THE SWORD AND THE CLAW: Killing ‘Em With Cuneyt

Cuneyt Arkin isn’t a widely known name in English-speaking cult movie circles but those who have experienced his work seldom forget it.  He was an action hero of ’70s and ’80s Turkish cinema that punched, kicked and backflipped his way through a brain-exploding array of movies in his home country.  These films lacked the originality, budget and professional polish of their American and European counterparts but they boasted a kind of untamed, go-for-broke wildness in their pursuit of thrills that renders moot any discussion of whether they are “good” or “bad.”

Arkin is probably best known to domestic consumers of celluloid weirdness for starring in the infamous The Man Who Saved The World, a.k.a. Turkish Star Wars, but his finest hour might be The Sword And The Claw.

Known to VHS collectors as Lionman, The Sword And The Claw features Arkin in two roles.  The first is Solomon, a king who is murdered by a rival but not before he fathers two sons to two different women.  One son (Arkin) is raised by lions and develops fierce claw-attack fighting skills.  He enjoys an adventure that includes saving enslaved villagers, meeting the brother he never knew, fighting the upstart who murdered his father, falling in love and fights that involve lots of punching, kicking, backflips, etc.

Turkish pop cinema from this era has a reputation for taking everything that isn’t nailed down from other films and The Sword Of The Claw is no exception. It feels like a feverish collision of plot elements from Conan The Barbarian, Tarzan Of The Apes, Django and any number of swashbucklers, spaghetti westerns and kung-fu flicks.  It also boasts enough plot twists and palace intrigue for an entire season of a television show but crams it all into less than 90 minutes.

And then there’s the filmmaking itself.  For starters, it was done on a fraction of the budget of any of its inspirations.  While the filmmakers had some good resources – nice historic exterior locations, plenty of extras – it’s also got high school play sets, renaissance fair costumes and lovably cheap makeup effects.  The acting is either silent film-era hammy or somnambulistic (Arkin’s consistently stone-faced reactions to plot developments become a fun recurring gag).

There are wall-to-wall fights in the film and each plays out like the kind of pantomime fights little boys choreograph and perform on playgrounds, only done by adults and carried to more baroque lengths.  There’s also a memorably awful dubbing job done on the film, with all the voice actors sounding like they swallowed a bottle of downers before they recorded their lines.

The average viewer is likely to be baffled by all of the above but that is their loss because The Sword And The Claw is wildly entertaining from the first frame to the last.  It runs on raw enthusiasm for cinema, making up for all its rough edges with a never-say-die love for what it’s doing and tons of energy.  It moves like a bullet train and never has a dull second.  Best of all, Arkin is a commanding presence, acting skills be damned: watching him throw himself into the action with wild-eyed grimaces and an uncoordinated but high-energy fighting style is trash-movie heaven.

Anyone into Mondo Macabro-style foreign fare should check this out.

Blu-Ray Notes: as of 1/23/18, this film is finally available in a high caliber release courtesy of the upstarts at AGFA.  The 4K transfer is taken from a good-looking film source that shows off surprisingly rich colors.  Better yet, there’s a reel of action trailers from the AGFA archive and an entire bonus film, a wild little martial arts film called Brawl Busters presented in a similarly nice transfer.

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