By Michaela Kroupová and Jaroslav Maryška
July 8, 2019
In the 1960s, when the Karl May films were filmed, it was necessary to engage a group of stuntmen and a large number of specialists, whose main task was to represent the actors in risky scenes and to participate in various shootouts, fights and chases. In addition, they were also in charge of training the horses and transporting them to the filming locations. In this article, we will focus mainly on Croatian stuntmen who participated in the filming of the Mayan films produced by Jadran Film. The group of stuntmen consisted of a small circle of people who had either graduated from the stunt school in Ljubljana or underwent rigorous training at the Zagreb Hippodrome under the supervision of experienced stuntmen. These included Domagoj Vukušić, Šimun Jagarinec, Miroslav Buhin, Milan Mikuljan, Luka Knežević, Zlatko Hrastinski, Kasim Kučković, Petar Buntić, Stjepan Špoljarić, Marijan Habazin, Nikola Gec and stunt boss Ivan Krištof. The group of specialists was made up of people who usually filmed equestrian scenes. They were often called riders, or jahaći, and there were about fifty of them. Among the most famous were Kasim Čikoš, Mate Ivanković, Franjo Bijankini, Ivan Novaković, Zvonimir Dobrin, Kemal Jahić, Stjepan Hrgović and Franjo Crnečki. To this day, stuntmen strictly pay attention to the division of stuntman / rider and are rightly proud of their work in the Mayans.
The recruitment of Yugoslav stuntmen and specialists in charge of the production of Jadran film, was Stipe Gurdulić [1925-2006]. In the first Mayan film “Treasure on the Silver Lake”, there were only four professional stuntmen - Domagoj Vukušić, Marijan Habazin, Zlatko Hrastinski and Šimun Jagarinec. The other actors were either just specialists or did not yet have the status of professional stuntmen (Milan Mikuljan and Kasim Kučković did not become such until 1963). As the difficulty of the action scenes increased in the following May films, it was necessary to hire more stuntmen and especially specialists for mass equestrian scenes. However, for Stipe Gurdulić, older and experienced stuntmen were too expensive, so he cast young boys in their early twenties who were willing to risk their necks for much less money. Many Yugoslav actors do not remember Gurdulić in a good way, because they feel that he cheated them out of a lot of money. Nevertheless, they were doing well financially. Stuntmen received a contractually agreed salary and were paid a bonus every day, the amount of which depended on the number of falls from a horse or a building. The best of them could earn more per film than the average annual salary of a Yugoslav.
The stuntmen were tough yet cheerful guys, and there was a real friendship between them. Many of them came from the Croatian capital Zagreb and had known each other since childhood. They lived by their own rules and kept away from the rest of the film crew. At the time of the filming of the Mayan films, the production company Jadran film owned a large number of horses, which it bought from the Yugoslav army in the 1950s and built stables for them near today's Zagreb hippodrome. However, many stuntmen had their own horses, which mastered various artistic feats thanks to intensive training. Although some of the falls look very dangerous, they pose very little risk to the horse. If there was an injury nonetheless, it was more often with the rider than with the horse. During the filming of the action scenes, only one horse was fatally injured, in the film “Old Shatterhand”, which was produced under a different production company. There were also no injuries during the filming of a very dangerous scene in “Winnetou III (Desperado Trail), when horses, riders and carriages fall into a trap set by Sam Hawkens. Luka Knežević recalls: "The horses sensed that there was a hole and stopped in front of it three times. Then they were given injections to calm them down and the scene was filmed. Neither the horses nor the boys were hurt." One of the unwritten rules of the stuntmen was that whoever accidentally fell off a horse during filming had to buy 10 liters of wine for the others.
In addition to working with horses, the main task of the stuntmen was to stand in for actors in dangerous skirmishes and falls. If an actor was to be hit in a fight, it was usually the stuntman who fell to the ground instead, because the risk of injury and thus interruption of filming was too great for the filmmakers. While some actors were not afraid of the risk and refused a double (e.g. Götz George, Louis Velle, Sieghardt Rupp), others directly demanded a stand-in. For example, Stewart Granger, who played Old Surehand, was of the opinion that it was very unprofessional for an actor to fall to the ground when someone else could do it for him, and in a much better and more believable way. Of course, the stuntmen liked this attitude, because it provided them with enough work and thus a regular supply of money. Most of the main actors had their own personal double. Andrea Mitrečić and Šimun Jagarinec were the most frequent substitutes for Pierre Brice, and Nikola Gal, Mate Ivanković and Italian stuntman Giancarlo Bastianoni stood in for Lex Barker. Mario Girotti was represented by Milan Mikuljan, Zlatko Hrastinski stood in for Ralf Wolter and Elke Sommer and Šimun Jagarinec replaced Herbert Lom. Instead of Stewart Granger, Ivan Krištof can be recognized in risky scenes. Letizia Roman - Judith in “Old Surehand” - was doubled by Franjo Crnečki.
In some cases, it was necessary for the actors to learn
at least the basics of horseback riding. They often underwent training under
the guidance of stuntmen, and many were skilled enough to do a few simple
stunts. Mario Adorf and Götz George were particularly popular with the stuntmen
and received the best horses from them. Actors who looked down on the
profession of stuntmen were sometimes given a horse that responded to a certain
gesture by stopping abruptly from a gallop. Mavid Popović, who plays Inču-chuna,
paid for his reckless behavior towards stuntmen with a broken nose. Actor Vlado
Krstulović recalls: "When Popović arrived on the set, he was very proud of
his horsemanship and claimed that he had learned from the Royal Yugoslav
Cavalry." The stuntmen looked at each other in amusement and assigned him
a nice, bright-looking animal. Mavid sprang into the saddle and urged the horse
to gallop, but the animal refused to cooperate. "What kind of horse did
you give me? Such a game! Don't you have something temperamental for me?"
Popović snapped at one of the stuntmen. He offered him his own horse, saying
that it was the liveliest animal on the set, and Mavid galloped off happily.
After a few hundred yards, he turned his horse around and galloped back toward
the group of onlookers. "None of us actors knew that the horse hated the
sight of newsprint!" smiles Krstulović. "When he was only a few dozen
meters away from us, one of the stuntmen pulled out a newspaper and started
flipping through it. At that moment the horse stopped and Popović fell to the
ground with a powerful somersault."