Note: Despite what the byline says, this article is actually by Ryan Morini.
If you’re not familiar with the entire oeuvre of Cuneyt Arkin, it’s probably because he’s been in more movies than I ever thought existed. Seriously, if you want to see what’s probably a relatively complete filmography, check out tr.wikipedia.org. In the ’70s, he averaged more movies per year than a Pro-Bowl running back averages yards per carry. The man was a movie-making machine. So I decided to gather up as many of his zany costume drama action films as I can find this winter. Lion Man (Kiliç Aslan) is perhaps the most famous of these films in the ‘States, but in Turkey he’s famous for the longer series like Battal Gazi, Malkocoglu, and Kara Murat, each of which seem to have at least five or six films.
The earliest Kara Murat film which I’ve yet gotten my hands on is Kara Murat: Olum Emri, which seems to have come out in 1974, a year before Kilic Aslan. At this point in Cuneyt’s career, he’d already been in a lot of movies spanning well over a decade, including dramas, comedies, westerns, and other action films like Kara Murat. Malkocoglu (pronounced “Mal-ko-Joe-loo,” roughly, if you’re not familiar with Turkish orthography) began in ’66 if I’m not mistaken, and Battal Gazi began in ’71. Since each film series basically came out with a new entry each year, this gives the other films a bit of a lead on Kara Murat. All three of these film serieses are pretty similar in a lot of respects. The title of the series is derived from the hero’s name. The hero is Cüneyt Arkin. He’s sometimes a weathered war veteran, and other times a dashing, um, war veteran, but he’s always a guaranteed ass kicker and ladies’ man.
“Murat” is a very common Turkish name, and almost all of Cüneyt Arkin’s characters seem to be named Murat, unless they’re named Malkocoglu or Battal Gazi. If you’re watching an Arkin movie which isn’t part of a larger series, listen. You’ll probably hear someone say “Murat” when they’re looking at Cüneyt. Anyway, and “Kara” means “dark.” So, a rough Anglicization would be something like “Dark John.”
Now, my Turkish was never strong and has gotten rusty. Making it stronger will be my spring project; for now, all I can do is offer the following for background… Most of these costume dramas seem to be set during the Byzantine empire. Cüneyt is always on the side of some sultan or sultanate, and the enemies are always a bunch of sadistic and underhanded Christians. Or, that’s all I’ve seen so far, and I’ve seen examples of all three serieses, and a few other costume dramas besides. Usually, somehow the rightful Islamic rule needs to either be 1) reinstated because some Christians usurped the throne, or 2) saved, because some Christians want to usurp the throne. Sometimes it’s both. And if the camera lingers on anything, it usually means that something underhanded is about to go down.
Kara Murat: Ölüm Emri, which as near as I can tell translates to something along the lines of “Dark Murat: Death’s Command/Death Command/Ordinance of Death” (but don’t bet your life on it… or quote me), does not deviate from that basic formula.
In brief, Murat, in his travels, seems to suspect some sort of Christian devilry afoot, and so sneaks into Constantinople with a couple of friends. Along the way, they have to say hello to a couple of the sultan’s emissaries and kick a bunch of Byzantine ass. They get in, and his friends never seem to leave the local tavern, but Murat himself sleeps with the princess to get some of her secrets, and also seems to attract the attention of her handmaid, who also gives some secrets. His friends are eventually caught and he reveals himself to save them; with their cover blown, they kick some more Christian ass and then go riding around the countryside, kicking Christian ass, and eventually trying to warn the sultan that there is a plot on his life. Will they make it in time? Well, look… yes. This movie isn’t about suspense, really. It’s about upbeat ridiculous craziness.
Kara Murat is perhaps the silliest of the Cüneyt Arkin action movies that I’ve seen so far. You might watch Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam and assume that they’re playing it straight, and you might think perhaps that Kiliç Aslan is intended to be pretty serious, but there’s no way that you can believe that Kara Murat isn’t at least a little tongue-in-cheek.
In what might be the best fight scene, the one which ensues after Kara Murat reveals himself, Murat punches two guys at once with one hand, trips people, knocks people over with what looked like water which he pours out of a big barrel, puts that barrel on one attacker’s head and then keeps walking him into the wall and kicking him in the butt, then presses three guys to a wall with a table, then puts them under the table to get it moving across the room so their friends attack them, only to then take the table and smash it over their heads so that three of them are standing inside of the table, and then makes them march offscreen. This is fighting which is intended to make you smile, and don’t go doubting it.
Those of us who’ve seen the older Cüneyt performing his trademark, albeit silly, trampoline maneuvers in Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam will recognize them in Kara Murat as well, except that they’re a lot crisper and sort of more effective-looking. He’ll do flips over soldiers on horseback, hitting them both in the head as he goes and knocking them both from their horses, for instance.
Another amusing bit: every time the one Christian captain attempts to attack him, Murat smacks his sword into the air, smacks him in the face, catches his sword, spins him around, pokes him in the ass with the sword, spins him again, and sticks the sword back in its scabbard, ad nauseam. For the most part, there’s not a lot of blood in the movie, except for one scene in which there’s some kind of brutal gladiator who can headbutt men and make their faces bleed (no, not just their noses), and then Murat handles him without much effort before gettin’ it on with the princess. Truth told, there’s not much that Murat can’t handle. Even when enemies lasso him and his friends by the feet and hang them upside-down from a tree, they fight off all comers until Murat can flip up thirty feet onto the branch and cut them down.
The film is also full of stunts, disguises, and tricks which might best be described as “daft.” Or, in a more American turn of phrase, “pretty ridiculous.” But realism was never the intent here. Complaining about the lack of verisimilitude in these movies is like complaining that Monet didn’t connect the dots, or that Fulci used too much gore, or that your garlic bread has garlic and butter on it.
Needless to say, I can’t wait to watch the next one.