[It's time yet again for Tars Tarkas and I to playdueling reviews! Please check out his site for an alternate take on Mandrake vs. Kilink.]
It's a bitter irony -- though perhaps not coincidental -- that, in the wake of the sad passing of Onar Films' Bill Barounis, we are seeing another small wave of Turkish pulp films that were previously considered lost popping up among collectors. Despite its ragged condition, it's hard for me to doubt that Mandrake vs. Kilink would have eventually gotten the loving Onar treatment from Barounis and been given a proper DVD release. As is, we must be grateful for what we can have, and I indeed owe Tars Tarkas a debt of thanks for tracking this one down. (By the way, note that Mandrake vs. Kilink is just a convenient simplification of the original Turkish title, which translates to something like Mandrake, The King of Illusions - Kilink's Pursuit.)
For Kilink, a Turkish appropriation of the skeleton suited Italian fumetti antihero Killing, 1967 was something of a boom year on Turkish cinema screens, which were flooded with his various exploits following the success of his debut that year in Kilink Istanbul'da. It also seems that, by the time of Mandrake vs. Kilink, adapting Kilink had become anybody's game, as neither Yilmaz Atadeniz nor Yildiram Gencer -- the director and star, respectively, of the first three Kilink entries -- are involved. Instead, the film is in the hands of illustrator-turned-director Oksal Pekmezoglu, who handles things with the same rough edged expediency and convulsive flashes of unexpected artistry that we've come to expect from Turkish pop cinema of this era. As for Kilink himself, he here spends a lot of his screen time sans mask, so we get a lot of opportunities to have a good look at the handsome devil who is playing him, although I have no idea who among the listed cast he might be.
Mandrake vs. Kilink sees Kilink up to his usual sleazy tricks, this time running a combination sex slavery/blackmail operation that involves him forcing young innocents into prostitution and then secretly filming their assignations with wealthy men. I must say, though, that this may be the roughest Kilink we've seen yet. Sexualized torture and gruesome killings are rife, and it seems like no member of the cast escapes being stripped down and flogged at some point, with Kilink even undergoing the treatment voluntarily. In an extra grizzly touch, each of Kilink's minions has the letter "K" bloodily carved somewhere on his body, in the case of his cadaverous right hand man Mustafa in prominent view on his right cheek.
But, of course, this is not all Kilink's show. For, as its title indicates, Mandrake vs. Kilink has at the top of its agenda the breathing of cinematic life into Lee Falk's venerable comic strip hero Mandrake The Magician. Like Falk's other creation, The Phantom, and fellow King Features comic strip property Flash Gordon -- both of whom also made it to the screen during Turkish cinema's 1960s superhero boom -- Mandrake achieved popularity in Turkey via his appearances in a series of comic magazines. Such American properties were typically "localized" for Turkish consumption, giving them a more homegrown appearance, which might explain why Mandrake's hulking African sidekick Lothar is here called Abdullah. Whatever the case, the filmmakers' efforts to transfer Lothar/Abdullah to the big screen in all his racial dubiousness, using a Turkish actor in full black body paint, indicates a faithfulness to the source material that may not in all cases have been that well advised.
At the film's outset, Mandrake (Guven Erte) arrives in the Turkish city of Izmir on the same flight as a beautiful Indian princess played by Mine Mutlu. Typical of these Turkish personifications of more straitlaced Western characters, Turkish Mandrake is a bit of a horndog, and as such immediately starts putting the moves on the Princess. However, his pickup artistry might not be on par with his magician skills, as this somehow involves him pranking the Princess by stealing her priceless and irreplaceable crown. This turns out to be a bad idea not just for the expected reasons, but also because Kilink breaks into Mandrake's room overnight and steals it. This leaves Mandrake and Abdullah -- with the help of a second, seldom seen female minion named Bircan (Hilal Esen) -- honor bound to track the arch villain down. And Mandrake, being Turkish Mandrake, is well familiar with Kilink's evil exploits, frequently spitting out the miscreant's name with balled fist aimed to the skies.
In his subsequent confrontations with Kilink and his goons, Mandrake proves to be a remarkably good sport, usually falling back upon simple fisticuffs before eventually revealing awesome supernatural powers that render him completely invincible to harm or capture. At one point, he turns Kilink into a dog just for shits and giggles, and, at another, dematerializes Abdullah and himself from their bonds, though, oddly, not before they have both been subjected to a bare-chested flogging at the hands of Kilink's dungeon master. (Admittedly, this may have been an instance of Mandrake using hypnotic suggestion to make the villains mistake two of their own for Abdullah and himself, but the choppiness of the print left that unclear to me.) Mandrake is, of course, something of an ill-fitting hero for Turkish pulp cinema, given its reliance on near constant fist fights, so such an approach is understandable. It should also be noted that the filmmakers find an opportunity to have Mandrake and Abdullah tear around on motorcycles, performing pointless acrobatics on their seats while stolen James Bond music plays on the soundtrack.
As I indicated above, director Pekmezoglu takes the typical, bluntly utilitarian approach to filming Mandrake vs. Kilink, but also catches us off guard with the occasional flash of stylistic ambition. For instance, the sequence in which a scantily clad woman flees down a darkened street as Kilink bears down upon her in his car is strikingly reminiscent of the opening shot in Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly. But this aside, what is undoubtedly the most surprising moment in Mandrake vs. Kilink is the Bollywood style musical number that occurs at its midpoint, during which Abdullah and one of the Princess's handmaidens sunnily lip synch to a Hindi film song while Mandrake and the Princess have a romantic frolic on the beach. (I'm not sure from which Indian film this song was lifted, but I have no doubt that Memsaab or Beth Loves Bollywood will, once I get around to asking them.) This bit just serves as further proof that, for the Turkish Z movie industry of the 60s, not only did anything go, but any corner of world popular culture was ripe for pilfering.
The cut of Mandrake vs. Kilink that I watched came in at a slight 56 minutes, and the frequent jagged jump cuts in the middle of scenes indicated that a substantial portion of it was missing. Still, there was enough of what remained that was either enjoyable or jaw-dropping to make a meal of it. As with most such Turkish films, you might not like everything that the movie has to offer, but where else are you going to see a Depression era American comic strip hero take on an S&M tinged villain from 1960s Italian foto-comics -- and this against a backdrop of Bollywood item numbers, slam bang Saturday matinee style action, and the type of egregious minstrelsy that one would have thought had been banished from world cinema at least twenty years previous? Once again, Turkish cinema proves that, while it may not do it best, there's certainly no one who does it quite the same.