Movie Review: Der Schuh des Manitu

Posted: November 4, 2011 in Movie Review, Reviews
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Der Schuh des Manitu

Native Americans are a dicey subject in fiction, mainly because of the stereotyping. There is also the problem that the term Native Americans can rub a cheese grater over the nerves of their souls. But really, it’s the stereotype that bothers most of us, I think. I mean, think about it a moment. I said Native American, and what did you think of? Buck skin wearing, noble savages with long straight black hair and a rudimentary grasp of language at best? Well, shame on you! They also talk about the Great Spirit at the drop of a hat and want to sing you the song of their people. Them and the Orientals get that weird, condescending attribute of being strangely wise, or mystical while also insulting them with the old ‘but of course they’re like children’ refrain as well. I’m not going to go into a lengthy discussion on it, but I sort of am because I’m talking about a movie that is set in the old west and involves made up Apaches. But it’s made by Germans, so they have like no connection to the actual history of the Native Americans and the movie is actually pretty funny since its jokes rarely ever touch on the known stereotypes beyond basic visuals and the Apache characters are the heroes. The best way I can describe it is that it’s like watching a hilarious movie about slave conditions in the Antebellum South made by Italians in blackface. You know that there is something terribly wrong with what’s being done, but the people who are doing it can’t begin to understand, and they’re being genuinely funny anyway. Look, maybe its better if I explain from the beginning…

Yup! Nothing wrong here.

Okay, there is a German writer called Karl May and he wrote a series of books about Winnetou, who was the chief of the Mescalero tribe of the Apache people. Now these books were very popular, so popular that even the Nazis couldn’t actually ban them and as a result that’s the guy who gets name dropped during that one scene in Inglourious Basterds when the soldiers are playing that guessing game in the bar. Still with me? You need to be, because we need to go a little further. The Winnetou books remained popular in Germany and were made into movies and TV shows. I have no idea how popular they still are over there, but they’re well known enough that Germans got this movie, which is a parody not only of Karl May, but of Westerns in general and other things as well. I suppose here is a pretty good spot to mention that these started as sketches on a TV show and the audience asked for this movie, which is why they made it. Now, I’m watching the Extra Large version which is slightly different than the theatrical release and… this doesn’t matter. Let’s get started.

Who do we want to see pegged?

So the heroes of this movie are actually Abahachi, and his best friend Ranger. Ranger is a stand in for Old Shatterhand and Abahachi is… I think he’s supposed to be Winnetou, but as his twin brother is named Winnetouch, it’s hard to know for sure. Winnetouch is stereotypically gay by the way, which is one of those Really? In this day and age? jokes that sort of throws the movie off until you start to get the idea that actually he’s sort of poking fun at the idea of that stereotype while conforming to it. It can be hard to tell since several of the jokes have been retooled for English speaking audiences and as such the nuances get easily lost. Even if I spoke German, I don’t live in Germany and certain jokes are local references. So, much gets lost in translation and it gives you one of those “Should I be laughing?” feelings because while this guy is conforming to stereotypes (bad) he’s also an extremely sympathetic and useful character (good) but he also wears pink buck skin (very bad). The thing is, most of the jokes that survive to the English Language track that I’m using are more about having the juxtaposition of anachronisms. I mean, isn’t it silly to have an Indian Chief give an Elvis Style open air concert? Yes, yes it is. If you watch this, just beware that Herbig doesn’t sing any of his songs in English and as usual the songs aren’t translated. Everyone else sings their songs in English, but not Herbig, so those songs he sings are only in German. Oh, did I forget to mention this is a musical? Here, watch Grauer Star’s Tomahawk Song, which is a pretty good indicator about how you’ll likely feel about this movie. It comes in the first five minutes and if this joke hasn’t grabbed you then the movie very well might not be your cup of tea.

Nope, nothing wrong with this either. How could anyone have a problem with… oh, right, yeah. I see it now.

Now, the character of Grauer Star (called Gall Stone in the English track) is sort of important. It’s GS who teaches Abahachi about how it’s important to share among all his people and be a decent person, making it more because he was taught by a wise old man rather than because of innate wisdom. Of course then GS dies because he invented the stage dive before is people were ready for it, but he’s mentioned from time to time as being the leading force for Abahachi’s personality. Not that this is important because really, this movie is just another adventure for Abahachi and Ranger. In fact, it’s so much another adventure that there are scenes where Ranger complains loudly and at length that this sort of thing seems to happen to them every other day. They kind of go against the wise old injun thing and go more for showing everyone as the kind of flawed human beings we have in comedies of these kinds. Except the villain, he’s awesome. He’s not flawed, he eats ice cream and hands out apples.

Might as well show you our heroes.

The plot, as it is, isn’t terribly important really. It has a story, a decent story, one that would work as a straightforward story, rather than a parody. A bad guy named Santa Maria (we’ll get to him later) decides to rip off Abahachi and Ranger, killing the son of the chief of the Shoshone people (because these stories are rife with chiefs) and getting our heroes blamed for it. In order to make things better, they decide to go find a treasure map that Abahachi divided among his friends, years before. To that end they go find Abahachi’s gay brother Winnetouch, who freaks Ranger right the hell out. It’s sort of funny, watching Ranger’s reaction because the only thing more stereotypical than Winnetouch’s sissiness is Ranger’s terrified reaction to it. He completely freezes up and sort of sits unmoving like a rabbit caught in a trap. That’s where the joke starts to become okay, because everyone is being made fun of to some degree, it spreads the silliness.

One visual joke, just to show you the mentality we’re dealing with.

Now let’s talk about the villain for a moment. Santa Maria is supposed to be a good old fashioned bad guy, but he isn’t. He’s a bad guy, don’t get me wrong, but he keeps having moments that allow him to steal the show. A perfect example comes when he demands the crew saddle up and ride. One guy announces they’re not going because they’re exhausted. Santa turns slowly and demands to know who spoke. When the rest of the crew tells him it was John, he asks John if he’s tired, been having trouble sleeping? John says that he is tired, that he has had trouble sleeping. Now, a bad guy is supposed to shoot the dissenter to show he don’t take no shit. Instead Santa smiles broadly and sends John to bed, telling everyone else to saddle up, but not before telling John good night. It’s a brilliant little moment that left me howling with laughter because of the unexpected nature of the delivery. Sky du Mont is beyond brilliant in this roll, he utterly and completely owns every scene he’s in.

Also, he loves ice cream.

Some bits of the movie don’t go over so well. The Greek character Dmitri doesn’t work so well, although his first scene does actually include a cameo by Karl May himself. Okay, it’s a reasonable facsimile, and he’s played up as a ridiculous drunk. I’m probably missing something, but I just don’t find the character of Dmitri particularly funny. However, the character of Gerti (called Ursula in the original German) is funny, so she makes up for it. She serves the dual purpose of person who knows that the hell is going on and love interest for Ranger. The love story is sort of perfunctory, but it works well enough for a screw ball semi-musical. Besides, they sort of fall in love before anything can actually happen and then they’re caught by the bad guys. Once everyone is caught the bad guys get the map, and leave our heroes in the ranch. Santa asks them if they have any last requests and Winnetouch asks for the song from the Superperforator Commercial. And Santa sings it, which is probably the single biggest laugh in the whole movie.

Damn Ikea instructions.

After that, it’s all find the gold and defeat the bad guy. They throw in some extremely broad slapstick just to make sure that every kind of comedy has been addressed. Then they throw in bromance and long term homoerotic relationship arguments because they kind of had to go there. We also have the standard think the guy is dead but not really scene. Another song is slipped in, which is completely and utterly ridiculous, but not as funny as the others. However, the movie works itself towards a conclusion and it’s all been pretty funny. Looking at it now, it doesn’t hold up as well from the first time I saw it, where it totally surprised me and made me laugh out loud. No, it’s not perfectly funny, not flawlessly funny, but it is still pretty funny. I could easily get why some people might not like it, since it relies pretty heavily on stereotypes that should have died out decades ago and for the most part did. Some of the slapstick gets a little too slap-sticky at times. However, it avoids some of the more annoying parts of dealing with natives. There is no Secret Wisdom of the Apaches, no Spirit Guides, none of that “Let me sing you the song of my people” crap. That being said, everyone wears buckskin, the hero’s best friend is a honkey, it seems to be set in a theme park ride version of the Indian Territories circa 1953, and it has an Indiana Jones style trap and mine ride scene. Not a great movie, but it has its moments and that should count for something.

Official Score:
31 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

Comes a point, you don’t even ask questions anymore.

Addendum: I’ve spoken to some Germans, and have this to report…

It seems the English language track for this movie sucks. A lot of the jokes were changed, or dropped, making what should amount to the German Answer to Shaun of The Dead into a rather sad rip off of a Mel Brooks movie. One of the later movies, like that Dracula thing he made. There are many, many references to the movie series I talked about above, and a few points like that the twins in this movie are supposed to be the sons of the original Winnetou, which does not come across in the dub. Also, the actor who played Winnetou was French, so there are jokes about him speaking fluent French, which is changed to Mandarin Chinese in the dub.

When you drop the cultural references, and change some of them for reasons I’m not clear on, you loose the heart of this movie. I now feel like I’ve watched a soulless rip off of a film that was hilarious the first time around. In order to make this movie more acceptable to an international audience, it seems that they stole everything that was great about it.

Mind you, the movie is still funny. But when you know how much was changed, it makes you feel like it could have been even funnier.

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