3 Wild Turkish Movies Based on “The Phantom”
There’s probably no word for “canon” in Turkish.
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Remake Remix Rip-Off. Dir. Cem Kaya. Drop-Out Cinema, 2014. Film.
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He’s a native legend. A costumed crime-fighter lurking deep in the African jungle. The sworn enemy of pirates. They say that he’s 400 years old. That he can’t be killed. That he’s…
It’s a Turkish “Ghost Who Walks” with your American “Host Who Talks” on this episode of Deja View.
For those who came in late, The Phantom is a comic strip hero created in the 1930s. He devotes his life in Africa to the destruction of piracy, greed, and cruelty. Every generation the mantle of the Phantom is passed from father to son so that he always appears to be the same man—the legendary “Man Who Cannot Die.” His exploits have inspired a Hollywood film, a movie serial, two TV pilots, and a couple of animated series. But those are just the legitimate entries.
He was also wildly popular in Turkey. Dubbed “Kızıl Maske” or “Red Mask,” his strips appeared in Turkish comic books as early as 1939—sometimes in censored form, and occasionally as traced bootlegs. This popularity garnered him three separate unauthorized film adaptations—two of these in 1968 from competing companies.
Well-known heroes would frequently appear in “dueling” adaptations, thanks to ready-made fan bases and few copyright concerns. And they weren’t truly competing. They made their money in rural areas, playing second-tier theaters or open-air cinemas—the equivalent of American drive-ins. These audiences had a ravenous appetite for films—their primary form of escapism. So two exciting Phantom adventures was a bonus, not a problem.
Of course, being unofficial productions, they also boasted varying degrees of fidelity.
Director Tolgay Ziyal’s “Kızıl Maske” calls The Phantom out of his African jungle to investigate the theft of the famous Nairobi Diamond by the mysterious villain, The Octopus. With his trusty dog Devil at his side, he and his girlfriend Diana must recover the diamond and unmask The Octopus before it’s too late. Fistfights, car chases, and kidnappings ensue.
Forged in the heyday of the spy movie, the film has a distinct James Bond flavor: captured goons swallow cyanide and femme fatales invite seduction. But thanks to its faithful characterizations and typical premise, the adaptation is in keeping with the spirit of the comics.
Its sister film from the same year, not so much.
In this “Kızıl Maske,” a famous scientist has invented an enlarging ray, and his daughter appeals to The Phantom to protect him and his invention from the kings of the underworld: an Arabian Fu Manchu and a Turkish Al Capone! The current Phantom, believing himself no longer capable, passes the torch and the mission to his son.
Director Çetin İnanç, beginning his career, wasn’t much of a comic book fan, and as a result his depiction of the title character misses the mark. The elder Phantom lives not in a remote jungle, but in a nearby Turkish cave. And we get only a glimpse of his signature costume since his son, taking over the family business, opts for a black hood with matching leather jacket—when he wears a disguise at all.
Suspiciously, these new duds are almost identical to those of “Spy Smasher,” a film İnanç worked on the same year; and “Iron Claw,” which he would make the following year. And all of these mimic the Italian film “Avenger X,” from the previous year. İnanç and company apparently found Avenger X’s costume ideal for the modern superhero and applied it indiscriminately.
The third and final film, “Revenge of the Phantom,” has sadly been lost. Starring Levent Çakır, who would go on to play Batman and multiple Supermen, it was shot in just 2 weeks in and around Istanbul.
Reportedly it was a return to fidelity, with the Phantom back in his jungle (as portrayed by Belgrad Forest), in a familiar costume, sporting his signature ring, and with his faithful wolf, Devil. The nudity, however, might come as a surprise to comic fans. Producers were constantly pushing the envelope to appeal to young male viewers, and by the ‘70s they could get away with a lot more skin. The film was a hit with young audiences, though how much of that is due to its sex appeal is anyone’s guess.
Turkey’s lax attitude toward intellectual property allowed for two things. On one hand, any movie producer could respond to the demands of fans to see their favorite characters on screen. But it also meant that they had carte blanche to adapt and alter those characters, for better or worse, in any way they saw fit. Some heroes weathered the transition poorly. The Phantom came through relatively intact. Mostly. Two out of three’s not bad.
The very first unauthorized Phantom movie was actually American. In 1955 Columbia Pictures filmed a second Phantom movie serial… only to discover that they no longer owned the rights. So they hastily altered his costume with an aviator’s cap and pants and did a massive reshoot, patching it together with stock footage and releasing it as “The Adventures of Captain Africa.”
They call him “The Man Who Cannot Die of shame.”
Thanks so much for watching, and we’ll see you next time.