Tuesday, May 09, 2017

MOOM PITCHER REVIEW BY BILL SHUTE! FREDDY UND DAS LIED DER PRAIRIE (Germany-Yugoslavia 1964) starring Freddy Quinn and Mamie Van Doren!

Also known as FREDDY IN THE WILD WEST and
THE SHERIFF WAS A LADY (a direct translation of the German title would be FREDDY AND THE SONG OF THE PRAIRIE), this vehicle for beefy German singing star Freddy Quinn (whose “western” singing is more like Gordon MacRae in the musical OKLAHOMA than, say, Roy Rogers) is wonderfully entertaining. There used to be a Western-themed amusement park in California called Corriganville--it was previously a Movie Ranch where many B-westerns were filmed--run by former Three Mesquiteer and serial star Ray “Crash” Corrigan, which featured Western-themed entertainment, gunfights and simulated western brawls performed by stuntmen, etc. Imagine such a Western-themed park in the middle of Bavaria or Croatia (as this is a Yugoslav co-production, I’m guessing the locations are there, as they were in the Winnetou movies), with skits and musical ditties and gunfights and trick shooting and everything you’d expect at such a place....but done by people who not only just know the cliches, but who know them on a cartoon level and have no sense of tone. It’s almost like what a Dudley Do-Right cartoon is to a Mountie film--if the Dudley Do-Right film was made by Germans and Croatians and was live-action. This is the kind of film where after the hero shoots someone, and does it as casually as if he’s rolling a cigarette, just for the heck of it, he throws a silver dollar in the air and shoots a hole in it.

There’s a plot here to keep things moving....actually, there’s a few alternating strands of plot, as if ONE archetypal western plot was not enough....so we have the man who’s seeking the family who raised him after his own parents were killed....the man who is seeking his long-lost love from childhood....the man who is confused with a famous gunfighter....and the one (stop me if you’ve heard this ten times before) where the suave man who runs the saloon and owns everything in town is not-so-secretly the head of the criminals. You’ve also got a female sheriff who dresses like a man to be more convincing.

And then you’ve got Mamie Van Doren (no, she’s not the Sheriff) as the head entertainer at the dance hall, doing songs that start in English and segue into German. Mamie was always a talented all-around entertainer (she performed for the American troops in Southeast Asia for years, performing deep in war zones and being adored by soldiers starved for both entertainment and for lovely ladies, something she rarely gets credit for), and she brings that sexy and entertaining presence to this film, and fortunately her spunk and attitude and physicality transcend dubbing. The producers made a wise decision to import Mamie Van Doren for this film.

I never did manage to see this on American late-night TV back in the day (although I remember seeing it listed once in TV Guide), but I recently scored a letter-boxed English-language (well, mostly----Freddy’s songs are in English, parts of Mamie’s are, but the other dancehall songs are in German) print, and it’s beautiful to look at....and those Yugoslav Western Sets look like something at a Western theme park.

Clearly, the people who made this film love Westerns and romanticized Western popular culture, and that love comes through in every frame. It’s almost like those German and French rock and roll bands of the early and mid 1960’s who adored Eddie Cochran or The Ventures or whomever. They may be a bit off on the “tone” of the performance, but their spirit overcomes any cultural awkwardness, and it’s best to just go with the flow.

Director Sobey Martin was originally from Germany, but most of his credits are in American television, including such shows as VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, RAWHIDE, THE TIME TUNNEL, PUBLIC DEFENDER, LOST IN SPACE, and BOSTON BLACKIE. Since this film has the same kind of “please the whole family” kind of feel you expect from television of that era, Martin was probably a good choice. The excellent supporting cast, including such familiar names as Beba Loncar (as the Sheriff who’s a lady) and Rik Battaglia (as the oily saloon owner), all seem to “get” the spirit of the film, playing their characters as the “types” that they are, with a physicality that communicates more than whatever dialogue they are mouthing.

I came into this film not knowing what to expect. I knew it was a vehicle for Quinn and that it was probably a homage to old-fashioned westerns, so I was not expecting a Eurowestern of the German or Italian or Spanish style, but the film quickly establishes the level it’s going to be played out on (even before the majority of the opening credits roll), and if you are willing to go along with it and surrender any pre-conceptions----and imagine yourself at a Western theme park in Germany, holding a large stein full of dark beer, and there to enjoy yourself and forget the tedium and pain of reality for 100 minutes, then it’s totally successful. And you’ve got Mamie Van Doren being Mamie Van Doren too....what’s not to love about that!

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