(This page is a continuation of
TURKS IN THE GENERAL AMERICAN MEDIA)
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk said in 1937:
"A day will come when the invention of the
cinema will seem to have changed the face of the world more than the invention
of gun powder, electricity or the discovery of new continents. The cinema will
make it possible for people living in the most remote comers of the earth to
get to know and love one another. The cinema will remove differences of
thought and outlook, and will be of great assistance in realizing the ideals
of humanity. It is essential that we treat the cinema with the importance it
Once again, Atatürk showed his great wisdom.
Of course, there is another effect of the cinema... far
more insidious. As powerful as the medium can be to influence and change minds
for the better, resulting in people getting to know and love one another...
the cinema can also be used by those less scrupulous, to teach or reinforce
the effect of hatred.
Turk haters have made great use of this weapon, in the
In this section, I would like to examine some
examples of how Turks have been depicted in mostly American movies. Just for
the heck of it, near the bottom of this page, we'll also examine the treatment
of Greeks and Armenians in mostly American cinematic
|There is a Book Written on the Subject
A book I would love to read. I've come across this piece
from the Turkish Daily News that describes it:
ANKARA- The roots of the West's negative
image of Turks is found in a book by Italian author and cinema historian, Giovanni
Scognamillo with the conclusion drawn being, "Never trust a Turk," the Anatolia
news agency reported.
According to the book entitled "Turkey
and Turks in Western cinema," Istanbul has characteristically been depicted on the
movie screen as an exotic center for junkies and spies. As a result, Turkey gained a
reputation as a dangerous country and Turks came to be thought of as untrustworthy people.
The latest example of this anti-Turkish
propaganda in Western cinema was a 1991 film called "Mediteraneo" directed by
Gabriele Salvatores. Alan Parker's "Midnight Express" provides another example
among films which present Turkey as a dangerous land.
On the other hand, while it is true that
modern Western cinema rarely presents Turks in a positive light, a 1917 film called
"Filling his own shoes," promoted Turks in a very positive manner.
Let's Start Things Off with "Good" Treatment of Turks, in Western
Seems like the American silent film period was
a heyday when it came to depicting Turkey in the cinema. (In sharp contrast to these
days, when the movies rarely show anything Turk-related... and if they do, it is
almost certainly in the form of villainy or evil.) To wit:
War in Turkey (1913)
Charlie in Turkey (1919)
Somewhere in Turkey (1918)
Mutt and Jeff in Turkey (1913)
How fitting we have to go back all the way to
1917 to get an example of a film where Turks appeared to have been portrayed as
decent human beings. This would be FILLING HIS OWN SHOES, which I never heard of
until I read the article above.
Directed & co-written by Harry Beaumont and starring Bryant
Washburn (Ruggles), Hazel Daly and Louise Long (as "Bülbül"), the comedy
is about Ruggles (according to Janiss Garza, of the "All Movie Guide")
" joining the Turkish forces in the Balkan war. When he rescues a Turkish
military chief, the dying man bequeaths him a fortune and three girls from his
harem, which Ruggles must marry off. He takes the girls -- Roxana (Virginia Valli),
Rosa (Helen Ferguson), and Bülbül (Louise Long) -- to Paris to find them mates.
Bülbül decides she wants Ruggles and causes a lot of trouble between him and Ruth.
Finally, all three harem girls are married off to titled Europeans, and Ruggles is
able to wed Ruth."
for “Filling His Own Shoes”
Well.... okay. It's not exactly steeped in reality, what with the "harem" angle. But this is as good as it's
going to get.
A decade later in the silent era, another effort would showcase Turks (I'm
concluding the characters' Turkish nature from the title) in not the harshest of
lights... TURKISH DELIGHT (1927). Rudolph Schildkraut plays "misogynist New
York rug dealer Abdul Hassan" who "inherits the throne of a small, Middle
Eastern principality." The sultana has it in for him and his niece, and there
is a big, crazy chase scene at movie's end.
|FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
The most cerebral of the James Bond movies contained perhaps the most
positive image of Turkey in a Hollywood film... some forty years ago! Co-starred Pedro
Armendariz as "Kerim Bey," Bond's Turkish "sidekick." As the unknown
author of the marvelous treatise on MIDNIGHT EXPRESS wrote: "Their countries are
passive background to the stories in which all the important and good things are done by
Western heroes like James Bond. If they have a problem they are not able to solve it,
because a western hero is necessary to solve the problem or at least to show them the way
to the solution."
Connery a hand
BACKGROUND TO DANGER (1943)
Filmed during the brief respite from
anti-Turkish madness, the World War II years, where I presume the Allied forces did
not want to get on neutral Turkey's bad side; one reason why this was the rare
Hollywood film where Turkey was not featured as the bad guy. Directed by Raoul
Walsh, and starring George Raft, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, this was Warner
Brothers' follow-up to CASABLANCA that did not live up to expectations. Istanbul is
yet another of the characters, always good as a mysterious locale of intrigue where
spies converge... and converge they do, with Nazis, Soviets and the plucky American,
who is helped by his Turkish "sidekick," played by Turhan Bey.
Bey played plenty of Arabs
Turhan Bey is the only Turkish star who became
a household name in American cinema. Characterized as a suave leading man, his
career was short-lived after appearing in one too many "Casbah" movie.
Half-Turkish (his attempt at the language in BACKGROUND TO DANGER was pretty
pitiful), he retired to the land representing the other half of his heritage,
Austria. After a forty year absence from the screen, he resumed his career for a few
more ventures. The only other Turkish "celebrity" in the United States I'm
aware of is Richard Bey — who hosted a syndicated Jerry Springer type of daytime
TV talk show years ago.
only other Turkish celebrity from the United States?
|HADJI MURAD THE WHITE
This Italian film, starring Steve "Hercules" Reeves
is perhaps the only Western film where a Turk emerges as a true hero. Funny thing,
too, as I don't believe the Turkish character in Tolstoy's novel was particularly
heroic. Hadji Murad is not an Ottoman Turk, just one of the many Turkic-types from
the Caucasus in line for the Russians' centuries-long assault. Here are excerpts
from an insightful description I appreciated from "The Internet Movie
Database," called, "An inadvertently unique historical film":
the only heroic Turk in Western
cinema.... not even referred to as a Turk
The wonderful thing about this film is its decision
to cover a subject area that is largely unknown to Western audiences. Indeed, we
Westerners didn't have any idea about this area of the world until the fall of the
Soviet Union... Now the Turks are not the heroes in this film, per se (not the Turks
of today's Turkey, or the then-Ottoman Empire) but various Turkic tribes in the
Caucasus (in the film, they're referred to as "tribesmen,"
"Caucasian," once as "Muslims," or -- derogatorily by the
Russians --as "Savages." Probably using the word "Turk" would
have been risky, as the Western audience might then lose its sympathy for the film's
heroes). In the declining years of the Ottoman Empire, mighty Czarist Russia
instigated many wars against the Ottomans, taking good advantage of their weakened
The thing I found interesting is that Czarist Russia is often depicted in American
and other Western films as noble and heroic... I guess it's the Christian
connection. In this film, based on a novel by Tolstoy, the Russians are hinted at as
the bloodthirsty oppressors they were....
one Turkish book
I own identified this pic
as "Haci Murad"
At the beginning of the film when Hadji Murad attacks
Russian troops down a lonely road, Robin Hood-style, he meets with the "Maid
Marian," Russian princess Maria. When she makes a statement regarding the
superiority of Russian soldiers, Murad replies that his tribe kills only soldiers,
whereas the Russians slaughter women and children. I'm reminded of the fighters in
Chechnya following the same procedure (generally)... they wouldn't target innocent
Russian civilians (other than terrorist attacks) during the first phase of their
recent struggle, a few years ago. During the second phase, when the Russians invaded
again, the Russians murder, rob and rape as indiscriminately as they have done in
centuries past. Now that the Chechnyans (is it Chechens?) are no longer winning,
there has been a general news black-out in the American media... but their struggle
is still a continuation of freeing themselves from Russian domination in the
Caucasus that "The White Warrior" is about.
ADDENDUM: Not all Muslim peoples/tribes from the
Caucasus are necessarily Turkic, like the Chechens.
ADDENDUM, 9-08: And another of these non-Turkic
Caucasians are the Avar people, the group that Hadji Murad
evidently belonged to. Tune in to this illuminating
letter. Tolstoy had Hadji Murad and/or his men speak in
Turkish, but Tolstoy's book was semi-fictionalized. It appears
the Avars have their own language. What this revelation means is
that we can scratch this film off the very short list of
Turk-friendly Western films..!
|JOURNEY OF HOPE (1990)
Best Foreign Film Oscar winner, this powerful
Swiss-Turkish co-production traces a poor Kurd-Turkish family's plight as they travel to
the promised land of Switzerland. (This film doesn't quite belong on this list as there is
a Turkish "hand" in its making... but it was one of the few Turk-related films
in America that got some recognition, so I figured it would be fitting to send it a nod.)
Presented by a pre-ARARAT Miramax, when the studio was into finding little gems like this.
MONSIEUR IBRAHIM (2003)
Omar Sharif; CLICK for
Omar Sharif makes up for appearing in a good
sevral films with negative Turkish portrayals by wonderfully playing Mr. Ibrahim, a shopkeeper whose Turkish identity is hidden
until the trip to his native land by movie's end. In "Cinema Paradiso"
style, the French film studies the bond between a senior and a junior, until the monsieur
winds up as the surrogate father. A warm and charming experience, pulling at our
DIRTY PRETTY THINGS (2002)
Beautiful French actress Audrey Tautou portrays Senay, a Turkish
national trapped in the seamy underground world of London's desperate immigrant community,
along with a Nigerian. Writer Steven Knight and Director Stephen Frears deserve credit for
helming a film that shows a Turk as at least a regular human being, and a sympathetic
character to boot.
MA MERE ["MY MOTHER"] (2004)
as Pierre, listens to "son mere."
Free-spirited mother played by Isabelle Huppert touches on family history with her son: "In
Istanbul, we were happiest...those three years we lived there... ideal. The Turks are
wonderful. Not like what people say. They're good. Nothing like the Spanish. They're
the empty core of life." (Yes, the "Turkish" part of this film is just
a mere line; but it is an extraordinary compliment unknown in Western cinema.)
JOURNEY INTO FEAR (1942)
American armaments man, played by Joseph Cotten (in
a script he wrote), is smuggled out of Istanbul, tailed by Nazi
agents. Orson Welles plays a heroic Turkish secret police colonel.
(Identified as one of Ataturk's men, and a true "patriot"). I don't
know how this one could have escaped my attention, as it is deemed a
classic in many film circles. JOURNEY INTO FEAR was made in that brief
window of time, as BACKGROUND TO DANGER a few entries above, where
neutral Turkey was depicted positively during the dangerous war years;
Cotten's character even utters the line, "Personally, I like
the Turks." (Unheard of!) The film was remade in 1974 (with a
great cast of character actors), and it
would be worth seeing to find out if the temporary insanity of
treating Turks as regular humans held out.
and Welles, wearing one of
the fake noses he became known for, this
time slightly hooked; the actor's Turkish
was indecipherable. The fur hat (kalpak)
was the only "ethnic" addition; the
Turks in the film are otherwise all in the
garb of the West, there is no obligatory
Muslim prayer in the soundtrack, and the
refreshing message is that the Turks are
regular human beings, just like "us."
THE FAVORITE ["INTIMATE POWER'] (1989)
The movie is analyzed at length on this page.
As far as American films (which is what I'm
mostly covering... I'm aware there are lots of films featuring Turks from other
Western nations) where Turks are presented "positively." The best that can
be said about the rest is when some feature Turks in a "neutral" way...
like, say, TOPKAPI, the fun caper 1964 movie where the Turks were little more than
background window dressing.
|MEMED MY HAWK (1984)
The Yasar Kemal novel was brought to the screen by TOPKAPI's Peter
Ustinov, as writer and director. I haven't seen this movie, and I always thought it was a
"positive" film, regarding Turks...but from the bits and pieces I've picked up
along the years, I'm not so sure. I understand Kemal was a writer who highlighted Turkey's
"persecution of Kurds," and "disregard for human rights."
PASCALI'S ISLAND (1988)
I enjoyed this one, starring the narrator of PBS's only
"positive" program featuring Turks, ISLAM: EMPIRE OF FAITH, Ben
Kingsley. Ben is a real pro... he is the only actor trying his hand at a Turkish
character (I have encountered) whose spoken Turkish was at least understandable. And
what a fine performance as Pascali, a spy for the Sultan in 1908, on a Greek island.
The Greeks are the heroes at the end, firing on Turkish troops, soon to free
themselves from the Turkish yoke. (What is a "yoke," anyway?) Zaim Dervis'
academic MIDNIGHT EXPRESS paper tells us: "in
Pascali's Island (James Dearden) Ben Kingsley plays an ugly, bold, bisexual Turkish
spy who becomes tragically involved with Charles Dancer's tricksy archaeologist and
Helen Mirren's Austrian painter in the middle. Due to his fanatical jealousy and
denunciation, the lovers (English archaeologist and Austrian painter) are killed by
the cruel, ugly, fat, bribee Turkish Pasha of the island." [ADDENDUM, 2006:
The Pascali character may not have been ethnically Turkish.]
I barely remember this one, but I don't have a
bad feeling about it... or maybe that's because I like Ben Kingsley playing Turks.
Although it may be his character, Selim, might not even have been a Turk. This is
mainly a love story, where the captor and the captive (Nastassja Kinski) fall for
each other... like a latter day SON OF THE SHEIK.
In this TV mini-series, somehow the heroine (Nancy Travis) manages to
fend off the Sultan's advances, played by Omar Sharif (whose Turkish, for a man fluent in
many languages, was almost as indecipherable as "Bluto" 's, of MIDNIGHT
EXPRESS). In either of these HAREM films, the heroine pretty much took the reins of The
Ottoman Empire in her hands, saving the nation from its backwardness. Ava Gardner appeared
in her last role, as "Kadin," the harem's den mother.
Sharif's charms failed him in this one
YOU CAN'T WIN 'EM ALL (1970)
Cruz," in Turkey
CLICK on PIC
for another view
This adventure movie follows two mercenaries
played by Tony Curtis and Charles Bronson hired by a Turkish governor to protect a
shipment of gold, and his daughters. Set in the chaotic days after the empire's
collapse, I only caught the tail end of the film when our two heroes were given a
reckoning (they got off easily) by "The General," Patrick Magee, whom I
guessed meant to represent Ataturk.
Another Bronson movie, COLD SWEAT, has our hero
spotting a boat with a Turkish flag, and he says something like, "That can mean
only one thing — opium."
|THE ADVENTURES OF BARON
Terry Gilliams' fairy tale featured a sultan who was the villain of the
story, of course. Great shots of the Turks laying siege to Vienna, but I think the baron
pulled a few heroic tricks to make the Turks' lives a little uneasier. (It's been a
while.) The real Baron Munchausen, Karl Friedrich Hieronymous von Munchausen, lived from
1720 to 1797.... and had a habit of embellishing his stories. (Might have been part
Armenian.) He fought for the Russians, against the Turks.
THE SEVEN-PER-CENT SOLUTION (1976)
This unusual and original Sherlock Holmes romp features
Laurence Olivier as Holmes' traditional villain, Professor Moriarty... but the real
villains are the Sultan and his men, on board a train. Holmes and Watson get the
better of the Turks.
|THE LIGHTHORSEMEN (1987)
An Australian film with a fair treatment of the Turks, who enjoy
some prominence in the story, unlike the more famous WWI Australian film, GALLIPOLI.
The Germans come across as worse, in Nazi-fashion. The Australian Light Horse attack
on Beersheba is filmed wonderfully, with the Turks taking flight in a cowardly
fashion at the end. The Turkish commander comes across as somewhat noble, although
he is made up to look very sinister... with dark make-up and a big old scar.
Mel Gibson exchanging glances
with a Turkish POW, one of the
rare scenes in GALLIPOLI where the face of the enemy was seen.
|ISTANBUL (1989), (1957)
This poorly made Swedish film is about an American
journalist (Timothy Bottoms) who must rescue his kidnapped daughter in the alien world
that is Turkey, and the brutality it naturally encompasses. A benign MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, in
that the Turks come from another planet, and the line, "It's a strange country,"
is said at least twice. Twiggy serves as our hero's only hope.
I enjoy tourists getting mixed up in dangerous
circumstances within foreign countries, like Harrison Ford in FRANTIC, where the hero must
not only solve a terrible problem, but deal with unfamiliarity in a foreign land. I could
have enjoyed ISTANBUL regardless, since I'm used to Turks being treated poorly in films...
but I didn't, only because it came across as an amateurish effort.
I have not seen the 1957 ISTANBUL with Errol Flynn,
but it appears Turkey is merely the exotic backdrop in this CASABLANCA style tale. Nat
King Cole is in the role of the piano-playing "Play it Again, Sam." The only two
credited actors playing Turks seem to have been played by a Greek and an Armenian. One
good thing about movies based in Turkey is that they give Greek and Armenian actors work,
since Greek and Armenian actors specialize in playing Turks.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995)
Byrne, Kevin Spacey
A wonderfully made effort, with one of the
scariest screen villains in cinematic history. (Keyser Soze, a Turkish Mafia man.) "Nobody
believed he was real," the movie's narration tells us, as we witness a
horrifying scene that demonstrates the villain's toughness and lack of mercy. Three
rival Hungarian hoods break into his home, rape his wife and terrorize the kids.
When Keyser arrives, the Hungarians demand his territory/business. However, Keyser
gets the drop on them and shoots two. The third holds a child hostage, but to his
horror, Keyser deliberately murders his own son. One by one, he follows up by wiping
out his whole family, and lets the terrified Hungarian escape to tell everyone about
his sure-to-follow growing legend. Keyser then hunts the rival gang, murdering all,
including their families, and even their friends. He burns their houses and other
meaningful establishments. Then he disappears, leading to the last lines of
the screenplay's narration:
He becomes a myth, a spook story that
criminals tell their kids at night. If you rat on your pop, Keyser Soze will get
you. And nobody really ever believes.
And you know why Keyser Soze could do all this and get away with it? It was because
of his God-given roots.
He was a Turk....
|MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (1978)
"For a nation of pigs, it sure seems funny
that you don't eat them! Jesus Christ forgave the bastards, but I can't! I hate! I hate
you! I hate your nation! And I hate your people! And I fuck your sons and daughters
because they're pigs! You're all pigs!"
Hayes manages to kill the bully guard Hamidou,
played by Paul Smith, who was "Bluto" in POPEYE
That is my favorite line from this masterful
exercise in xenophobia and racism; the film shaped the West's perception of Turkey and
Turkish justice, and "the whole concept of 'Turkish prisons' is still a suitable
punchline for any joke about oppressive and barbaric third world conditions."
Main credited actors playing the Turks were
Zanninos Zanninou, Michael Yannatos, Vic Tablian, and Kevork Malikyan .... playing the
Prosecutor, whose Turkish was the only one in the whole film that was comprehensible.
Kevork would go on to play an Armenian in the ONLY American/Western Film or TV venture I have ever seen that put the Turks
in a good light (besides THE WHITE WARRIOR, above), where the Turks were not second
The real-life Billy Hayes was different than
the one in the movie; immediately after his "escape," he was on television
stating (paraphrased), “I like the Turks, it’s their prisons I can’t stand.” In
contrast to the big courtroom outburst scene, where the three really ugly actors selected
to play the judges hung their heads in shame, Billy was "nobly" resigned to his
fate, in the book. The interesting thing about the cinema’s version of Billy Hayes was
that we are shown at the film’s beginning how much he knows what a crime he is
committing (at the airport) as he breaks into a cold sweat preparing the hash that he
tapes around his torso. (If I’m not mistaken, the soundtrack had the now-clichéd,
anxiety-producing “heartbeat” effect). So, unlike the “female Billy Hayes,” played
by Lee Remick, in the TV-movie DARK HOLIDAY (one entry below, where she gets framed),
Billy goes into his criminal act with eyes wide open…and yet, we’re supposed to feel
sorry for him. He gets caught doing the wrong thing, faces the unpleasant consequences,
and refuses to take the responsibility for something that would have never happened had he
not broken the law… instead, he whines about being the poor, helpless victim, and finds
meaningless excuses... HEY! Just like the Armenians.
(While I wrote this page months ago,
it is now May 31, 2003... and I am working on the site's finishing touches. A week ago, I
spoke to a receptionist in a Manhattan office building, and the subject of our ethnic
identities came up. Upon hearing of my Turkish background, the receptionist immediately
brought up MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, politely wondering how true the portrayed events were. A
whole quarter-century after the release of the movie. What a fantastic coup this film has
been for Turk-haters, with lingering effects to be felt to this day.)
EXPRESS, the Crème de la Crème of anti-Turk movies, certainly
deserved its own page.
FORGOTTEN PRISONERS: THE AMNESTY FILES
This TV film focuses on Turkey's oppressive nature because, as
some Greeks, Armenians and other Turk-haters will tell you, Turkey has the worst human rights record in the world. At
least in this film, the victim is a Turk, played by Hector Elizondo, who fails
miserably in making sense of the Turkish language. Ron Silver plays an Amnesty
International lawyer appalled by the shocking conditions in Turkish prisons,
becoming determined to seek justice. Produced & Directed by Robert Greenwald,
whose specialty is "socially-relevant TV movies" such as THE BURNING BED.
|DARK HOLIDAY (1989)
late Lee Remick, as she appeared
in 1975. She died of cancer.
A television-movie version of MIDNIGHT EXPRESS,
but with a twist: the prisoner is a woman. Lee Remick, in her last role, gets framed
by having an antique put in her bag, and her nightmare in the Turkish prison system
begins (although she doesn't get anywhere near as brutalized as Billy Hayes... well,
it is a TV-movie). An Australian IMDb reviewer comments: "Whilst much is
made of Remick's blonde hair in a country of dark women, and her fear is believable,
she isn't the heroic type, so her repeatedly being told how admirable she is, is
unintentionally funny." I don't remember much of the film, but I do
remember how the other Turkish inmates were always in awe of Lee Remick, clearly the
superior human being.
|PRISON HEAT (1993)
While the above might have featured a woman in prison, it was not a
true "Women in Prison" movie... the genre that is the tawdry underside of the
b-film, featuring ingredients such as "nubile innocents being abused by lecherous
wardens and guards, molested by lesbian fellow-prisoners, and taking lots of
showers." For that, we have PRISON HEAT.... a natural combo of a W.I.P. film, set in
the worst country on earth to be imprisoned in; a can't lose proposition!
The rest of
her clothes won't stay on for long
I haven't seen the movie, but I understand the Turkish warden rapes
an inmate under a portrait of Kemal Ataturk. The four American beauties who are falsely
arrested are shown treated very nicely in Greece, where they were formerly vacationing (or
maybe they were vacationing there, and the villainous Turks somehow got their hands on
them, but the message is clear: Greece=Good, Turkey=Bad), and to top it off, the Turks in
the film reportedly speak... Arabic!
Perhaps this was so because it looks like the film was probably made
by American Jews in Israel. While I can understand the prejudice and ignorance of some
American Jews, having been raised in New York City and getting firsthand exposure to the
thinking ways of some (certainly not all; most are very cool) of them... (and why should
American Jews be any different in their ignorance and prejudice than any other American?),
I kind of wish Israelis wouldn't be so prejudicial, as I would hope they would know a
little more about Jewish history than ignorant American Jews. They would hopefully know
Turkey has historically been one of the Jews' very, very, very, VERY few friends. For example, Turks saved the Jews in WWII, Armenians killed the Jews, and yet American Jews
and Israelis love to snuggle up
to their supposed fellow genocide suffering-Armenians.
KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1985)
blond American maiden and a Lustful Turk
The RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK rip-off with
Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone — before she became a star — featured a
double dosage of villains Westerners love to hate, a WWI era German and a Turk
(dressed in the clothing style of an Ottoman era long past). At least the always
wonderful John Rhys-Davies, playing the Turk (named "Dogati." Dogati...
Pascali... are these Turks, or Italians?) doesn't come across as a total buffoon,
and gives as well as he gets; even though his German "master," played by
the equally always-wonderful Herbert Lom, keeps calling him "STUPID TURK"
throughout the movie. I still enjoyed this film, regardless. Brought to us by the
Israeli tag team of Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan... who would soon be replaced in
anti-Turk cinematic depictions by Miramax's Harvey Weinstein. (ARARAT, coming up.)
|LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)
The wonderful masterpiece by David Lean offers the cinema a cut of the
finest irony: the "always" villainous Arabs in Western films are, for once, the
heroes. ('Course, we know who the REAL hero is.) Even in a film where the Arabs are
portrayed not-so-negatively, the Turks are still the villains.
Is this the STAR WARS scene, where our
heroes escape the clutches of the stupid
Turks, by talking their way out... or the
scene where Lawrence gets arrested?
The Turks are certainly presented as cartoon characters, and the
worst scene is the one exhibiting sado-masochism and homosexuality between Lawrence and
Turkish Bey, played by Jose Ferrer. (Why in the world Turkish men are cinematically so
depicted as being gung-ho about homosexuality, I'm at a loss to understand. No, I know the
I always wondered whether the bankrupt Ottoman Empire actually owned
airplanes, like the one we see near the film's beginning, conveying how the poor, simple
Arabs are oppressed by the "modern" Turks. Apparently, two Turks studied flight
in France, and the two airplanes the nation possessed got ruined in the hangar... then the
empire spent something like 30,000 francs for a new airplane around 1912. That's all from
memory, but it appears the airplane in the film might have been the only one owned by the
empire, sputtering about. (Actually, the film presented two airplanes, perhaps twice the
actual air force.)
Regardless, the film is a classic, and I appreciated the scenes that
showed some sympathy for the Turks, like the regiment on its last legs that is slaughtered by the Arabs (while Lawrence's
pangs of conscience get to him. Awwwww!) Another little gesture I appreciated was
the handsome actor selected for the Turkish soldier taking a shot at our hero, from the
Hey, Turks have got to take what they can get.
This wonderful and ironic film explores the travails of an
Italian immigrant to Switzerland, failing at practically everything. The comic
relief is the stupid Turk, a fellow migrant worker who is even more of a foul-up.
Our hero's "girlfriend" is yet another immigrant, who is clearly an
outstanding human being. What ethnicity does she happen to be? Why, Greek, of
One moving scene was the Turk, at the receiving
end of our hero's insults throughout the film, being observed by the hero as the
Turk greets his family at the train station. His children kiss the Turkish boob's
hands, and show him much respect, while our hero looks on with... envy? Some
remorseful emotion, anyway.
A quarter-century or so later, at least the
struggling Turkish immigrant would be treated more sympathetically, as with DIRTY PRETTY THINGS (2002), on the short list of "Good Treatment" films, near the
top of this list.
|TURKISH PASSION (1994)
I look forward to seeing this Spanish film one day. It
regards a woman, Desideria (Ana Belén) whose sexual urges are not fulfilled with
her husband, until she meets Yaman (Georges Corraface), on a trip to Turkey. He is a
brutal lover, and ravages her, as only Turks can; she gets so hooked, she leaves her
husband to be with the cad... who makes a practice of seducing women.
in for it... wait till she gets a taste of The Lustful Turk
I like the idea of this film because it seems to highlight a
quality of Turkish men that has been kept hidden: their virility. I've encountered a
couple of accounts by Western travellers who remark on this facet. However, while
Frenchmen have the reputation of being great lovers, anything positive about Turks
would certainly be squashed, so the only hint we get about this passionate quality
about Turks is in the stereotype of "The Lustful Turk"... where instead of
driving a woman mad with desire, the Turk exhibits the negative characteristics of
perversion and lechery. Yaman does not appear to be the kind of screen lover
that women would ordinarily sigh over; he represents the typical rough, macho creep
modern women know to reject. (Apparently, he ultimately drives Desideria into
"a self destructive circle of violence, prostitution and sodomy.")
Regardless, I prefer to look at the good in this guy; we're not going to get a
Turkish Johnny Depp. At least his character gives a hint that Turkish lovers might
have something to offer. (Cheee!)
the Moroccan loverboy with Denise
Another European attempt with a similar motif
is one I haven't seen.... a Dutch tele-film called LOVERBOY (2003), for
the teenage market. The "loverboy" of the title appears to be Moroccan,
but the big bad boss of the movie is Turkish.
(Turks reportedly represent the seamy underbelly of Dutch society, probably not
alone among Western European nations where Turkish immigrants have made themselves
noticeably felt.) Michael, the chief loverboy takes a sweet seventeen-year-old girl,
Denise (Monique van der Werff), and turns her into a cheap street hooker; she goes
along, because she falls deeply in love with him, thus throwing away her old world's
safe environment... like Desideria from TURKISH PASSION. Sounds like an interesting
documentary-style, as we follow our heroine's depraved (mis)adventures. The catch
is, the Moroccan loverboy falls in
love, and becomes as protective as his loveless upbringing will allow... but the
real victimizer seems to be the Turkish
overlord and perhaps one-time loverboy, to whom... from what I have
gathered... the smaller-time loverboys owe money.
This brings to mind a famous Dutch film called TURKS FRUIT (1973), a frank,
let-it-all-hang-out love story with a
realism uncommon to Hollywood, directed by BASIC INSTINCT's sexual madman Paul
Verhoeven (and starring Rutger
Hauer)... nominated for the Oscar as Best Foreign Language film. It is reportedly
still the biggest-grossing Dutch film in history. A
provocative, sexually explicit, graphic and even violent film, not for the
fainthearted, that hasn't anything to do with Turks,
save for the title... an interesting choice connoting passion and intensity... also
known as TURKISH DELIGHT. I gather
there is a scene where the two lovers eat the Turkish candy ("lokum"), and
the symbolism is perhaps applicable to
Rutger Hauer's character, rough on the outside and sweet within, which some say
applies as well to the movie as a
whole, judged as rude and base at the surface... by those who weren't able to see
the tenderness and beauty within.
The Cinematic Sexuality
of Turkish Women
"The Lustful Turk" stereotype as discussed at TAT
applies only to Turkish men. What about Turkish women?
Naturally, there is always a danger when one thinks in stereotypical terms... but
something usually doesn't become a stereotype unless there is a grain of truth to
The stereotype of Northern Europeans, the French excluded, is that sexually, they
are not very hot stuff. Let's not insult the women, and just talk about the men.
Gwyneth Paltrow caused a furor in England not long ago, criticizing English men for
not being sexually aggressive; perhaps she was not without a point, as when I think
of Roger Moore as James Bond (exceptionally handsome on the outside, but one who
doesn't look like he could let loose on the inside), it's hard to imagine any woman
fluttering her eyes and going, "Oh, James..." (Sean Connery, on the other
hand, would be a much different story; but Connery is hardly veddy, veddy British.)
German men don't have a reputation as being wonderful in bed, and when I once asked
a Swedish girlfriend what she thought of Swedish men, she opined they were fairly
unexciting and "square." (Then I brought up the young Max Von Sydow, and
her heart skipped a beat; so obviously, there are exceptions to every rule.)
Southern European men are stereotypically much more hot-blooded... as Soghoman
Tehlirian's German lawyer made sure to point out, to distinguish how much more
animal-like Turks and Armenians could be, compared to the Germans.
No Spaniard could become a flamenco dancer or bullfighter without knowing how to
satisfy a woman. The Italians can be like firecrackers... even Benito Mussolini made
sure to often be photographed without his shirt to demonstrate his virility. I don't
know much about the sexuality of Greek men, but I'd imagine they would not be far
from this rule, as long as they didn't wear their funny looking skirts. (For
example, think of "Zorba the Greek," who embodied passion.) Only the Turk
gets the stereotype of being "Lustful," and even though this is meant in a
denigrating fashion... if we can look at the positive side of the coin, the meaning
of a red-blooded man is to be nothing but lustful.
The same must be applied to women; who needs a fuddy-duddy ice princess? Just as a
real man would pride himself on being virile and passionate, a real woman would
think no less the same.
All of the Southern European, Mediterranean women have a "hot" reputation
in Western culture. The Spanish are fiery vixens, the Italians are earthy, and the
Greeks are hot-tempered and tempestuous... if Melina Mercouri's image serves as an
Loren: One Woman
(You know, my mind just travelled to Sophia Loren as an
example of the sexy, earthy Italian woman... and then I thought of Vittorio de
Sica's classic, TWO WOMEN. Sophia's character, along with her daughter, gets raped
by African soldiers in war-torn Italy, and she curses them out afterwards, calling
them... among other things... "TURKS." Sigh! Et tu, Sophia? [ADDENDUM,
10-06: A reviewing of the film in the original Italian with subtitles made no
reference to "Turks"; the first viewing was of a dubbed print. In
addition, as the Africans left their victims unconscious, the ones being cursed are
Americans, for letting their riff-raff loose.])
Turkish women? They are not thought of in this same way. Although
I have a feeling "The Lustful Turk," in its most positive sense, would not
be a one-way street.
One hint not supportive of this view was presented in a
years-ago American article about Natashas, desperate Russian women looking to make a
living after the fall of the Iron Curtain... and many found a market in Turkey as
prostitutes, threatening the stability of many marriages. The reason given was that
Turkish wives were lacking in keeping the home fires burning, but when I thought
about it later... isn't the "Not tonight, dear, I have a headache"
attitude from wives a universal concept? On an "Oprah" program from a few
years back, for example, forty percent of American women were revealed via a survey
to "hate" sex. The bulk of these women were older, and presumably married.
How have Turkish women fared in Western cinema regarding sexuality? This is not an
area that's covered, as "Moslem" Turkish women are probably seen as
wanting to stay as far away from sex as possible (and among the very religious
Turkish women, that would appear to be the case.... as it would be among the very
religious of any religion)... so there isn't much to talk about, as opposed to the
Lustful, "perverted" Turkish male.
Here is the only example I've come across in a Western film touching on the topic of
Turkish female sexuality: In 1974's French-Italian co-production THE GYPSY (with
Alain Delon in the title role, an outlaw anti-hero), two criminal accomplices head
off in a car after the gang parts ways. One says they'll be in Switzerland soon, and
maybe they'll go to Turkey. The other, a lady-killer (Nicolas Vogel), looks dreamily
into space and mutters, "Those submissive broads..."
ADDENDUM (Outside reading):
Western quotes on Turkish women, as this one by Paul Rycaut:
Turkish women "are accounted the most lascivious and immodest of all Women, and
excel in the most refined and ingenious subtilties to steal their pleasures."
From the West Chester University page.
Italian soldiers marooned on a Greek island during World War II,
with nothing to fight....so they explore the meaning of life. A Best Foreign Film Award
winner, the film explores Greco-Roman sensuality, and the common traits of both
Mediterranean people. I haven't seen this film, and it sounds wonderful... I can't
understand how any anti-Turkishness would enter this scenario, but according to a blurb
about the book that examines the image of the Turk in Western Cinema,
evidently the film makers found a way to squeeze this popular notion in.
DUST (2001, etc.)
The German Der Tagespiegel declared the film anti-Albanian and
Neo-Fascist, saying: "Instead of the Albanian Muslims we have here the Ottomans
as the 'untermenschen' and the Macedonians are as innocent as lambs," which are
slaughtered during the film numerously. Alexander Walker from the London Evening
Standard accused the Macedonian filmmaker, Milcho Manchevski, of making a racist
film, showing the Turks "as herd of a corrupt people who gibber like apes in
red fezes, and are more violent and far less responsible than Macedonians."
Walker then asked Manchevski: "I wonder what you think the effect will be upon
contemporary Turkey which is at the present moment trying to enter the European
Union. Do you have a political agenda by this film?" Manchevski only replied:
"Thank you for your statement." I have not seen the film, but how nice of
the British and the Germans to stand up for the Turks.
Aren't the Macedonians and Greeks at each other's throats? I
guess Greeks who love to pass off the Macedonian Alexander the Great as their own
can take this as positive proof that Macedonians are cut from an entirely different
cloth... since Macedonians don't seem to follow the iron-clad Greek rule, "The
enemy of my enemy is my friend."
|AMERICA, AMERICA (1963)
Director Elia Kazan's account of an Anatolian
Greek, Stavros, who arrives as an immigrant in the United States (whereupon he falls
to his knees in gratitude and kisses the ground). Kazan, born in Turkey (and
half-Armenian), wrote the screenplay and novel as a means of exploring his family’s
cultural heritage...Stavros Topouzoglou is based on Kazan’s uncle, the first
member of the family to immigrate to the New Land.
Oppression rears its head when the Turkish Army
sets fire to a church filled with Armenian women and children, and the Turks are not
treated as being very nice people all around. The only "fair" moment I
remember was when (Stavros, I guess) was in line to get seriously harassed by
Ottoman troops when one of them recognizes Stavros as an old pal... whereupon the
belongings the soldiers roughly took from him are quickly put back in the cart. The
Turk says something like they are being treated badly, too. (Two seconds of the
Turkish viewpoint! Ho-paa!)
The great director (ON THE WATERFRONT) became
largely despised by the Hollywood set for ratting on many during the Senator
McCarthy period, in the interest of saving his own skin, which led to the ruin of
many careers. Of course, Kazan wasn't the only one who was a fink.
|THE FORTY DAYS OF MUSA
the Turkish villain
Turkish ambassador Munir Ertegun might have been able
to stop the big-screen MGM version of the phony
book (in the 1930s), but at least the Armenians and their deep pockets came up with
this obscure version. Directed by Sarky Mouradian. I have a feeling we would be
hard-pressed to find even the teeny-weeny "fair" moment described for AMERICA,
588 RUE PARADIS (1992)
I knew Omar Sharif was famous for DR. ZHIVAGO, but I had no idea
another of his claims to fame was that he might be the one actor who has appeared in
the most Turk-unfriendly movies..! Noted French director Henri Verneuil's real name
was Achod Malakian, born in Turkey, and his last film efforts dealt with his
family's escape from the brutal Ottoman Empire... and I take it MAYRIG
("Mother," played by Claudia Cardinale) presents the biographical tale of
"Azad" rising in his new land to become a playwright, and in the sequel,
588 RUE PARADIS, a film director. Followed in 1993 by MAYRIG, the apparent mini-TV
series, where Omar Sharif reprised his role of "Hagop." The original
MAYRIG has a character named "Tehlirian," which I assume represents the
Armenian hero/assassin who shot Talat Pasha in the back of the head, and (as the New
York Times reported; it probably was not true) heroically shot Talat’s
innocent wife. An IMDb commentator from Italy calls MAYRIG a
"masterpiece," and adds: "The film totally smells ‘hate &
Verneuil (Achod Malakian) & Claudia
"Armenian monk" Soghomon Soghomonian, known as Komitas, is a composer (the
music for this film is mostly his)... he was later "devastated by the horrors
of the 1915 massacre and spent the rest of his years in various mental
institutions." (Komitas was among the 235 arrested in Istanbul on April 24,
1915, but was released after only two weeks' imprisonment. Having left for Europe
not long afterwards, it's doubtful that he actually witnessed any massacres. Sounds
like the old "He went mad for who knows what reason.... hey! Let's blame the
'genocide'!" trick.) Director Don Askarian emigrated from the Soviet Union to
West Germany, and biographer Nune Hovhannisyan gushes, "He is perhaps the only
director whose ‘purely Armenian’ films have been professionally distributed and
proved financially successful in Germany, Japan, Holland and England."
Film critic Roger Ebert wrote: "Ararat clearly comes
from (Atom) Egoyan's heart, and it conveys a message he urgently wants to be heard: that
the world should acknowledge and be shamed that a great crime was committed against his
people. The message I receive from the movie, however, is a different one: that it is
difficult to know the truth of historical events, and that all reports depend on the point
of view of the witness and the state of mind of those who listen to the witness. That
second message is conveyed by the film, but I am not sure it presents Egoyan's intention.
Perhaps this movie was so close to his heart that he was never able to stand back and get
a good perspective on it — that he is as conflicted as his characters, and as confused
in the face of shifting points of view."
ARARAT is the
second movie explored on TAT that got its own page.
ASSIGNMENT BERLIN (1981)
I gave my story on how I came to see this film
(about Talat Pasha’s assassination and the ensuing trial), when it was presented
by a university’s Armenian club, in the Trial
of Tehlirian section of TAT. Naturally, it was the duty of the Armenian director
to show the Ottomans were behind a state-sponsored policy for extermination, and
there was even a fantasy scene of a Wannsee-type Conference… where Turkish
officials discuss the Armenian Final Solution. The proof supplied that allowed for
the assassin to walk away a free man were the forged Aram Andonian telegrams of Talat Pasha.... yet these documents
were rejected, even at what amounted to a kangaroo court. Imagining that the fake
telegrams were actually introduced in the trial, since the film makes it sound like
the telegrams were the reason for the acquittal, it would have been ethical to let
the viewer in on the illegitimacy of these forged papers, the originals for which
Andonian claimed were "lost," and later personally admitted were meant as
propaganda. (Did I say "ethical"?)
|RAVISHED ARMENIA (1919)
The one that started it all! Oscar Apfel, a reported protégé of Cecil
B. DeMille (that’s what Peter Balakian claims, anyway… although I was not aware THE TEN
COMMANDMENTS director was already that "big" in 1919, to have had a protégé)
directed this silent film based on the stage play, "The Auction of Souls,"
produced by the Near East Relief. The movie starred Aurora (Arshaloys) Mardiganian, whose memoirs the play was based on,
and whom Balakian claims "survived harems,
rape," and "witnessed the mutilation, torture and rape of hundreds of young
girls like herself." It’s a wonder how she made it to the United States with all
the inconceivably ghastly horrors she has claimed to have experienced, but somehow she did…
only to become a movie star, appearing alongside fellow movie star, Ambassador Henry "Holier-than-Thou"
Morgenthau. Only one reel of the film
reportedly survives, and proceeds from the movie supported the relief efforts. The more
sympathy, the more contributions, of course… perhaps why the film’s poster promises
"over four millions perished." Balakian claims the film caused a
"sensation," and I believe the English professor is being actually truthful.
From a New York
Times article reporting on a private showing of RAVISHED ARMENIA (February 15,
Mrs. Oliver Harriman, Chairman of the National Motion Picture
Committee, delivered an address in which she said that Miss Mardiganian had come to this
country because she was a typical case selected form among her people as one of many
victims of the terrible desolation wrought in Armenia By the Turk. The young woman,
said Mrs. Harriman, established direct contact between a stricken people and a generous
"The whole purpose of the picture is to acquaint America
with ravished Armenia," said Mrs. Harriman," to visualize conditions so that
there will be no misunderstanding in the mind of any one about the terrible things which
have transpired. It was deemed essential that the leaders, social and intellectual,
should first learn the story, but later the general public shall be informed. It is
proposed that before this campaign of information is complete, as many adults as
possible shall know the story of Armenia, and the screen was selected as the medium
because it reached the millions, where the printed word reaches the thousands."
THE TERRIBLE TURKISH EXECUTIONER (1904)
punishment isn't capital
Great special effects film
pioneer Georges Méliès got in on the anti-Turkish act almost during the birth of
the cinema! The Turk of the title is terrible enough to pull out his great big sword
and decapitate four men with one blow. The victims don't stay dead, however (making
the Turkish executioner pretty terrible in another sense), and exact revenge. The
film is three minutes long.
(Thanks to Dave Sindelar.)
|BLACK SABBATH (1964)
son reveals the villain
shows what "Turk's Head" means
Bava directed this wonderful Italian compilation film of three terror tales, the middle
one featuring the legendary Boris Karloff, who turns into a "wurdulak"... a
Russian vampire who targets loved ones. Loosely adapted from a Tolstoy story, we learn the
villain is Alibeq, a "cursed Turk" who gets hunted down by Karloff's character.
ABDUL THE DAMNED (1935)
There were photos of Abdul from the 1942
British book, "Grand Turk," that I had scanned and used elsewhere on TAT,
often wondering where they were from. Now I know. Directed by Karl Grune and
starring Fritz Kortner in the title role, and Greek-Briton actor George Zucco (as
the firing squad captain; see pic at bottom of page), I can't say for certain
whether the British film is unfair... but I suppose the title itself gives a good
clue. (Naturally, it could mean in the sense of "Damned if Abdul did or
didn't," but I don't think so.) It sounds like one to catch. The menacing chief
of secret police "removes" possible threats to the paranoid sultan. A
foreign dancer/actress spurns Abdul's attentions, and the police chief arrests her
fiancé, forcing her to enter Abdul's harem. I think that's only a subplot... the
film as a whole seems to be more of a character study, "an intense
psychologically sound portrait of a man terrorised by the repercussions of his own
reign of terror!", as "Film Weekly" put it. Photo
1 and Photo
ADDENDUM, 11-06: This film now has an in-depth analysis.
|BORN OF FIRE (1983)
This film doesn't belong on this list, since it's not about Western
treatment of Turks or Turkey... not as far as I remember, as it has been years since I had
seen it. However, it sure was weird. Directed by Pakistani Jamil Dehlavi, Brian J. Wright opines: "The
big appeal of this movie is the Turkish locations — between the deserts, caves, and a
gorgeous glacier loaded with streams, waterfalls and pools, it didn't really matter what
was happening; it kept me involved just looking at it." Richard Scheib concluded: "Born
of Fire can probably lay credence to being the world’s first and only Islamic horror
film." (Turkey has made a slew of horror films in previous years, including a
Dracula film in the 1950s and a rip-off of THE EXORCIST in the 1970s. Perhaps Scheib meant
this film had an Islamic theme, but that's not what I recall.)
CLEOPATRA JONES (1973)
The film begins with a camel rolling on its
back to give the flavor we are in the Middle East. To drive home the
"exotic" point, several men in Arab costume stand alongside Turkish
government officials. At least the Turks are the good guys as American agent
Cleopatra Jones (Tamara Dobson) orders the British-accented Turkish general ("I
hope it meets with your approval, Miss Jones") to destroy a poppy field: "That's
right, baby; thirty million dollars worth of shit that ain't going in some kid's
veins. Burn it."
Jones and Turkish general (right) pass a group of Turkish
officials that strangely include several in Arab garb
|LA MASSERIA DELLE ALLODOLE
A little boy, among others, lies bloodied and dead.
The music: very sad.
The Taviani Brothers of Italy took the Armenian author Antonia Arslan's
fiction, "The Lark Farm," and evidently went to town with the Armenian
"Genocide." In mid-2005, Holdwater contacted the producer, Grazia Volpi, and
asked him to please look into the claims more carefully. Looks like it was to no avail.
Italians have been nurtured with a negative stereotype against Turks, and even their
"responsible filmmakers" have simple-mindedly accepted the reality of a
official Turkish soldiers
Atom Egoyan's wife, Arsinée Khanjian, is in the cast, as well as an actor with a Muslim
name who may be mistaken for a Turkish actor; yet Mohammed Bakri is a Palestinian Arab.
Perhaps the Tavianis were proud regarding what they might have thought was a stab at
PRIVATE BENJAMIN (1980)
Goldie Hawn plays Private Benjamin, a spoiled woman who rises in
the ranks of the U.S. military, ultimately assigned to NATO in Europe, under Lt.
Rahmi, a Turkish officer who mangles the English language; yet another buffoon used
as comic relief, reinforcing the image of incompetence.
and the Turk
Jean-Claude Van Damme escapes the cops, heads for
the Far East, and enters a prestigious martial arts competition. This
is a film I had seen, at least partly, and I don't remember a Turkish
connection, but a reader has informed me one of the villainous fighters Van Damme faces off against
happened to be Turkish. The really bad guy was a Mongol, and one of
the decent fighters was a Greek. What are the odds of having a brutal
Turk as well as a Mongol in the same film? The reader discovered Van
Damme, who also directed the film, was once married to a woman with
what sounds like an Armenian name.
LOVE AND DEATH (1975)
Allen, Diane Keaton, merrymaking guests and
one stoic Turk.
flick that takes off on War and Peace and other
Russianisms that have seeped into our culture is neutral on Turk
depiction. Yes, there is that cigar store wooden Indian passing
for a Turk in a party thrown by the occupying French where
everyone else is animated; but there is also a line by a husband
lying on his deathbed (having shot himself accidentally) because
he had challenged a "Turkish cavalry officer" to a
duel, for casting suspicion on his wife's virtue. At least
we got an idea this Turk was a regular Joe. Shockingly, the
Armenians fared worse; in a scene where Diane Keaton's character
consults a Russian Orthodox priest, she tells him that her
husband (Woody Allen) contemplated suicide by "inhaling
next to an Armenian."
The film makes one think: both the Russian and Ottoman empires
were regarded by the West as not quite making the grade as far
as acceptable civilization, since the savage peoples from both
have been looked upon as more "Asiatic." Yet what a
huge gap; we have enough iconic Russian imagery and music and
ideas that can make us get into a satire like LOVE AND DEATH,
yet the Turkish counterpart would be unfeasible, as the only
thing the West knows about Turks is that they were barbarians.
Isn't that interesting, given that in both cases we have had
great empires lasting for centuries. Of course, the Christian
bond has played a role, but for practically none of the Turkish
cultural and scientific contributions (naturally, the Turks are
famously known for being good only for war) to have passed on to
the West (some that have — like yogurt — are not known for
being Turkish) is a jarring reminder of the power of prejudice.
Brynner as Taras Bulba.
narrator begins with: "In the dark days of the dawn of the 16th century, the
conquering hordes of the Turkish sultan spread terror throughout the civilized world. The Ottoman Empire swept east, across Asia Minor, south across the Mediterranean, north across the Crimea. Triumphant, the Turkish sultan turned west, toward the Ukraine. Turkish spearheads threatened the frontiers of Poland. The fate of Europe hung in the balance in the vast, fertile plains known as the steppes."
On screen, the Turks get the edge against the Poles in battle
(with such a bogeyman in Polish culture, no wonder why genocide
Lemkin accepted the reality of an Armenian genocide), but
not to worry; the Poles' Cossack allies appear, and in two
minutes, save the day. The Polish commander gleams,
"cutthroat animals," but concedes the Cossacks make
fine fighters. Too bad they are double-crossed, and come under
the domination of Poland. Taras Bulba swears to rise again, as
he teaches his young boy (who will grow up to be Tony Curtis)
how to kill a man, the current lesson focusing on an armored
one. When the boy asks why Cossacks are not armored, Taras shows the cross around his neck, proclaiming,
"This is our armor, boy — faith!" (Such a good
Christian must have been oddly unaware of the enormous dichotomy;
he must have skipped the "Thou shalt not kill" part.)
The film accentuates how the Poles regard the Cossacks living
among them as barbarians. How ironic then, that such barbarians
are treated heroically in the movie, whereas our more familiar
barbarians are dismissed as "hordes." As to what
determines a good barbarian, Christianity must make the difference.
While Taras Bulba, the fictional novel of a Ukrainian
Cossack, has been adapted into film several times, Hollywood has
never seen fit to similarly base either a fictional or
historical Turkish figure, not even a major one as Ataturk. (One
of the abortive attempts, besides the most recent
one, coincidentally was set to star Yul Brynner himself.)
found and restored, this silent comedy produced by a 22-year-old Howard
Hughes features two American soldiers (the handsome one, William Boyd,
to play TV's Hopalong Cassidy) and his grizzled sergeant, escape from
a ("realistically" depicted, unusual for the time) WWI German POW camp only to find their way into
"Arabia"; at one point in the subtitles,
"Turkey" is substituted, and this film can't tell the
difference between the two — predictably, they are one and the
same. The "Arabian" woman ()Mary Astor) who wins the heart of
Hopalong says she learned English in "Constantinople,"
and when our heroes find their way to "Arabia," they
stumble upon the American Consulate. (Of course, the only such
consulate was in Istanbul.) No matter; the Turks (or
Arabs; what's the difference?) wear the gamut of Oriental
clothing, and along with the scenery, it's all interchangeable.
villain, Shevket Bey.
sarge (Louis Wolheim) look great?
At least some attention was paid to the soldiers' uniforms,
which tells us we are really in the Ottoman Empire (since, if we
were truly in "Arabia," Arab fighters would have
suited up to look like the ones from LAURENCE OF ARABIA, when
the Arabs were rebelling..!) At least the Turks/Arabs are not
treated as monsters, and the Ottoman officer (Shevket Bey, who
is the rival for the lady's heart) is handsome.
STAMBOUL QUEST (1934)
plays spy to Ali Bey (C. Henry Gordon)
begins with Arab-style music, and it looks like we're in for
another "Arabian" setting. German intelligence
suspects a Turkish officer of turning traitor during WWI, it
looks like the usual slanted and/or ignorant perspective will be
cemented. (When the German espionage chief, played by Lionel
Atwill, asks one of his "James Bonds" what he thinks
of Turkey, listen to the answer.) As the movie
progresses , however, it turns out responsible research has been
performed to some degree of accuracy, and the Turks are,
refreshingly, treated as civilized human beings. Beyond the
Turkish element, the script (by Herman J. Mankiewicz) was
intelligent, and kept one guessing as to the involved intrigues.
|Characters Named TURK
There are plenty of characters named TURK in the movies, usually
assigned to criminals or tough guys or those who don't have their heads on straight.
he's not holding a sword?
KELLY'S HEROES, starring Clint Eastwood, offers a "Turk" who serves
in a colorful tank crew led by Donald Sutherland's "Oddball," a World War II
hippie. Turk makes sure to wear his fez in battle, and even sports a pirate-style earring.
GREEKS AND ARMENIANS IN WESTERN
Observing the cinematic rule of Greek=Good and Turk=Bad, Greeks
are always played positively in American Films and Television (and the focus here is on
"modern" Greece, since all films dealing with ancient Greece and/or Greek
mythology [the TV show XENA being a recent, although inadvertent, example] exhibit the
Greeks as heroes), from ZORBA THE GREEK to ESCAPE TO ATHENA to MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING
(So many others…MOTHER GOES GREEK [1968... no, not a porn film!], MY PALIKARI [1982,
with Telly Savalas], NEVER ON SUNDAY (1960), ASTORIA (1999), FOR THE LOVE OF BENJI and
SUMMER LOVERS [1977, 1982, where Greece is presented as heaven-on-earth], LARA KROFT TOMB
RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE (2003), and even Costa-Gavras’ excellent French-produced
political intrigue, Z [1969, with unnamed Greeks vs. Greeks]). THE FAMOUS TEDDY Z and
KOJAK to MY BIG FAT GREEK LIFE offered positive Greek role models on television, although
usually the positive Greek representations on television stem from Greek "guest
appearances," rather than shows with Greeks as recurring main characters... as when
FRASIER attended a jubilant Greek wedding… an occasion which almost always culminates in
the American hero joining in the festive Greek dance.)
The dashing Gilbert Roland (right) is the father of the
Robert Wagner (center), playing Greek fishermen in
BENEATH THE 12 MILE REEF (1953).
beautiful heroine of DARE-
DEVIL; daughter of yet another
Greek tycoon. (Jennifer Garner)
The only time I remember a Greek villain in an American/Western
feature film was in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, and he (Greek tycoon Kristatos, played by Julian
Glover) was a sophisticated, subdued and "good" kind of bad guy (in contrast to
your typical, megalomaniacally evil, "Dr. No" type of James Bond-villain). The
diner owner from THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1981; the Greek immigrant Nick Papadakis
from the novel was called "Nick Smith" in the1946 film noir version) might have
been a little greasy (but still the greasy victim), and Victor Buono played a rich
Greek (the only Greeks allowed to be villains are filthy-rich, except when the filthy-rich
Greek depicted is Aristotle Onasis [THE GREEK TYCOON from1979, with Anthony "Zorba
the Greek" Quinn playing yet another Greek, a "thinly-disguised" Onasis...
and THE RICHEST MAN IN THE WORLD from 1988, with Raul Julia]… I have yet to see a
"common Greek" portrayed villainously) who was villainous in a benign way in THE
MAN WITH BOGART’S FACE (1980)… compared to the vicious Turk in that film ("Hakim,"
played by Franco Nero), who was incomparably more evil. (But at least he was handsome.) In
case even the subtlest idea of villainy for a Greek would be too much to handle for
Western viewers, Buono’s "Sydney Greenstreet" character had a beautiful Greek
daughter (Michelle Phillips) who happened to be the heroine and love interest of the
Nick, lovable mechanic & pal of
in 1955's KISS ME DEADLY. Va-va-voom!
Greek-American Nick Dennis made a career
of playing Greeks, and of characters named
"Nick." He was a semi-regular on KOJAK.
A film I’ve never seen (but sure would like to; it's the only one
with the pairing of the two stars) is SMART MONEY (1931), where Edward G. Robinson plays a
Greek barber humiliated by gangsters. He teams up with James Cagney, and they both out-con
the conmen. "Robinson plays Nick as a really nice guy all the way through — we
genuinely like him and want him to succeed even though it's at gambling." Yet
another example of the rare Greek screen villain who is really a hero. Similarly, in
1945's ISLE OF THE DEAD, Boris Karloff plays a Greek general in the first Balkan War who
has the potential not to be nice, stern as he is shown to be (at times); but is ultimately
sympathetic. (There are other "nice" Greek characters thrown in for balance, at
Armenian characters haven’t had as much wide cinematic exposure as
the Greeks, and when one encounters the occasional Armenian portrayal (who is identified
as Armenian; I have been noticing more screen characters who are completely American but
simply happen to have "ian" in their last names; e.g., the cop played by John
Heard in television's THE SOPRANOS), you can bet word of the "Genocide" will
rarely be far behind. I forgot the name of the film, but an Armenian character was the
hero cop's sidekick in one run-of-the-mill police drama … and of course, the writer
stuck in a line where the Armenian alluded to the suffering of his people. Brother!
as Varian Fry
CLICK on PIC
for another view
In an Armenian site, people were complaining that the main character
in VARIAN’S WAR (2000), a cable movie about an Armenian-American "Schindler"
(the real-life Varian Fry was quoted as having said, “In all we saved some two
thousand human beings. We ought to have saved many times that number. But we did what we
could”… the courageous journalist was aided by other Americans, including Miriam
Davenport Ebel, Mary Jayne Gold, Charles Fawcett, Leon Ball and American vice consul Hiram
Bingham, Jr., the latter given a 2002 posthumous award presided by Colin Powell) who saved
Jewish artists and intellectuals (including Franz
Werfel, Hannah Arendt and Marc Chagall) from WWII Vichy France, was written in a way
where Varian Fry (William Hurt) wasn’t classically heroic, and perhaps had a
"gay" side (in the film, he reportedly enjoys "some mild flirtation with
Marseilles' most urbane Nazi") … Lord! Here they have a movie where the Armenian is
played by a handsome leading man who is CLEARLY portrayed as a HERO, and they’re still
griping? Armenians! There is simply no satisfying them…
ADDENDUM: An example of
Armenians on American television where they
don't come across as "good." Unbelievable!
ADDENDUM, 9-07: And an example of Armenians on
American television where viewers were teased by Armenian villainy; let's have Van
Zakarean tell it, from an Armenian forum: "I do remember once in 'Law And Order'
two Hayastantsi were shown as murder suspects but right at the beginning they were proven
to be hard worker immigrants and they were off the hook. Another time in the same series
they chased down a 'Vartan Dadirian' as a murder suspect but he was an innocent Armenian
historian, he was off the hook."
ADDENDUM, 11-07: I was holding
on to my seat while watching the very well made documentary on the Soviet-Armenian
composer, entitled KHACHATURIAN (narrated by Eric Bogosian). At the point in his life when
he and other Soviet composers were denounced, Aram Khacaturian was sent to Armenia as
punishment, but the "relocation" provided for an opposite effect, re-awakening
nationalistic feelings that proved therapeutic to his depression. This served as a segue
to the film's "Armenian factor," and the narrator described 1915 as the
"year of trouble." Uh-oh! Bracing myself to the inevitable genocide reference,
what a delightful surprise that the expression simply served as "code," as the
real idea was the threat of the Turks moving into Tiflis, Georgia, forcing the Khacaturian
family to flee. This must be a first; an Armenian-related film refusing to plunge into
genocide talk. (The filmmaker was a non-Armenian, and probably that helped.) However,
later came the telling of Khachaturian's inspiration of the story of Spartacus:
"We will always be helpless in the face of power and violence" served as the
spark for his work that took over three years to complete, and examples of such
perpetrators included "Roman centurions...Nazi stormtroopers," and, you
guessed it, joining that lovely company were the inevitable "Turkish hordes."
For the love of...! Much as these mindless subhuman killers have been imprinted in the
Armenian consciousness as an eternal threat, when have "Turkish hordes" ever
served as a threat to Armenians throughout history? The Turks saved the Armenians from the
Byzantines, allowed the Armenians to retain what they wished and to prosper for centuries,
and troubles began only after Armenians went on the warpath, toward the mid-to-late 19th
century... engaging in the art of extermination during times the Armenians gained the
Holdwater Salute to Two Favorite Armenian & Greek Actors: