The Golden Glacier

Original Title: Der goldene Gletscher. (Die Herrgottsgrenadiere. Ein Tal sucht Gold.) Mountain film 1932; 98 min.; Director: Anton Kutter; Cast: Gustav Diessl, Stephan Bloetzer, Beni Führer, Kurt Horwitz, Werner Düby, Willi Braune, Pfarrer Jossen, Eligius Rieder; Emelka-Tobis-Klangfilm.

In a remote mountain village, a mining company discovers a gold vein and invests residents’ savings in the mine. However, the engineer is ordered to stop the work. Fearing disaster, he escapes to the mountains but is later buried under the rubble of the mine when a lightning strike ignites the stored dynamite.

A raging storm unleashes its fury over the Lötschental, as trees snap, lightning dances across the sky, and thunder reverberates through the mountains. Torrents of water cascade down the valley, creating a haunting symphony in the high alpine world. Nestled among the mountains, a small Alpine village comes into view, its humble huts and impoverished inhabitants depicting a scene of destitution. The piercing wind howls through the narrow village street, and anxious residents seek solace behind firmly locked windows and doors. Suddenly, with a deafening crash, a house collapses, tragically burying Johanna’s elderly father under its debris. Farmer Josap and his family from the neighboring farm rush to the scene, but their efforts prove futile. In this dire circumstance, Josap and his wife extend their compassion and take in Johanna as their own.

As the storm subsides, tranquility blankets the valley under the gentle glow of the moonlight. The following morning, a proclamation is affixed to the community board by the village leader: “Workers needed for road construction.” Hope fills the hearts of the valley’s inhabitants as they anticipate the development of transportation infrastructure, holding the promise of an improved economic state. Excitement ignites among the villagers, and a multitude, including Josap and Wisi, Johanna’s betrothed, eagerly enlist for the road construction project.

Meanwhile, at the bustling office of the International Mining Company, Engineer Faletti unveils his plans for extracting gold from the Montoro, aptly named the Golden Mountain, situated in the Lötschental. Securing the mining rights from the government, Faletti arrives in the Lötschental a few days later. The village’s denizens succumb to the allure of gold fever, their excitement reaching a fever pitch. Nearly everyone invests their meager savings in shares of the International Mining Company, eagerly taking on roles as workers, leaving the road construction project abandoned. Nevertheless, a handful of skeptics, including Josap, remain unconvinced of the existence of a gold vein. However, Wisi, Johanna’s fiancé, becomes consumed by gold fever like the rest.

Meanwhile, Faletti immerses himself in the new gold mine, orchestrating a flurry of activity with drills and picks at full tilt. Despite their desperate efforts, the search for gold proves fruitless. The geologist conducts repeated examinations of the rocks, ultimately declaring that further drilling is futile—a disheartening revelation that no gold exists. In the midst of a discussion between Faletti and the chemist, Wisi bursts into the construction hut, catching sight of the ore-rich rock samples on the table. Naively, he asks, “Gold?” Faletti dismissively responds with an irritated “Yes.” Overwhelmed with excitement, Wisi races back to the village, breathlessly proclaiming, “Gold! Gold! Gold!” The entire village erupts in jubilation, believing their hardships to be a thing of the past. However, Faletti sends a telegram to Timmler, conveying the disappointing reality of the absence of gold. A few hours later, a disheartening response arrives: “Dismiss workers. Cease excavation!” Faletti is shattered, witnessing the villagers deceived out of their remaining funds. Fearing an impending catastrophe, he flees to the safety of the mountains.

Perched high among the cliffs, Josap, the seasoned poacher, skillfully scales the rocky terrain, his rifle poised and ready. Suddenly, six gunshots resound from the neighboring glacier. Faletti, aimlessly wandering amidst the icy crevasses, had fired them as a distress signal. Josap ascends to investigate, discovering Faletti, the man whose actions brought calamity upon the village. A fleeting moment of hesitation passes before Josap, embracing his innate mountain spirit, resolves to free Faletti from his perilous predicament. Faletti returns to the city, determined to persuade Director Timmler to continue employing the workers. Unfortunately, Timmler remains unmoved, bidding farewell to Faletti.

On the morning of Blessing Sunday, Faletti arrives at the mine. Wisi stands guard at the entrance of the gold mine, where a substantial amount of dynamite had been provisionally stacked the night before. With Faletti’s arrival, Wisi descends to the village, where the final preparations for the annual blessing procession are completed. Wisi and Josap, along with all able-bodied men from the Lötschental, join the procession as able-bodied men. While the procession proceeds in the valley below, an ominous storm begins to loom overhead. Lightning illuminates the darkened sky, and the rumble of thunder grows ever nearer. Suddenly, an earth-shattering explosion reverberates through the air, accompanied by a haunting burst of flames ascending from the mine, casting an eerie glow over the desolate valley. The villagers stand frozen in terror as the mine is decimated, leaving behind a heap of rubble concealing Faletti’s lifeless body.

-g.’s review in Film Kurier No. 302 (December 23, 1932)
This film offers a serious and gripping narrative, driven by an unconventional premise. It takes place in the majestic Swiss mountains, specifically the Lötschental, surrounded by towering peaks and glaciers that reach deep into the valley.

Life is challenging for the farmers in this village, as they face the annual isolation caused by devastating avalanches. To ensure consistent access and provide employment and sustenance for the men, plans are made to construct a road. However, an unexpected turn of events occurs when a mining company expresses interest in extracting gold from beneath the glacier. Tempted by higher wages, the villagers turn to the foreign engineer instead of pursuing road construction.

Caught up in a frenzy of gold fever, the farmers invest their last savings in the company’s stocks. Eventually, disaster strikes: the mining venture proves entirely unprofitable, leading to the workers’ dismissal and rendering the stocks worthless.

In the city, the directors accept the loss and move on. However, the engineer cannot bear the guilt of making so many unsuspecting people unhappy, and he chooses to take his own life.

The screenplay, crafted by Anton Kutter and August Stern based on Hubert Saget’s concept, is skillfully brought to life under the direction of Anton Kutter. The majestic mountains serve as a breathtaking backdrop for the predominantly outdoor scenes. Notably, the climb on the glacier ice, expertly captured by cinematographer Otto Martini, evokes a sense of danger with its menacing crevasses and ice avalanches.

Gustav Dießl delivers a convincing performance as the engineer, supported by a predominantly local cast that brings forth poignant moments even in the smallest supporting roles. Stephan Blötzer and Beny Führer stand out among them. The priest, Jossen, assumes the role of the parish pastor himself, repeatedly offering wise and kind words of admonishment to his congregation. This unconventional casting choice contributes to the dignified nature of the film.

Peter Kreuder’s evocative musical score, featuring well-selected folk songs, enhances the film’s atmosphere. Willi Reuber skillfully constructs the limited studio scenes, while Karl Albert Keller handles the sound.

This film leaves a lasting impact, making a powerful impression on its audience. The Swiss production company deserves congratulations on their successful debut work.