Want to see an updated, corrected, and generally better version of this article? Check it out at its new home on Suburban Pagans.
Funny thing about the James Bond movies is that, while they are models of conspicuous consumption, their basic tropes are so much just that – basic – that one could recreate them in a backyard home movie and still have them be easily identifiable. Make your bald headed uncle wear his shirt backwards and put him in a high-backed chair with a cat in his lap and you have your villain. Get the babysitter to dance around in a swimsuit to a Ventures record and you have your credit sequence. Make sure that your hero’s suit has at least been recently pressed, and that he can hold a cocktail glass in a somewhat rakish manner, and you’re good to go. Then you can have your mom…Well, that got weird awful fast, didn’t it? Anyway, you see my point.
You’d think that it would be this aspect of the Bond films that made them ideal fodder for the make do, cash poor cinema of 1960s Turkey. But the fact is that’s not the reason that Altin Cocuk, Turkey’s answer to James Bond –- aka Golden Boy –- was made at all. Altin Cocuk was made because it was 1966 and, in 1966, every country on Earth with a functioning movie industry was constructing their answer to James Bond. Thus we ended up with, at last tally, Jefri Zain, Singapore’s answer to James Bond, Tony Falcon, the Philippines’ answer to James Bond, James Bond 777, the South Indian answer to James Bond, Cantonese star Connie Chan’s Lady Bond, and on and on. The only reason, I suspect, that I am unable to add a Mauritian or Micronesian James Bond to that list is that I simply haven’t stumbled across their films yet. But rest assured that time and dedication are on my side in that matter.
Funny thing about Altin Cocuk is that – while, to someone unfamiliar with the Turkish cinema of its era, it might look downright dire in terms of its production values — it actually shows signs of being a bit of a prestige production, especially when compared to pulpier efforts like the Kilink films. Lead actor and producer Goksel Arsoy was already an established movie star at the time, having broken through with his role in the 1959 film The Milky Way, and had essayed a considerable number of lead romantic roles before signing on. Such was his stature that the film drew upon his popular nickname, Golden Boy, for both its title and the name of his character in it –- thus encouraging on the part of the Turkish public an identification between star and role similar to that touted by the makers of the Bond films (“Sean Connery is James Bond”).
Director Memduh Un was also an established figure within the Turkish film industry, having directed his first film in 1955, and he had even made inroads into the international market with his film Kirik Canaklar, which was nominated for a Golden Bear at the 1961 Berlin International Film Festival. Because of this, Altin Cocuk has less of the scrappy, learning-as-we-go-along look of some of its contemporaries in Turkish action cinema, exhibiting a surer directorial hand in terms of both staging and composition. Again, though, I am speaking in wholly relative terms, and anyone who has yet to be exposed to, say, Iron Claw The Pirate or Three Dev Adam will no doubt find the film to be pretty rough-edged and cheap looking.
Altin Cocuk’s opening credits play over a scene of a fetching young Turkish lass doing a very slooow striptease in front of a mirror, accompanied all the while by the film’s catchy theme song (“Golden Booooy, Altin Cocuk!…”), whose backing sounds like it’s being played by a strip club jazz ensemble. Finally, for her big finish, the girl holds hers enormous garter belt up in front of her face like a veil, and a new camera angle reveals, watching appreciatively from the bed, our hero, Golden Boy. Or is it? Cue the entrance of a frogman who summarily executes this man, subsequently removing his mask to reveal that it is he who is the real Golden Boy. This fresh corpse, Golden Boy explains, was merely an enemy agent who sought to masquerade as him after undergoing months of painful plastic surgeries. Soon thereafter, our man in Istanbul is on the phone with his superior, who authorizes him to take a well deserved vacation in England.
What follows is several scenes of Goksel Arsoy driving a sports car very cautiously through London traffic (Don’t scratch the car! It’s a rental!), followed by a series of scenes of him wooing a variety of English roses in various settings. This section of Altin Cocuk goes on for quite some time, and has the odd effect of making Altin Cocuk the first Turkish movie I’ve seen that feels in any way padded. My experience of Turkish action films is that they usually try to compensate for their shortcomings with sheer velocity, throwing so much at you in such quick succession that you’ll hopefully not notice just how cheap they are. By contrast, with these UK shot location scenes, Altin Cocuk’s makers seem to be making the most of some conspicuous production value, wanting to make sure that you know that they did indeed fly their star and crew to England and rent him a fancy car. Thus we get quite a lot of the unimaginatively shot travelogue footage typical of European spy films of the day, placing our star in a number of postcard perfect locations, including an English pub where he indulges in some deeply weird post-dubbed English speaking (and distances himself from the Bond associations a bit by ordering “A beer. A BIG one!”) This series of scenes also bears the burden of establishing our hero’s status as an irresistible sexual dynamo, which is actually a bit more of a hard sell than you might think.
While I enjoyed Altin Cocuk, I have to say that star Goksel Arsoy presented a bit of a stumbling block to my doing so. As has been noted elsewhere, he’s slight of build, but, more importantly, his attempts at what I think is meant to be a cocky smirk look more like an affronted sneer, with the result that he walks through the entire film looking like he’s just smelled something unpleasant, as if his upper lip had perhaps been coated with over-ripe cheese. This may be the result of Arsoy trying too hard to place distance between himself and his previous romantic roles, but, whatever the case, it’s not a good look for a suave secret agent. In fact, it actually makes Golden Boy come across as a bit of a punk, and not the good kind. (Though he does, now that I think about it, bear some resemblance to Mark E. Smith, the singer from The Fall.) On the plus side, though, Arsoy acquits himself well in the film’s many action scenes, so when he’s not trying to exude sexy secret agent cool, he presents no further obstacles to our enjoying the ride.
Anyway, somewhere during Golden Boy’s British idyll, a narrator interrupts to tell us — somewhat reprovingly, I think –- that, while Golden Boy is dicking around all over London (I’m paraphrasing), events of real import are taking place back in Turkey. And so we cut to a very noir-ish, artfully shot scene in which Golden Boy’s colleague, Agent S-99, is stalked and shot down by a pair of relentless assassins. This event, of course, necessitates Golden Boy’s immediate return to Turkey. It must be determined what exactly S-99 knew that required that he be silenced in such a manner, and so Golden Boy requests to be booked into the suite directly above the last hotel room S-99 stayed in. Personally, I think that it would be easier, if at all possible, to be booked into the room itself, rather than the one above it, but I’m no secret agent. Also, if such were the procedure, Golden Boy wouldn’t have the opportunity to flaunt the contents of his super secret spy case, which is really just a normal brief case containing a couple of guns and a rope ladder which he uses to climb down into the lower room. There’s not even a secret compartment or anything in it; everything’s just kind of right there when he opens it up, and its all pretty utilitarian (which brings us back to that whole backyard aesthetic).
Once in S-99’s hotel room, Golden Boy quickly finds a notebook stashed away underneath a drawer, but unfortunately also finds the same two assassins who killed S-99, who take custody of the notebook after a desperate struggle. Golden Boy makes his escape by leaping off the balcony, and is lucky to land in the passenger seat of a car driven by an unnamed woman in a very Audrey Hepburn-ish black cocktail dress and pearls ensemble. She apparently just happened to be passing by at that moment. A very slow car chase follows –- so slow that it was obviously felt necessary to have Golden Boy comment on just how slow the unnamed woman is driving.
Now, even though the unnamed woman, like most of the female characters in Altin Cocuk, is not graced with a name, that’s no reason to assume that her part in the action is a minor one. In fact, the unnamed woman is a major player in Altin Cocuk. She’s played by Turkish actress Sevda Nur, who not only starred in Kilink Strip and Kill, but can also lay claim to having participated in Turkish cinema’s first lesbian screen kiss – with Kilink’s Suzan Avci, no less!
I want to go on record as saying that I am a fan of Altin Cocuk’s unnamed woman. I love how, despite the fact that we never learn anything about her, and have no reason to assume that she herself is any kind of spy or law enforcement official, she ends up advising Golden Boy on what his next move should be, and as a result is invited along to participate in all of the dangerous adventures that follow, including the climactic scuba assault on the villain’s headquarters – and that, in the process, she is not only completely unfazed, but also proves herself adept at both firing a machine gun and underwater combat. I admire her not only for her adaptability, but also for her spontaneity: whatever engagement she was heading off to when Golden Boy landed in her car, it obviously wasn’t very pressing.
Finally, at about half an hour into Altin Cocuk’s running time, we meet our villain, the very Blofeld-esque Mr. Demetrius. (Bald pate, cat, and Nehru collar are all present and accounted for.) Demetrius is played by Altan Gunbay, a soloist with the Ankara State Opera who was recruited by director Un with the stipulation that he would have to shave his head for the role – a stipulation to which, the evidence of the eye informs us, he agreed. The success of Altin Cocuk would lead to Gunbay being offered numerous subsequent roles, all of which, much to his dismay, also required that he shave his head. As a result, Gunbay made a long career out of playing chrome-domed bad guys in Turkish films, and did such a good job of it that he was literally attacked in the streets by angry citizens who made no distinction between the man and the parts he played.
Altin Cocuk by necessity strips the spy movie down to its very basics. If a Bond movie could be said to have a skeleton, watching Altin Cocuk is like seeing that skeleton stripped clean and exposed to the light. In keeping with this, Mr. Demetrius’s super-villain scheme is also dirt basic, involving some nuclear weapons — obtained we know not how or where — that are to be used to blow up Turkey, for reasons unexplained and interests unidentified. In furthering this scheme, Demetrius also has the prerequisite sexy female minion, agent Z-19, who economically goes through the paces of trying to kill our hero, then subsequently being seduced by him, and then paying with her life for her betrayal. (What are these women called in the Bond Films? The not-quite-Bond-girls? The femme fatalities?) Even Demetrius’s underwater lair is barely more than conceptual in nature; we never see an exterior view of it (not even a crappy Lightning Bolt or Operation White Shark caliber miniature), and, at the end, its destruction is signified by some light fireworks that amount to little more than an anticlimactic splash on the surface of the Bosporus.
In sum, Altin Cocuk derives its fascination less from what it accomplishes with so little than from the very idea that filmmakers with so little would try to accomplish it at all. As with much Turkish pulp cinema, you are seeing the bare nuts and bolts of genre, the raw sinews — and with all of the pulsing vitality and forward-pressing mechanistic drive that that implies. And what’s amazing is that, even operating on such a stripped-down level, all of the proper buttons still get pushed. While the impressions on our pleasure centers might not be as intense as they might be were we watching an enveloping, multi-million dollar spectacle, if we are agreeable enough — and who wouldn’t want to agree to an attempt at entertainment as pure and honest as this one? — we’ll find that the stimulus is still there.
This is different, I want to note, than saying that Altin Cocuk is generic. Director Un, as indicated above, brings a lot of style to the endeavor. And while the film’s more deliberate pacing might come as a bit of a jolt to those accustomed to the more wildly kinetic efforts of Turkish directors like Yilmaz Atadeniz or Cetin Inanc, it is partly that pacing that allows Un to indulge in those interesting camera angles and lighting effects, those niceties of mood and tone, that elevate the film above the utilitarian point-and-shoot style of the aforementioned filmmakers.
So, yes, if you’ve seen a James Bond movie, you know exactly what tropes Altin Cocuk holds in store. But the film nonetheless offers distinct pleasures in the course of watching them unfold. When sour-faced Goksel Arsoy and the unnamed woman don their scuba gear and prepare to make their descent down to the evil genius’s lair, the thrill we feel is like a muscle memory, coming almost in spite of the fact that we know full well that we’re not going to see events play out on the scale we imagine. The fact is that, by this point, Altin Cocuk has demonstrated enough of a good faith effort that we’re willing to sign on, buy in, and perhaps fill in the gaps ourselves when necessary.