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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Der Kaiser Von Kalifornien (aka The Kaiser Of California) (1936)

A Swiss emigrant (Luis Trenker) leaves his wife (Viktoria Von Ballasko) and two sons to come to America with the intention of settling out West and building a home for them but his ambitions lead him to build an empire. Written and directed by Trenker, this is a fictionalized account of the life of Johann Sutter, perhaps most famous as the owner of Sutter's Mill which became the birthplace of the California Gold Rush of 1849. The movie is a curiosity in that it's a western filmed in the U.S. (Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Arizona) but it's a German film made during the Nazi era. It has a definite political bent as it eschews the lure of easy money (gold) over individual rights and hard work. Visually, the film has an eye for the western vistas and Trenker, who began his career working with Arnold Fanck (known for his "mountain" films) clearly learned from Fanck how to shoot landscapes. While accuracy is often adhered to, Trenker deviates from the facts frequently. For example, his children were not murdered which Trenker adds for dramatic effect. It's a decent western and fascinating to watch a foreigner's take on an American genre like the western, something we wouldn't see again until the spate of spaghetti westerns in the 1960s.

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