Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Zagor: Kara Bela (Turkey, 1971)

While I think I've done a pretty good job of communicating the joys of Turkish pulp cinema, I think I've been less successful in communicating its breadth. The completely hypothetical person who got all of his or her information about world cinema from 4DK might think that those movies consisted solely of comic book adaptations and superhero adventures. The fact is, however, that they covered a wide range of popular genres, including, as we'll see here today, westerns. Of course, the western that I've chosen to focus on is also both a comic book adaptation and a superhero adventure. But, hey, I can't change overnight, can I?

As the already reviewed Korkusuz Kaptan Swing evidences, Italian comics have enjoyed a good deal of popularity in Turkey, and perhaps none more than Zagor. So popular is Zagor, in fact, that a Zagor-themed fan event was hosted in Istanbul just this past November -- an event that not only saw a guest appearance by the comic's original artist, Gallieno Ferri, but also a live performance of a Zagor-themed rock concept album. In Turkey, popularity of this type on the part of a comic book hero invariably translates into him exploding onto the big screen in cheap but enthusiastically staged movies, and it is thus that Zagor became the focus of a trio of movies made between 1970 and 1971.

As created by Ferri and writer Sergio Bonelli in 1961, Zagor is basically a costumed hero in the tradition of Batman or the Phantom who has been transplanted to the old west, with perhaps a bit of Tarzan thrown into the mix for extra pop cultural resonance. The son of a white army officer and his wife who were slain by Indians, Zagor was raised by a trapper who taught him to be murderously handy with an ax, a task that would come in handy when he embarked on his planned mission of vengeance against his parents' killers. Upon reaching adulthood, however, Zagor discovered that his father had also been responsible for the deaths of many Indians, and that the moral line was not drawn as clearly as he had initially thought. (Needless to say, this is not the type of comic that we would have seen here in the U.S. back in 1961.) As a result, he vowed to become an equal opportunity protector of the oppressed, whether they be white settlers or Indians. However, lest you think that makes Zagor and the comic he inhabited sound just a bit too right on, he is also supplied with a fat, comic relief Mexican sidekick named Chico.

Zagor: Kara Bela -- or Zagor: Black Danger -- is the second of the Zagor films, but the first of two to star Levent Cakir in the title role. (The first film, 1970's Zagor, starred Cihangir Gaffari.) As he demonstrated in his role as Sleazy Batman in Bedmen Yarasa Adam, Cakir brings a considerable amount of acrobatic skill to his screen performances, and, as a result, the fight scenes in Zagor: Kara Bela are greatly enlivened by his energetic somersaults, back flips and cartwheels. Sadly, those action sequences prove to be more sparsely distributed than many viewers might hope, as director Nisan Hancer seems equally content to focus upon lame, mostly food-related gags involving Chico. (There is also a bit where Chico knocks himself out by stepping on a rake, and it's so deliberately paced and over-telegraphed that you might actually believe that the director thought we'd never seen it done before.) Kaptan Swing suffered from this same preoccupation with its comic relief characters, which makes me suspect that the problem is as much with the original source material as the films themselves.

The Zagor comic was known for incorporating science fiction and horror elements into its stories along with the western ones. Perhaps due to its fairly obvious budgetary constraints, this is sadly not the case with Zagor: Kara Bela. Instead, here Zagor and Chico are pitted against a masked, black clad killer who is gunning down Indians. Judging from his vocal delivery, this mysterious villain is intended to come across as an old west version of Kilink, which, I'm guessing, placed the far flung events of the film squarely within the comfort zones of audience and filmmakers alike. Aiding our heroes in their fight is an Indian brave played by Yavus Selekman, who is the only person ever to star as Santo (in 3 Dev Adam) who wasn't Santo.

Due to the prevalence of extracurricular business, this story apparently didn't quite have the girth to fill out Zagor: Kara Bela's running time. There is an apparent attempt to create some mystery around the identity of the masked killer, but, given I was able to figure it out without the aid of subtitles -- or even an understanding of what many of the characters' relationships were supposed to be -- it wasn't a too dedicated one. Still, director Hancer, having a lot of movies under his belt by this point, at least films everything nicely, although some lapses in competence might have actually made the sum total a bit more interesting.

Like Baytekin Fezada Carpinsanlar, Zagor: Kara Bela is one of those Turkish cult films unearthed by Turkish MTV, which means that it was presumably aired so that snarky, post-ironic Turkish teenagers could snicker incredulously at the entertainment their parents had to settle for in the days before the internet and cable. Yet, unless the dialog in the film is absolutely hysterical -- which it very well may be -- it's hard to imagine that an audience of that age would find much in it to hold their interest. Unless they were stoned, of course. (Ohhhh.) Also, based on the movie's abbreviated length -- and the fact that what little blood there is in it is blurred out in the broadcast print -- it appears that they are not even getting to see all of Zagor: Kara Bela, which is not to say I suspect the restoration of any excised footage would significantly change the quality of the film on evidence.

Levent Cakir would return to the role of Zagor once more, in the same year's Zagor: Kara Korsanin Hazineleri, the contents of which I will report upon to you at a later date, despite the fact that I was not exactly wowed by Zagor: Kara Bela. Admittedly, I'll have to allow myself a little forgetting time first.


memsaab said...

So I am a completely hypothetical person?

Todd said...

Oh, good! At least there's one of you. Now let me tell you about Fellini's zombie trilogy...

zagor_fan said...

Could someone make subtitles for this movie and upload it to Zagor movies can be seen and downloaded from youtube. The problem is that the audio is in turkish... (Search in youtube: Zagor Kara Bela and Zagor Kara Korsanin Hazineleri)