Alaska, 1903: rugged mountain man Bill Robin (Ron Ely) returns to the prospecting town called “Happy Camp”, where shifty Mike Williams (Toni Berger) offers to buy his beloved sled-dogs. When Bill refuses to sell, Mike steals his dogs then threatens Native American girl Akaena (Catharina Conti) to reveal the location of her long-lost tribe’s hidden gold. After a mystery sniper kills Mike, suspicion falls on Bill, further fuelled by whip-wielding baddie the Tornado Kid (Arthur Brauss), whose friend he once shot in self-defence.
Mike’s sister, Frona (Gila von Weiterhausen) arrives in town and attracts the admiration of grinning gunslinger Jack Harper (Raimund Harmstorf), a man so tough he can snap bottles in half with his bare hands. Frona sets a $2000 price on Bill’s head, a bounty Jack is eager to collect. When freckle-faced little Jimmy (Jean-Claude Hoffman) is caught trying to warn Bill and facing a hanging, the pressure mounts on the mountain man to ride back and save the day.
While most people have heard of Italian westerns, few are aware they were prefigured by a run of German westerns often based on the novels of Karl May. Many of these were directed by Harald Reinl, an eclectic filmmaker as adept at Edgar Wallace mystery thrillers, gothic horrors like the memorable Castle of the Walking Dead (1967), fantasy epics including his remake of Fritz Lang’s Die Niebelungen (1960), and even a couple of sci-fi movies based on Erich von Daeniken’s cockamamie theories in Chariots of the Gods (1970).
Based on a novel by Jack London, Cry of the Black Wolves is a later western effort. Despite sharing a grungy, muck-encrusted look in common with spaghetti westerns, it is a rather old-fashioned horse opera, complete with a comedy drunk (Hans Terofal), a scarlet woman with a heart of gold (Angelica Ott), and a morally upstanding hero who is kind to orphans and animals, and goes out his way to avoid killing.
After a complicated setup, the plot proves fairly straightforward, yet is mounted with a winning sincerity and rattles along with its fare share of exciting set-pieces. Scenes like the wolf attack or the nail-biting bit where black-hearted villains strap Akaena to a tree with a fizzling stick of dynamite tied to her head, could have strayed from a Roy Rogers serial made forty years earlier.
Leading man Ron Ely played Tarzan on television and a few spin-off feature films from 1966-1968, but is perhaps best known for his role as Doc Savage: Man of Bronze (1975). The athletic actor towers over the villains and doesn’t even need a gun. He just swats them aside. A nice touch is the almost Hawksian male-bonding between Bill and Jack amidst the frozen wastes. Even though they settle their differences with a macho punch-up, things turn oddly homoerotic when the heroes abandon the women and ride into the sunset together.