Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Deathless Devil

Director: Yilmaz Atadeniz
Writer: Secil Erok
Producer: Yilmaz Atadeniz
Cast: Kunt Tulgar, Mine Mutlu, Erol Tas
Country: Turkey
Year of release: 1972
Reviewed from: DVD (Mondo Macabro)

The Deathless Devil has everything that you would expect from a 1972 Turkish film. Masked hero? Check. Over-the-top villain? Check. Dolly birds in miniskirts? Check. Moustachioed henchmen in polyester suits? Check. Crap fists fights? Check. Nonsensical plot? Check. Music stolen from other films? Check. Plot ripped off from a creaky old Hollywood potboiler? Check. Leading man with hilarious name? Checkeroonie!

In other words, this is brilliant.

Professor Dogan is a respected inventor who has devised something called a ‘Tangait mine’. He has a daughter, whose hairdo is considerably larger than her skirt, and she is enamoured of Tekin, the handsome, two-fisted son of the Professor’s friend and colleague Mr Yilmaz. He is played by an actor named Kunt Tulgar and I know it’s infantile to laugh at foreign names that sound rude (check out any Thai film and you’ll find somebody called something like ‘Pisspot’) but nevertheless: Kunt Tulgar. You’ve got to smile. Also in the mix is the Prof’s glamorous assistant Ayla and a friend of them all named Bitik.

Bitik is the movie’s comic relief and for those of you unfamiliar with the basic principles of Turkish pop cinema, this means that he gurns and mimes and jumps about and does enormous double takes. This is the sort of ‘comic relief’ that would make a Bollywood producer say, “My goodness, that is a bit unsubtle and not terribly funny.”

Yilmaz explains to Tekin that he is not his real father but has raised him as his own since Tekin’s real pop died. He was a masked crimefighter named Copperhead who wore a copper-coloured Santo-style mask (it’s meant to be chain mail but is probably knitted) and always left a small statue of a snake where he had been at work. These he now gives to Tekin, shortly before being killed by a moustachioed henchman (Tekin is one of the few people in this film - of either sex - without facial hair). Tekin finds the henchman standing over his late not-really-your-dad and has a fight with him. They throw each other around Yilmaz’s office until eventually Tekin holds the bad guy over the parapet of the roof, at which point he agrees to give in and talk.

You might wonder, if they’re fighting in an office, how are they able to reach the parapet? The answer is: by the miracle of no-one-gives-a-shit editing. They lunge off-screen to the right in the office and in the next shot they lunge on-screen from the left on the rooftop. Then they go back again. My guess is that the original script called for the thug to be held out of a window and, when that proved impractical on the set available, they simply said, “Hey, let’s shoot that bit up on the roof!”

So anyway, Tekin decides that he will adopt the mantle of ‘Copperhead’ to right wrongs, starting with the murder of his father which was carried out on behalf of ‘Doctor Satan’ (who kills the thug before he can spill any more beans by exploding a device strapped to his chest). The same archfiend and his remaining thugs then kidnap the Professor on board a train but Tekin and Bitik get wind of this and set off in a car to intercept them, pausing only for Bitik to change into a crude Sherlock Holmes costume which he wears for the remainder of the movie.

That’s right, Holmes completists. If your completism extends to including spoofs, homages and movies where characters dress up as Holmes and call themselves ‘Bitik Holmes’ - then you need to add The Deathless Devil to your collection. Sorry.

Tekin leaps off a bridge onto the top of the speeding train and is then seen walking along the top of a clearly motionless carriage. Inside, he changes into his Copperhead costume: black jumpsuit and boots plus a red scarf round his neck and another round his waist, and the mask of course. The costume is pretty skin-tight so it’s a mystery where he keeps the metal snake statues that he likes to leave lying around.

From this point on the already barmy plot becomes increasingly complex although - to be fair - it does make some kind of twisted sense and effect follows cause in true narrative style. I have seen plenty of more modern, more expensive films where things happen that completely contradict the rest of the film, just because some producer decided that they would appeal to some section of the audience. In this movie, everything happens to progress the plot, just as it should. And what a plot!

There are kidnappings aplenty. Bitik is kidnapped and brainwashed into kidnapping the Prof. When the Prof refuses to work for Doctor Satan the swine kidnaps his daughter too. Ayla doesn’t get kidnapped but that’s because she turns out to be working for Doctor Satan all along. Tekin has a softcore sex scene with femme fatale Ayla (he is fully clothed, she keeps her panties on) then hides in the boot of her car in order to discover the whereabouts of Doctor Satan’s secret lair, which is an old factory somewhere.

Among all the action, sex and ‘comedy’ there are also a few sci-fi elements to the movie. The Professor’s invention isn’t actually a mine but is some sort of remote control system for aeroplanes (something which was actually in use with all the major air forces in the world well before 1972). There is a wonderful scene in which he demonstrates this, while Tekin/Copperhead is actually stowed away on board the unmanned plane because he suspects that one of Doctor Satan’s goons will try to steal the device. And indeed, that’s just what happens. A henchman climbs down a rope ladder from another plane to board the unmanned one, something which the Prof and his friends can see on a telemonitor even though, as so often with these things, there is no camera that could show them this (and if there was, it would not cut between long shots and close-ups).

But the unbelievability of the remote viewing situation is not what leaves one astounded at this sequence - it is the difference between the plane and, well, the same plane. The aircraft which Tekin boarded and which we saw taking off was a small private, prop-driven plane, a Cessna or something. Both the aircraft visible on the Prof’s monitor, however, are World War One biplanes(!) in black and white footage lifted from some old 1930s Hollywood picture, though I don’t know enough about such movies to identify it. This cavalier attitude to continuity is only matched by the cheap and cheerful and illegal way in which all the music is lifted from western film soundtracks, including some very recognisable James Bond music and even the Pink Panther theme!

And I haven’t even mentioned the robot. Yes, folks, there is a robot and it’s a belter. Apparently made from silver-painted cardboard, it consists of a square torso and a square head plonked onto some bloke in a silver suit, with lights in the eyes and mouth and tubes as sleeves which give every impression that, when the camera stops rolling, they will simply slide down the actor’s arms to the ground. It is both terrible and completely brilliant at the same time. I have been pondering whether this is worse than the ‘Droid Police’ in last week’s crap robot film, Lorca and the Outlaws - and, you know what, I don’t think it is. The turkish film-makers have at least put some effort into their creation. It may look shit, in fact it is laughably shit, but at least it is recognisably and irrefutably a robot, whereas the Droid Police seemed to just be blokes in doll masks and crash helmets. Give me Doctor Satan’s creation any day.

Some of you may have spotted that this was not the first film in which a hero called Copperhead battled a villain named Doctor Satan. That was the 1940 Republic serial The Mysterious Dr Satan (or Dr Satan’s Robot as it was rechristened when condensed to feature length for TV screenings in the 1960s). Eduardo Ciannelli (Bulldog Drummond’s Bride, The Mummy’s Hand) played the title role with Robert Wilcox (The Man They Could Not Hang) as Copperhead, a role that was apparently originally written for Superman! (Neither the American nor Turkish Copperhead exhibits any superpowers.)

A whole bunch of ideas have been pilfered from the serial, including a scene where Doctor Satan’s goons (one of whom throws deadly playing cards) collect a wooden crate which they think contains the robot (which clearly couldn’t fit inside) but which actually contains Copperhead - who, unseen by us, climbs out before the crate is incinerated. The serial also has the father-to-son Copperhead inheritance, the ‘chain mail’ mask, the remote control device as McGuffin and an almost-as-goofy robot (originally constructed for Undersea Kingdom in 1936). In both the 1940 serial and the 1972 film, Doctor Satan’s plan is to conquer the world using an army of such robots once he has discovered the secrets of the remote control system.

However, whereas Ciannelli played the original Doctor Satan as a clean-shaven, suave mad scientist, in the Turkish version he is a pantomime villain, a huge man with a booming laugh and a moustache that probably has its own postcode. His slanting eyebrows and the dragons on his costume suggest he may actually be intended as some sort of Fu Manchu-style oriental mastermind but if so he is the most Turkish-looking Chinese ever born.

This is a bonkers movie, the sort of film for which the word bonkers was surely coined. It’s a complete mishmash of action, sex, sci-fi and comedy, with mad old Bitik dressed in his cape and an approximation of a deerstalker, play-acting his detective role like he has just wandered in from a Turkish kids TV show.

Mondo Macabro have done a superb job in releasing this, not least in making the difficult decision of which film to release from the hundreds of similarly OTT, weird movies that flowed from Istanbul in the 1960s and 1970s. According to the chapter on Turkish cinema in the book Mondo Macabro (from where the label takes its name), there were 301 films produced in Turkey in 1972. Unfortunately many of the other 300 are lost, along with plenty of other Turkish films, because who would ever have thought they would be of interest to people in the UK and USA thirty years later? The print quality varies a bit - unavoidably - but is generally very good and the sound is okay bearing in mind that this seems to have been shot silent then had its complete soundtrack added in the dubbing studio. The subtitles have obviously been translated by somebody with a knowledge of British idioms as they include phrases such as “Shut it!” and “Look at the arse on that.” An unfortunate technical hitch has left timecode numbers in a couple of the subtitles but that’s no great distraction.

According to Mondo Macabro (the book), the film was shot as Yilmayan Seytan, then retitled Yilmayan Adam and sold to an Italian company without the knowledge or permission of its producer/director (there is a poster for Yilmayan Adam in the book and one for Yilmayan Seytan in the DVD documentary). The Italians released it as L’Invicibile Bedman which is not as kinky as it sounds, ‘Bedman’ being their name for ‘Batman’. However, as we have seen from the likes of Mars Men, Italian distributors were fond of presenting films from foreign markets as if they were American - and that’s just what they did with this, giving it the English title The Deathless Devil. A Turkish distributor then saw the film and was impressed enough to import it, unaware that it had in fact only been made just up the road. And poor old Yilmaz Atadeniz knew nothing about any of this, of course.

Not that he received an on-screen credit. The director of this version was ‘Robert Gordon’ and the star - well, you couldn’t have an ‘American’ actor named Kunt Tulgar, could you? So they changed it to... Kunt Brix!

Tulgar was a very popular actor in Turkey and in his later career moved into producing and directing (through a company called - what else? - Kunt Film), his films including Tarzan Korkusuz Adam, Ejderin Intikami, Üc Süpermen Olimpiyatlanda, Gizli Kuvvet and 1979’s Süpermen Dönüyor which is an unashamed rip-off of the 1978 Superman movie. Atadeniz’s other films include Killing Ucan Adama Karsi, Killing Soy ve Öldür and Killing Istanbul’da, about a skull-masked super-villain named Killing, which spawned a number of unofficial sequels in this country where the copyright situation makes Italy look like a tightly controlled regime of intellectual property obsessives. He also made a couple of Zorro pictures in 1969.

Most recently, Atadeniz was producer of the Turkish-Hungarian co-production Sir Cocuklari, a drama about homeless children which has the English title Children of Secret. His brother Orhan, who wrote Tarzan Istanbul’da, is credited with the screenplay for The Deathless Devil on the Inaccurate Movie Database even though he died in 1953. In fact, the script was written by Secil Erok. Assistant director Sergio Comani is the only other credited member of the crew although the IMDB lists Sertac Karan (Tarzan Korkusuz Adam, Biyonik Ali Futbolcu) as cinematographer.

Also in the cast are Mine Mutlu (Mandrake Killing’e Karsi) and Muzaffer Tema (Bozkirlar Sahini Targan). Cast members credited on some websites but not on-screen include Zeki Sezer (Süpermen Dönüyor), Ahmet Karaca (apparently in the cast of Ucan Kiz, although I had always assumed that to be the Turkish title of The Wild World of Batwoman as it rips off the Mexican film’s poster; presumably it rips off the script too) and the astoundingly named Mustafa Dik, who was in both Kanunsuz Kahraman - Ringo Kid and Ringo Gestapo’ya Karsi.

Mondo Macabro have packaged The Deathless Devil as a ‘Turkish pop cinema double bill’ with Tarkan vs the Vikings. The disc also includes a half-hour documentary on Turkish pop cinema and a montage of clips from other Mondo Macabro titles (though no actual trailers). No home should be without a copy of this film.

MJS rating: A
review originally posted 25th November 2005

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