of the Karl May novels, starring cowboy hero Old Shatterhand and his Indian pal Winnetou. Aimed at a young audience, the films were adventure films rather than westerns, just like you’d probably never answer Bonanza if someone would ask you “Name a typical western”. The film adaptations were made by a name that has popped up before: Harald Reinl.

A more typical (albeit modern) western has been made in Germany, even though a lot of people haven’t heard of it. Time for DV to change that then… Deadlock was made in 1970 by Roland Klick. A quick IMDb search will show you Klink isn’t very well known and a lot of his films feature violence. Deadlock has plenty of that too.

It is a weird little film, it starts with a gangster staggering through the desert’s heat, before falling over… exhaustion, we can only guess. A shabby guy drives past, notices the guy and his suitcase. He opens the suitcase, notices it’s brimful of money and does the only decent thing: he takes a rock to crush the guy’s skull. But just as he’s about to hit the gangster, the gangster’s body starts sliding down the mountain. Afraid to spill any extra effort and pleased by the fact the gangster didn’t even react to his body’s sliding down a hill, the shabby guy grabs the suitcase and drives off. Remorse eventually hits him, but not in the form Samaritans would like to hear: he drives back to the gangster, this time with a better weapon, only to find the body is gone. The very next moment he notices there’s a gun pointed towards himself… looks like the gangster wasn’t so dead after all.

What follows is very much a typical western. Sure the horses have been traded in for trucks, but the essential flow of a western is still there. Some settings even reminded me of Django, that most essential western. The characters even have typical western names…our shabby protagonist is Charles Dump, nicknamed “The Rat’. There’s the “Old Killer”, the “Young Killer” (named Kid), the “Girl” and her mother (whose name I won’t mention here, something to do with being raised to have manners etc.).

Mascha Rabben, as “The Girl”, may have gotten a less excitng part (essentially it’s sois belle et tais-toi), but she gives a lasting performance. She’s probably not very known. The only names you may have heard of before are Mario Adorf (as Charles Dump) and Anthony Dawson (as the Old Killer).

Will the Old Killer manage to track down his Kid companion? Will there be bloodshed? Will the Girl’s looks save her? How many people will leave Deadlock alive? All these are questions I won’t answer. I’ve already told you of that rarest of things, a real German western. A Sauerkraut western, if you please.

Deadlock is out on DVD in Germany. The music is once again by Can and adds a lot of extra mystery. It may even be the best reason to watch the film for. Maybe that’s why the film was also dubbed “psychedelic western” and why Jodorowsky likes it so much. The film was recorded in English, so there’s no need to take that German-English dictionary out of your bookshelves if you feel like watching it. The DVD contains an interview with and a documentary about director Klick (as well as an audio commentary by the man), but what is even more special is “Die Chance”, a documentary about Klick’s national search for a girl to play the role of Jessy (The Girl). It’s not often you get to see such an extra for a movie made in 1970.

I leave you with the trailer, but watch out as it contains some spoilers. Ardent westerns fans shouldn’t be too surprised though. Still, if you just want to get a feel of the film, watch only the first two minutes of the trailer.

P.S. And let’s end with some schlager music, it wouldn’t be German week without it. Here’s Gitte telling us about her love for the only kind of man she’s attracted to: “Ich will ‘nen Cowboy als Mann”.

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