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Onar Films' latest release is another slice of Turkish popular cinema that will surely aid the label in its quest to encourage adventurous film fans to rethink any overtly negative preconceptions that they might currently hold about Turkey's cinematic output. This time around the Turkish film industry's engagement with the secret agent/spy genre -- in the form of Memduh Un's 1966 offering Altin Çocuk -- is the focus of the label's attention. Wearing the influence of Hollywood productions like the James Bond films (and their European-made imitators) proudly on its sleeve, Un's film offers an interesting and quite stylish take on the mix of camp fun and sadistic violence that is generally associated with 1960s' espionage flicks. Un was also responsible for Cellat, the action-packed but smart-looking Turkish remake of Death Wish.
Altin Çocuk's front credits play over a reasonably stylish introductory set-piece which involves a large circular mirror that is perched on an ornate dressing table: while a slow but steamy jazz song plays on the soundtrack, the mirror captures and frames the reflection of a dark-haired beauty who is performing an erotic striptease for the expectant Golden Boy. The girl eventually sashays into shot before joining Golden Boy for a quick smooch. Cutaways to a mysterious man in a diving suit and mask emerging from nearby water and stealthily approaching the cavorting couple -- spear gun malevolently in hand -- indicate that the film's first action scene isn't too far away. A troublesome enemy agent, the Wolf, is subsequently dispatched and Golden Boy heads off for a holiday in London. Remarkably, Golden Boy's London sojourn does actually feature footage that was shot on location in England's swinging capital city and the resultant scenes make fairly good use of a number of London's iconic tourist attractions. However, in terms of the film's narrative, pacing and structure, the London-based sequences play like quite jarring and disruptive interludes. Firstly, the sequences feature dubbed English language dialogue that is delivered in noticeably stilted and forced faux English accents. Secondly, in formal terms the sequences employ a quite groovy but disorderly mix of aesthetic styles: only a collaboration between Richard Lester, Benny Hill, Doris Wishman and Jean-Luc Godard could come close to approximating the mesmerizingly spoofy and ridiculous -- and yet impressively exuberant and anarchic -- nature of these scenes.
It soon becomes clear that the London-based sequences are unruly and scattershot exercises in montage that exist solely to telegraph two basic ideas to the audience. Firstly, the shots of Golden Boy driving his open-topped sports car in close proximity to Big Ben and a multitude of other well-known London landmarks ensure that viewers notice that this ostensibly modest Turkish show possesses a conspicuous taste of the kind of exotic and international-travel-oriented showboating that was a requisite part of many a 1960s' spy flick. Secondly, the shots of Golden Boy picking up, romancing, bedding and then dropping off a succession of attractive English dolly birds confirms that the superspy is a James Bond-like babe magnet who unrepentantly lives by the old dictum of "love 'em and leave 'em". Ray Bowman directed the London-based footage, seemingly shooting most of the exteriors on the fly. While the standalone and interlude-like feel of these collected scenes technically affects the flow of the show in an adverse way, Bowman's footage remains a fascinating (and welcome) snap-shot of London and its bustling streets circa 1966. Indeed, the London street scenes captured by Bowman will surely thrill both historians and sociologists with an interest in the capital city and fans of period British cars.
The show subsequently gets back on track as soon as Golden Boy returns to Istanbul: a quick meeting with his superior (whose office is disguised as a business property that has something to do with Istanbul's water supply) results in the superspy diving headlong into his mission to track down the people named in a notebook that belonged to agent S-99. Bits of business with a suitcase full of gadgets, fights with assassins, a romp with his new girlfriend (Sevda Nur) and an appointment with an erotic dancer all figure in Golden Boy's busy schedule and director Memduh Un presents much of the action in a fairly stylish manner. A sequence set in the erotic dancer's nightclub is distinguished by some quite unusual but effective blocking strategies and some really interesting editing work. Goksel Arsoy is well cast as the show's heroic leading man but Golden Boy isn't the most charismatic superspy on the block. At times he appears to be overly nonchalant or unduly smug and it's hard to tell whether the character comes across this way by accident or design. Maybe Un and Arsoy were simply trying to play up the character's anti-hero aspects. However, Arsoy does do some pretty good work during the show's fight scenes where he gets stuck into a variety of fistfights and tussles in a fairly convincing way. Similarly, Arsoy's cocksure deliveries of generic verbal quips and cheeky retorts work well enough too.
The show's action and pacing duly steps up a gear when Demetrius is introduced and begins putting his nefarious plans into effect. Cruel and cunning, Demetrius is shaven-headed, likes to pet his white cat and isn't above disguising himself as a woman if circumstances demand it. He's clearly modeled on Blofeld from the Bond films but Altan Gunbay works hard to successfully make this variant of the character his own. Gunbay was a talented actor with an iconic look (contract clauses apparently resulted in him being forced to keep the shaven-headed look for the remainder of his long film career) who specialized in playing bad guys and Altin Çocuk benefits immensely from his presence. Demetrius's base is accessed via a secret underwater tunnel and he has a rogue rocket scientist, Von Sarkof, and an army of violent goons on his payroll. The introduction of the secret underwater tunnel allows Un to incorporate some nicely executed, travelogue-like footage of locations found on Istanbul's scenic coastline as well as some nifty speedboat action and some underwater fighting. Demetrius is a particularly sadistic villain and Golden Boy, his girlfriend and an untrustworthy enemy agent all feel his torturous wrath at different points in the film. One or two of the show's quite disturbing torture scenes feature fiendish acts of brutal and fetishistic, pulp-fiction-inspired cruelty.
Memduh Un and his team clearly put a lot of effort and imagination into the making of Altin Çocuk and it paid off because they managed to produce a pretty convincing 1960s' spy flick. The show's jazzy soundtrack score fits the bill nicely and the fact that the film had original music of some description composed especially for it is perhaps an indication that Altin Çocuk was afforded a bigger budget than most Turkish movies from this period. This assumption is seemingly confirmed by the film's reasonably sophisticated technical attributes. Generally speaking, Un's camera placement choices are good and some scenes are covered from a number of quite interesting angles or make use of fluid camera movements. Furthermore, a number of the film's conversations employ properly devised shot/reverse-shot set-ups (a filmic nicety that some really low budget Turkish films were forced to forgo). Similarly, the film possesses pretty decent production values by and large (though Altin Çocuk inevitably plays like a fairly low budget affair when judged alongside contemporaneous Hollywood films). Ultimately, Un was able to ensure that the film's style, tone and content successfully matched that of the secret agent movies that were coming out of the USA and Europe circa 1966 whilst simultaneously retaining a bit of local flavour too. As such, fans of the 1960s' spy film genre will find much to interest them here. Granted, the film possesses the odd slightly shaky scene and one or two faintly illogical narrative twists but that kind of goes with the territory. If you can get past those, Altin Çocuk remains a remarkably entertaining little show.
In terms of picture quality, Altin Çocuk might well be Onar's best release yet. Whilst there are odd outbreaks of very small scratches and one or two minor jumps due to missing frames present here, this remains a very good presentation. The show's black and white cinematography is clear and sharp for the most part. The quality of the presentation's Turkish language audio track (which is supported by optional English language subtitles) is largely very good too. The disc's extra features (which are all English language friendly) include a fun video interview with Altan Gunbay that runs to 17 minutes.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
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T'was Ever Thus.