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DVD SAVANT
Savant PAL Region 0 Guest Reviews:

Tarzan Istanbul'da
and
Kizil Tug Cengiz Han

Separate releases reviewed by Lee Broughton

Impoverished production values have resulted in some genre flicks from Turkey becoming firm favourites with the 'so bad it's good' crowd. However, key titles found in Onar Films' ever expanding catalogue are surely forcing cult film fans and wild world cinema enthusiasts to rethink whatever preconceptions they might have previously held about Turkey's cinematic output (see Karanlik Sular). This time around Onar have focused their attention on Turkish popular cinema films that were produced during the 1950s. In doing so, they have unearthed two more regional shows that feature relatively good production values.

Orhan Atadeniz's Tarzan Istanbul'da is a cracking jungle adventure yarn that very nearly gives the best of the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan flicks a run for their money. Aydin Arakon's Kizil Tug Cengiz Han is a fairly generic historical drama-adventure that again compares well to similarly themed Hollywood shows for the most part. However, this film is wholly distinguished by the excellent set-pieces that bookend its main narrative body: its introductory scene brings to mind the work of Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone while its concluding scene seemingly pays homage to the dramatic editing strategies of Sergei Eisenstein. Both films feature Turkish language audio tracks that are supported by optional English language subtitles.


Tarzan Istanbul'da
Onar Films
1952 / B&W / 1.33:1 flat / 92 m. / Tarzan in Istanbul
Starring Tamer Balci, Hayri Esen, Necla Aygul, Cemil Demirel, Aziz Basmaci, Ismail Kara, Kunt Tulgar, Yasar Izgi
Cinematography Sabahattin Tulgar
Film Editor Yilmaz Atadeniz
Written by Orhan Atadeniz (based upon the characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs)
Produced by Sabahattin Tulgar
Directed by Orhan Atadeniz

Synopsis:

An adventurous journalist, Tekin (Hayri Esen), is on a hunting trip in Africa when he chances across a skeleton. Further investigations turn up a journal, a map and a letter that Tekin duly delivers to a certain Mr Camil in Istanbul. It seems that Camil's brother had been exploring Africa with his wife and small son when they discovered a fortune in treasure, which they subsequently hid in a cave on Death Mountain. Unfortunately, local natives attacked the trio as they prepared to journey back to Turkey. Camil urges Tekin to take him to the treasure and the pair employ a local pilot, Tevfik, to transport their equipment and supplies. Also along for the ride are Tevfik's female business partner and co-pilot, Netzla, and her goofy friend Aziz. Once in Africa, Tekin arranges for his regular guide, Kundo (Cemil Demirer), to organize and lead the expedition to Death Mountain. The duplicitous Kundo quickly deduces that the group are searching for treasure and he decides to put a villainous plan into effect. Threatened by the local natives and the local wildlife, Tekin's group are relieved when a wild jungle dweller, Tarzan (Tamer Balci), comes to their rescue and it soon becomes apparent that Tarzan is Camil's nephew. However, Kundo isn't about to let Tarzan get between him and the treasure.

The more outlandish variants of the budget-constrained genre flicks that Turkish filmmakers produced during the 1960s and 1970s undoubtedly remain the best-known examples of that nation's popular cinematic output. However, Tarzan Istanbul'da's general look and overall content suggest that critical attention should now perhaps be focused upon Turkish films that were produced during the 1950s. Tarzan Istanbul'da features a number of violent and crowd-pleasing action scenes that neatly prefigure those regularly found in later Turkish action flicks. But the show also possesses production values and technical merits that are pretty close to those associated with Hollywood films from the late 1940s. Indeed, the producers' efforts to remain faithful to Hollywood's tried and tested Tarzan/jungle adventure formulas actually resulted in a film that works almost as well as any of the Hollywood features that inspired it.

The producers' desire to create a quality product and their willingness to pay close attention to continuity details (where possible) appears to have paid dividends here. It seems that the film's crew shot some original exotic wildlife footage at the zoo in Izmir during the film's pre-production phase. This material was then augmented by odd bits of pre-existing stock footage from documentaries and earlier Hollywood films. Kunt Tulgar recalls that the film's technical crew then carefully selected the wildlife footage that they wanted to use before travelling to the show's filming locations in the Belgrad Forest. The employment of this careful pre-selection process is fairly self-evident in the finished film: the eyeline matches and cutaways that are used to connect the show's actors to the wild animals that they are supposedly in close proximity to work really well. Furthermore, the various shots that make up these mix and match montages tend to feature onscreen activities that share a common directional flow. As such, the editing together of footage taken from disparate sources has been accomplished in a remarkably smooth and convincing way here.

But while there is little cause for complaint about the film's technical merits, some Tarzan fans might argue that the show is a little Tarzan-lite initially. If we discount the footage that the front credits play over and the effective flashback sequence that shows the young Tarzan (Kunt Tulgar) fleeing from marauding natives, Tarzan's first appearance proper is at the 30-minute mark. Here we see him riding the elephant Timba and messing around with Chitah the chimpanzee. Tarzan soon becomes aware of Tekin's party and he chooses to quietly observe them from a distance. At the 50-minute mark, Tarzan finally has to spring into action when a lion invades the treasure hunters' camp. After that there's plenty of generic and pretty well executed Tarzan-related shenanigans: Tarzan fighting a crocodile, Tarzan saving and then kidnapping Netzla, Tarzan taking on a whole tribe of natives in his attempts to rescue the captured treasure hunters, etc. Incidentally, Tarzan's absence from the earlier portions of the show neatly allows for a bit of character development amongst the treasure hunters. We learn that Tevfik is in love with Netzla but the feeling isn't mutual. Instead a romance appears to be blossoming between Netzla and Tekin.

Furthermore, Tarzan's initial absence means that the treasure hunters have to resourcefully deal with dangerous situations on their own. There are a number of animal attacks (lions, rhinos, crocodiles, etc) and a severe storm to be dealt with. And the first attack by the unfriendly natives is real edge of the seat stuff. Here the treasure hunters are forced to scramble across a river on an overloaded raft before trying to hold their attackers off with gunfire. When this approach doesn't work they resort to trying to outrun their determined assailants since they know that the natives are afraid to pass beyond the base of Death Mountain. The unfriendly natives return for the show's frenetic finale, which sees the treasure hunters finally overrun and captured by their assailants. It's all pretty tense and violent stuff but there's plenty of fun to be had here too: aerial shots of the plane trip to Africa, Tarzan and Netzla trying to overcome their communication difficulties, Timba and Chitah trying to revive a wounded Tarzan, etc.

As you would expect from a film of this age, contemporaneous colonial attitudes are in evidence on a number of occasions. The Africa seen here is basically a huge playground that exists for the amusement of well-heeled European hunters. Kundo is a bitter colonialist who feels that it's his right to make some serious money out of his time spent in Africa. Whenever danger is present, the friendly African porters are invariably portrayed as being nervous and cowardly types. Aziz, who is a pretty annoying jackass-type, serves to provide the show's comic relief moments with his crazed and exaggerated boasts about his prowess as a hunter. But Aziz also seeks out laughs by being patronising to his porters and he regularly takes it upon himself to try and make them look foolish. Interestingly, Netzla actually reprimands Aziz for his childish behaviour when she catches him trying to bamboozle a couple of the porters. The show's unfriendly natives are mostly portrayed as being superstitious and aggressive savages.

Orhan Atadeniz wrote and directed an engaging and tightly scripted show here that cleverly includes just about everything that a good Tarzan/jungle adventure flick should. But Sabahattin Tulgar's sure-handed cinematography remains the show's most important technical element. Solid, logical and consistent in its execution, Tulgar employs some interesting camera angles and draws upon a pleasing selection of shot sizes when covering most scenes. The acting on display here is of an equally enjoyable quality too. The film's dramatic soundtrack score is presumably made up of cues borrowed from earlier Hollywood films but most of the music used here suits the demands of the onscreen action well. Thoroughly engrossing, exciting and entertaining, Tarzan Istanbul'da is a surprisingly good little film. As such this fast-paced and action-packed show is sure to please fans of both the Tarzan franchise and the jungle adventure genre in general.


Given the film's age and obscurity (and the seemingly precarious nature of film preservation in Turkey), the picture quality here is pretty good but it does fluctuate somewhat: some sequences are in virtually pristine condition while others suffer from scratches, etc. Similarly, contrast levels can be seen to alter sometimes when a switch is made between the footage that was shot specifically for the film and the pre-existing stock footage. And a couple of sequences play a little on the soft side. The show's sound quality is not quite as good as the picture quality but it is serviceable. By and large, this DVD represents a good quality presentation of a film that was previously thought to have been lost forever.

Amongst the disc's extra features, which are all English language friendly, is an in-depth interview with Kunt Tulgar, who is the son of producer/cinematographer Sabahattin Tulgar. Kunt played Tarzan as a child in Tarzan Istanbul'da but years later he was responsible for directing a budget-constrained but well-intentioned and supremely entertaining version of Superman entitled Supermen Donuyor (1979). The interview included here is taken from the same sessions that produced the Tulgar interview that appears on Onar's DVD release of that film (see the Turkish Superman Double Bill disc that teams Supermen Donuyor with Tunc Basaran's Demir Yumruk Devler Geliyor (1973)).


Kizil Tug Cengiz Han
Onar Films
1952 / B&W / 1.33:1 flat / 75 m. / The Red Plume Genghis Khan, The Red Banner
Starring Mesiha Yelda, Turan Seyfioglu, Cahit Irgat, Nebile Teker, Rauf Ulukut, Atif Kaptan, Mufit Kiper, Vedat O. Bengu
Cinematography Ilhan Arakon
Original Music Orhan Barlas
Written by Aydin Arakon (based upon the novel by Abdullah Ziya Kozanoglu)
Produced by Nazif Duru
Directed by Aydin Arakon

Synopsis:

A Turkish adventurer-swordsman, Otsukarci, saves the life of Genghis Khan and subsequently accepts a mission to collect the money that the leader of the Ismaels, Seyhyul Gebel, is due to pay to Khan. It turns out that Gebel's mild-mannered son, Halit, looks just like Otsukarci and Gebel convinces the swordsman to stand in for his son in a combat contest: success in the contest will result in a neighbouring tribal leader, Talmach, agreeing to let his daughter marry Halit. Romance begins to blossom between Otsukarci and Gebel's daughter, Sabiha, but danger looms when Talmach discovers that his champion is fighting an impostor. Sabiha refuses to leave her kingdom but she instructs her loyal servant-cum-protector Cakir to make sure that the wounded Otsukarci escapes and recuperates. Otsukarci vows to return and resume their relationship but unforeseen circumstances result in Otsukarci and Cakir joining Genghis Khan's fighting forces on an extended tour of duty.

This show boasts a really impressive introductory sequence. The opening long shot shows a poor minstrel sat beneath a tree, playing a stringed instrument and singing a melancholy folk song that sounds like something from one of Marc Bolan's early Tyrannosaurus Rex albums. The camera pans to the right and reveals the scruffy Otsukarci lounging against a tree as he roughly cuts chunks from a joint of meat and hungrily chews on them. Three riders (Genghis Khan, Gelmen the lion slayer and Kassar Alp) come into frame behind him and are seen to dismount. The worried minstrel notices them and stops playing but Otsukarci doesn't acknowledge their presence. It's not long before a bored Gelmen is throwing insults at Otsukarci and an exchange of some highly confrontational dialogue leads to a well-choreographed sword fight. Aesthetically, the sequence is reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa's early samurai films. In terms of plotting and atmosphere, the sequence brings to mind Sergio Leone's Westerns. Interestingly, when Otsukarci introduces himself to his tormentors he tells them, "As for me, I got no name. I'm anonymous." This scene would fit perfectly into Asif Kapadia's superb The Warrior

If writer-director Aydin Arakon had been able to keep this gritty world cinema-like ambience and aesthetic look in place for the whole film, Kizil Tug Cengiz Han would surely be revered as a truly classic historical drama. However, once Genghis Khan has sent Otsukarci on his mission to collect the money from Seyhyul Gebel, the film adopts an ambience and aesthetic look that is perhaps more in keeping with the concerns of Hollywood/popular cinema. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. Kizil Tug Cengiz Han remains a fast-paced and pretty entertaining show throughout and it provides much in the way of excitement and generic thrills: romance, tragedy, sword fights, combat contests, huge battles, court entertainers, royal intrigue, etc, etc. Specific sequences featuring erotic dancers serve to connect the film to the Italian Peplum/sword and sandal genre, while elements of the show's romantic subplot bring to mind the romance found in Santosh Sivan's Asoka.

The general look of the bulk of the film compares well to the historical adventure-dramas that were produced in Hollywood during the early 1940s. Good use is made of actual ruins and period buildings during the film's exterior and location-shot sequences and a couple of the show's interior sets are quite striking: the interior of Seyhyul Gebel's palace has an almost expressionistic look about it. The show's costume designs are particularly good and said costumes possess a lived-in look where appropriate. This film seemingly had an original score composed for it by Orhan Barlas. Barlas's music is pretty good and it readily fits with the show's onscreen generic action. The film also benefits from the presence of a good selection of interesting characters that are brought to life by some good acting. Otsukarci is a convincing hero and his newly acquired sidekick, Cakir, proves to be a loyal ally. The actor who plays Cakir has a look of Eli Wallach about him and Cakir comes on like a typical Wallach character: he's slightly humorous but he's also astute and wily and is a real force to be reckoned with.

For the film's grand finale, everything about the show switches back to the serious world cinema mode found during the opening sequence. Quite breath-taking and unnerving in its intensity and its unexpectedly formalist approach, this sequence details an absolutely huge and extras-packed battle that takes place when Otsukarci leads his newly raised army against that of a rival. The striking mix of shot sizes, the intermittently rapid and jagged editing style employed, the directional clashes provoked by contrasting shots of two gigantic armies galloping towards each other from opposite ends of the film frame and the close-ups of weapons being brandished and arrows being fired that are followed by deliberately fragmented but ultra-gory close-ups that show the injuries that have subsequently been inflicted all play like earnest tributes to the work of Sergei Eisenstein. While its tone and artistic intent is uneven, fluctuating as it does between the aesthetics of art house/world cinema and popular cinema, Kizil Tug Cengiz Han remains an enjoyable show that is bound to be of interest to fans of historical drama-adventures.


Given the film's age and obscurity (and the seemingly precarious nature of film preservation in Turkey), allowances have to be made when assessing the picture quality of a release like this. The front titles rock in the film gate a bit initially but things settle down in time for the first scene. There are fairly regular outbreaks of scratches present throughout the film that vary in their severity as well as the odd very minor jump due to missing frames. The show's contrast levels fluctuate a bit from time to time but the picture itself is pretty sharp and clear for the most part. The show's sound quality fares less well. It's perfectly serviceable but there are a couple of split second audio dropouts present and every now and again there's a noticeable audio wobble that suggests that the show's sound elements were perhaps wrinkled and damaged in places. However, given the fact that this show had long been presumed to be lost forever, this DVD presentation remains more than adequate.

The hugely informative extra features that come with this DVD are all English language friendly. Turkish Fantastic Cinema Part One is a short but clips-laden documentary that focuses upon films from the Turkish historical adventure genre. Part two of this documentary, which focuses on Turkish Westerns, can be found on Onar's DVD release of Tunc Basaran's comedy Western, Korkusuz Kaptan Swing (1971). The Turkish Fantastic Cinema Guide is a fully illustrated forty page booklet that is printed on glossy paper. The Guide seeks to break Turkish fantastic cinema down into a number of subgenres before offering a brief history of each subgenre and an overview of the key films that belong to it.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Tarzan Istanbul'da rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Good - / Very Good --
Sound: Fair + / Good -
Supplements: An interview with Kunt Tulgar, an image gallery, biographies and filmographies for Kunt Tulgar and Orhan Atadeniz, a lost check sequence and five trailers.

Kizil Tug Cengiz Han rates:
Movie: Good +
Video: Fair ++ / Good ++
Sound: Fair -/ Fair +
Supplements: Turkish Fantastic Cinema Guide (40 page illustrated booklet), Turkish Fantastic Cinema Part One (documentary), biographies and filmographies for Atif Kaptan and Turan Seyfioglu, an image gallery and four trailers.

Packaging: Separate releases in keep cases
Reviewed: November 30, 2009



Text © Copyright 2009 Lee Broughton
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2009 Glenn Erickson

See more exclusive reviews on the Savant Main Page.
Reviews on the Savant main site have additional credits information and are often updated and annotated with reader input and graphics. Also, don't forget the
2009 Savant Wish List. T'was Ever Thus.

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