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Tall Armenian Tale


The Other Side of the Falsified Genocide


  Turks in American and Western Cinema  
First Page


Major Players
Links & Misc.


Mahmut Ozan
Edward Tashji
Sam Weems

(This page is a continuation of

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk said in 1937:

"A day will come when the invention of the cinema will seem to have changed the face of the world more than the invention of gun powder, electricity or the discovery of new continents. The cinema will make it possible for people living in the most remote comers of the earth to get to know and love one another. The cinema will remove differences of thought and outlook, and will be of great assistance in realizing the ideals of humanity. It is essential that we treat the cinema with the importance it deserves."

Once again, Atatürk showed his great wisdom.

Of course, there is another effect of the cinema... far more insidious. As powerful as the medium can be to influence and change minds for the better, resulting in people getting to know and love one another... the cinema can also be used by those less scrupulous, to teach or reinforce the effect of hatred.

Turk haters have made great use of this weapon, in the Western world.

 In this section, I would like to examine some examples of how Turks have been depicted in mostly American movies. Just for the heck of it, near the bottom of this page, we'll also examine the treatment of Greeks and Armenians in mostly American cinematic fare.


There is a Book Written on the Subject

A book I would love to read. I've come across this piece from the Turkish Daily News that describes it:

ANKARA- The roots of the West's negative image of Turks is found in a book by Italian author and cinema historian, Giovanni Scognamillo with the conclusion drawn being, "Never trust a Turk," the Anatolia news agency reported.

According to the book entitled "Turkey and Turks in Western cinema," Istanbul has characteristically been depicted on the movie screen as an exotic center for junkies and spies. As a result, Turkey gained a reputation as a dangerous country and Turks came to be thought of as untrustworthy people.

The latest example of this anti-Turkish propaganda in Western cinema was a 1991 film called "Mediteraneo" directed by Gabriele Salvatores. Alan Parker's "Midnight Express" provides another example among films which present Turkey as a dangerous land.

On the other hand, while it is true that modern Western cinema rarely presents Turks in a positive light, a 1917 film called "Filling his own shoes," promoted Turks in a very positive manner.


  Let's Start Things Off with "Good" Treatment of Turks, in Western Cinema

Seems like the American silent film period was a heyday when it came to depicting Turkey in the cinema. (In sharp contrast to these days, when the movies rarely show anything Turk-related... and if they do, it is almost certainly in the form of villainy or evil.) To wit:

War in Turkey (1913) 
Charlie in Turkey (1919) 
Somewhere in Turkey (1918) 
Mutt and Jeff in Turkey (1913) 

How fitting we have to go back all the way to 1917 to get an example of a film where Turks appeared to have been portrayed as decent human beings. This would be FILLING HIS OWN SHOES, which I never heard of until I read the article above.

Filling His Own Shoes Poster

Poster for “Filling His Own Shoes”

Directed & co-written by Harry Beaumont and starring Bryant Washburn (Ruggles), Hazel Daly and Louise Long (as "Bülbül"), the comedy is about Ruggles (according to Janiss Garza, of the "All Movie Guide") " joining the Turkish forces in the Balkan war. When he rescues a Turkish military chief, the dying man bequeaths him a fortune and three girls from his harem, which Ruggles must marry off. He takes the girls -- Roxana (Virginia Valli), Rosa (Helen Ferguson), and Bülbül (Louise Long) -- to Paris to find them mates. Bülbül decides she wants Ruggles and causes a lot of trouble between him and Ruth. Finally, all three harem girls are married off to titled Europeans, and Ruggles is able to wed Ruth."

Well.... okay. It's not exactly steeped in reality, what with the "harem" angle. But this is as good as it's going to get.

A decade later in the silent era, another effort would showcase Turks (I'm concluding the characters' Turkish nature from the title) in not the harshest of lights... TURKISH DELIGHT (1927). Rudolph Schildkraut plays "misogynist New York rug dealer Abdul Hassan" who "inherits the throne of a small, Middle Eastern principality." The sultana has it in for him and his niece, and there is a big, crazy chase scene at movie's end.




Pedro Armendariz, Jr. assists Sean Connery in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

Giving Sean Connery a hand

The most cerebral of the James Bond movies contained perhaps the most positive image of Turkey in a Hollywood film... some forty years ago! Co-starred Pedro Armendariz as "Kerim Bey," Bond's Turkish "sidekick." As the unknown author of the marvelous treatise on MIDNIGHT EXPRESS wrote: "Their countries are passive background to the stories in which all the important and good things are done by Western heroes like James Bond. If they have a problem they are not able to solve it, because a western hero is necessary to solve the problem or at least to show them the way to the solution."



Turhan Bey while young

Young Turhan Bey

Turhan Bey in old age

Old Turhan Bey

Filmed during the brief respite from anti-Turkish madness, the World War II years, where I presume the Allied forces did not want to get on neutral Turkey's bad side; one reason why this was the rare Hollywood film where Turkey was not featured as the bad guy. Directed by Raoul Walsh, and starring George Raft, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, this was Warner Brothers' follow-up to CASABLANCA that did not live up to expectations. Istanbul is yet another of the characters, always good as a mysterious locale of intrigue where spies converge... and converge they do, with Nazis, Soviets and the plucky American, who is helped by his Turkish "sidekick," played by Turhan Bey.


Turhan Bey played plenty of Arabs

Turhan Bey is the only Turkish star who became a household name in American cinema. Characterized as a suave leading man, his career was short-lived after appearing in one too many "Casbah" movie. Half-Turkish (his attempt at the language in BACKGROUND TO DANGER was pretty pitiful), he retired to the land representing the other half of his heritage, Austria. After a forty year absence from the screen, he resumed his career for a few more ventures. The only other Turkish "celebrity" in the United States I'm aware of is Richard Bey — who hosted a syndicated Jerry Springer type of daytime TV talk show years ago.

Richard Bey

The only other Turkish celebrity from the United States?



This Italian film, starring Steve "Hercules" Reeves is perhaps the only Western film where a Turk emerges as a true hero. Funny thing, too, as I don't believe the Turkish character in Tolstoy's novel was particularly heroic. Hadji Murad is not an Ottoman Turk, just one of the many Turkic-types from the Caucasus in line for the Russians' centuries-long assault. Here are excerpts from an insightful description I appreciated from "The Internet Movie Database," called, "An inadvertently unique historical film":

Steve Reeves is Hadji Murad in THE WHITE WARRIOR

Perhaps the only heroic Turk in Western
cinema....  not even referred to as a Turk

The wonderful thing about this film is its decision to cover a subject area that is largely unknown to Western audiences. Indeed, we Westerners didn't have any idea about this area of the world until the fall of the Soviet Union... Now the Turks are not the heroes in this film, per se (not the Turks of today's Turkey, or the then-Ottoman Empire) but various Turkic tribes in the Caucasus (in the film, they're referred to as "tribesmen," "Caucasian," once as "Muslims," or -- derogatorily by the Russians --as "Savages." Probably using the word "Turk" would have been risky, as the Western audience might then lose its sympathy for the film's heroes). In the declining years of the Ottoman Empire, mighty Czarist Russia instigated many wars against the Ottomans, taking good advantage of their weakened state.

The thing I found interesting is that Czarist Russia is often depicted in American and other Western films as noble and heroic... I guess it's the Christian connection. In this film, based on a novel by Tolstoy, the Russians are hinted at as the bloodthirsty oppressors they were....

The "real" Haci Murad?

The one Turkish book
I own identified this pic
as "Haci Murad"

At the beginning of the film when Hadji Murad attacks Russian troops down a lonely road, Robin Hood-style, he meets with the "Maid Marian," Russian princess Maria. When she makes a statement regarding the superiority of Russian soldiers, Murad replies that his tribe kills only soldiers, whereas the Russians slaughter women and children. I'm reminded of the fighters in Chechnya following the same procedure (generally)... they wouldn't target innocent Russian civilians (other than terrorist attacks) during the first phase of their recent struggle, a few years ago. During the second phase, when the Russians invaded again, the Russians murder, rob and rape as indiscriminately as they have done in centuries past. Now that the Chechnyans (is it Chechens?) are no longer winning, there has been a general news black-out in the American media... but their struggle is still a continuation of freeing themselves from Russian domination in the Caucasus that "The White Warrior" is about.

ADDENDUM: Not all Muslim peoples/tribes from the Caucasus are necessarily Turkic, like the Chechens.

ADDENDUM, 9-08: And another of these non-Turkic Caucasians are the Avar people, the group that Hadji Murad evidently belonged to. Tune in to this illuminating letter. Tolstoy had Hadji Murad and/or his men speak in Turkish, but Tolstoy's book was semi-fictionalized. It appears the Avars have their own language. What this revelation means is that we can scratch this film off the very short list of Turk-friendly Western films..!




Best Foreign Film Oscar winner, this powerful Swiss-Turkish co-production traces a poor Kurd-Turkish family's plight as they travel to the promised land of Switzerland. (This film doesn't quite belong on this list as there is a Turkish "hand" in its making... but it was one of the few Turk-related films in America that got some recognition, so I figured it would be fitting to send it a nod.) Presented by a pre-ARARAT Miramax, when the studio was into finding little gems like this.




Omar Sharif in Monsieur Ibrahim

Omar Sharif; CLICK for
full version


Omar Sharif makes up for appearing in a good sevral films with negative Turkish portrayals by wonderfully playing Mr. Ibrahim, a shopkeeper whose Turkish identity is hidden until the trip to his native land by movie's end. In "Cinema Paradiso" style, the French film studies the bond between a senior and a junior, until the monsieur winds up as the surrogate father. A warm and  charming experience, pulling at our heartstrings.




Audrey Tautou portrays Senay in DIRTY PRETTY THINGS

Audrey Tatou


Beautiful French actress Audrey Tautou portrays Senay, a Turkish national trapped in the seamy underground world of London's desperate immigrant community, along with a Nigerian. Writer Steven Knight and Director Stephen Frears deserve credit for helming a film that shows a Turk as at least a regular human being, and a sympathetic character to boot.


MA MERE ["MY MOTHER"] (2004)

Isabelle Huppert

Louis Garrel as Pierre, listens to "son mere."

Free-spirited mother played by Isabelle Huppert touches on family history with her son: "In Istanbul, we were happiest...those three years we lived there... ideal. The Turks are wonderful. Not like what people say. They're good. Nothing like the Spanish. They're the empty core of life." (Yes, the "Turkish" part of this film is just a mere line; but it is an extraordinary compliment unknown in Western cinema.)



Cotten (left) and Welles, wearing one of
the fake noses he became known for, this
time slightly hooked; the actor's Turkish
was indecipherable. The fur hat (kalpak)
was the only "ethnic" addition; the
Turks in the film are otherwise all in the
garb of the West, there is no obligatory
Muslim prayer in the soundtrack, and the
refreshing message is that the Turks are
regular human beings, just like "us."

American armaments man, played by Joseph Cotten (in a script he wrote), is smuggled out of Istanbul, tailed by Nazi agents. Orson Welles plays a heroic Turkish secret police colonel. (Identified as one of Ataturk's men, and a true "patriot"). I don't know how this one could have escaped my attention, as it is deemed a classic in many film circles. JOURNEY INTO FEAR was made in that brief window of time, as BACKGROUND TO DANGER a few entries above, where neutral Turkey was depicted positively during the dangerous war years; Cotten's character even utters the line, "Personally, I like the Turks." (Unheard of!) The film was remade in 1974 (with a great cast of character actors), and it would be worth seeing to find out if the temporary insanity of treating Turks as regular humans held out.


The movie is analyzed at length on this page.



Melina Mercouri

Melina Mercouri

As far as American films (which is what I'm mostly covering... I'm aware there are lots of films featuring Turks from other Western nations) where Turks are presented "positively." The best that can be said about the rest is when some feature Turks in a "neutral" way... like, say, TOPKAPI, the fun caper 1964 movie where the Turks were little more than background window dressing.



The Yasar Kemal novel was brought to the screen by TOPKAPI's Peter Ustinov, as writer and director. I haven't seen this movie, and I always thought it was a "positive" film, regarding Turks...but from the bits and pieces I've picked up along the years, I'm not so sure. I understand Kemal was a writer who highlighted Turkey's "persecution of Kurds," and "disregard for human rights."


Ben Kingsley as Pascali

Ben Kingsley

I enjoyed this one, starring the narrator of PBS's only "positive" program featuring Turks, ISLAM: EMPIRE OF FAITH, Ben Kingsley. Ben is a real pro... he is the only actor trying his hand at a Turkish character (I have encountered) whose spoken Turkish was at least understandable. And what a fine performance as Pascali, a spy for the Sultan in 1908, on a Greek island. The Greeks are the heroes at the end, firing on Turkish troops, soon to free themselves from the Turkish yoke. (What is a "yoke," anyway?) Zaim Dervis' academic MIDNIGHT EXPRESS paper tells us: "in Pascali's Island (James Dearden) Ben Kingsley plays an ugly, bold, bisexual Turkish spy who becomes tragically involved with Charles Dancer's tricksy archaeologist and Helen Mirren's Austrian painter in the middle. Due to his fanatical jealousy and denunciation, the lovers (English archaeologist and Austrian painter) are killed by the cruel, ugly, fat, bribee Turkish Pasha of the island." [ADDENDUM, 2006: The Pascali character may not have been ethnically Turkish.]
HAREM (1985)

Ben Kingsley is Selim, in HAREM


I barely remember this one, but I don't have a bad feeling about it... or maybe that's because I like Ben Kingsley playing Turks. Although it may be his character, Selim, might not even have been a Turk. This is mainly a love story, where the captor and the captive (Nastassja Kinski) fall for each other... like a latter day SON OF THE SHEIK.

HAREM (1986)


Ava Gardner played Kadin in HAREM

Omar Sharif's charms failed him in this one

In this TV mini-series, somehow the heroine (Nancy Travis) manages to fend off the Sultan's advances, played by Omar Sharif (whose Turkish, for a man fluent in many languages, was almost as  indecipherable as "Bluto" 's, of MIDNIGHT EXPRESS). In either of these HAREM films, the heroine pretty much took the reins of The Ottoman Empire in her hands, saving the nation from its backwardness. Ava Gardner appeared in her last role, as "Kadin," the harem's den mother.



Two soldiers of fortune matching wits and guns against the armies of two nations!

"Vera Cruz," in Turkey
CLICK on PIC for another view

This adventure movie follows two mercenaries played by Tony Curtis and Charles Bronson hired by a Turkish governor to protect a shipment of gold, and his daughters. Set in the chaotic days after the empire's collapse, I only caught the tail end of the film when our two heroes were given a reckoning (they got off easily) by "The General," Patrick Magee, whom I guessed meant to represent Ataturk.

Another Bronson movie, COLD SWEAT, has our hero spotting a boat with a Turkish flag, and he says something like, "That can mean only one thing — opium."




Baron Munchausen scene
Terry Gilliams' fairy tale featured a sultan who was the villain of the story, of course. Great shots of the Turks laying siege to Vienna, but I think the baron pulled a few heroic tricks to make the Turks' lives a little uneasier. (It's been a while.) The real Baron Munchausen, Karl Friedrich Hieronymous von Munchausen, lived from 1720 to 1797.... and had a habit of embellishing his stories. (Might have been part Armenian.) He fought for the Russians, against the Turks.



Sherlock Holmes Meets Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin)


This unusual and original Sherlock Holmes romp features Laurence Olivier as Holmes' traditional villain, Professor Moriarty... but the real villains are the Sultan and his men, on board a train. Holmes and Watson get the better of the Turks.


An Australian film with a fair treatment of the Turks, who enjoy some prominence in the story, unlike the more famous WWI Australian film, GALLIPOLI. The Germans come across as worse, in Nazi-fashion. The Australian Light Horse attack on Beersheba is filmed wonderfully, with the Turks taking flight in a cowardly fashion at the end. The Turkish commander comes across as somewhat noble, although he is made up to look very sinister... with dark make-up and a big old scar.

Mel Gibson exchanging glances with a Turkish POW, one of the
rare scenes in GALLIPOLI where the face of the enemy was seen.

ISTANBUL (1989), (1957)

This poorly made Swedish film is about an American journalist (Timothy Bottoms) who must rescue his kidnapped daughter in the alien world that is Turkey, and the brutality it naturally encompasses. A benign MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, in that the Turks come from another planet, and the line, "It's a strange country," is said at least twice. Twiggy serves as our hero's only hope.

I enjoy tourists getting mixed up in dangerous circumstances within foreign countries, like Harrison Ford in FRANTIC, where the hero must not only solve a terrible problem, but deal with unfamiliarity in a foreign land. I could have enjoyed ISTANBUL regardless, since I'm used to Turks being treated poorly in films... but I didn't, only because it came across as an amateurish effort.


I have not seen the 1957 ISTANBUL with Errol Flynn, but it appears Turkey is merely the exotic backdrop in this CASABLANCA style tale. Nat King Cole is in the role of the piano-playing "Play it Again, Sam." The only two credited actors playing Turks seem to have been played by a Greek and an Armenian. One good thing about movies based in Turkey is that they give Greek and Armenian actors work, since Greek and Armenian actors specialize in playing Turks.


Gabrielle Byrne, Kevin Spacey in THE USUAL SUSPECTS

Gabrielle Byrne, Kevin Spacey

A wonderfully made effort, with one of the scariest screen villains in cinematic history. (Keyser Soze, a Turkish Mafia man.) "Nobody believed he was real," the movie's narration tells us, as we witness a horrifying scene that demonstrates the villain's toughness and lack of mercy. Three rival Hungarian hoods break into his home, rape his wife and terrorize the kids. When Keyser arrives, the Hungarians demand his territory/business. However, Keyser gets the drop on them and shoots two. The third holds a child hostage, but to his horror, Keyser deliberately murders his own son. One by one, he follows up by wiping out his whole family, and lets the terrified Hungarian escape to tell everyone about his sure-to-follow growing legend. Keyser then hunts the rival gang, murdering all, including their families, and even their friends. He burns their houses and other meaningful establishments.  Then he disappears, leading to the last lines of the screenplay's narration:

He becomes a myth, a spook story that criminals tell their kids at night. If you rat on your pop, Keyser Soze will get you. And nobody really ever believes.

And you know why Keyser Soze could do all this and get away with it? It was because of his God-given roots.

He was a Turk....



"For a nation of pigs, it sure seems funny that you don't eat them! Jesus Christ forgave the bastards, but I can't! I hate! I hate you! I hate your nation! And I hate your people! And I fuck your sons and daughters because they're pigs! You're all pigs!"

"Bluto" gets popped in MIDNIGHT EXPRESS

Little Billy Hayes manages to kill the bully guard Hamidou,
played by Paul Smith, who was "Bluto" in POPEYE

That is my favorite line from this masterful exercise in xenophobia and racism; the film shaped the West's perception of Turkey and Turkish justice, and "the whole concept of 'Turkish prisons' is still a suitable punchline for any joke about oppressive and barbaric third world conditions."

Main credited actors playing the Turks were Zanninos Zanninou, Michael Yannatos, Vic Tablian, and Kevork Malikyan .... playing the Prosecutor, whose Turkish was the only one in the whole film that was comprehensible. Kevork would go on to play an Armenian in the ONLY American/Western Film or TV venture I have ever seen that put the Turks in a good light (besides THE WHITE WARRIOR, above), where the Turks were not second bananas.

The real-life Billy Hayes was different than the one in the movie; immediately after his "escape," he was on television stating (paraphrased), “I like the Turks, it’s their prisons I can’t stand.” In contrast to the big courtroom outburst scene, where the three really ugly actors selected to play the judges hung their heads in shame, Billy was "nobly" resigned to his fate, in the book. The interesting thing about the cinema’s version of Billy Hayes was that we are shown at the film’s beginning how much he knows what a crime he is committing (at the airport) as he breaks into a cold sweat preparing the hash that he tapes around his torso. (If I’m not mistaken, the soundtrack had the now-clichéd, anxiety-producing “heartbeat” effect). So, unlike the “female Billy Hayes,” played by Lee Remick, in the TV-movie DARK HOLIDAY (one entry below, where she gets framed), Billy goes into his criminal act with eyes wide open…and yet, we’re supposed to feel sorry for him. He gets caught doing the wrong thing, faces the unpleasant consequences, and refuses to take the responsibility for something that would have never happened had he not broken the law… instead, he whines about being the poor, helpless victim, and finds meaningless excuses... HEY! Just like the Armenians.

(While I wrote this page months ago, it is now May 31, 2003... and I am working on the site's finishing touches. A week ago, I spoke to a receptionist in a Manhattan office building, and the subject of our ethnic identities came up. Upon hearing of my Turkish background, the receptionist immediately brought up MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, politely wondering how true the portrayed events were. A whole quarter-century after the release of the movie. What a fantastic coup this film has been for Turk-haters, with lingering effects to be felt to this day.)

MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, the Crème de la Crème of anti-Turk movies, certainly deserved its own page.



Forgotten Prisoners: Ron Silver
This TV film focuses on Turkey's oppressive nature because, as some Greeks, Armenians and other Turk-haters will tell you, Turkey has the worst human rights record in the world. At least in this film, the victim is a Turk, played by Hector Elizondo, who fails miserably in making sense of the Turkish language. Ron Silver plays an Amnesty International lawyer appalled by the shocking conditions in Turkish prisons, becoming determined to seek justice. Produced & Directed by Robert Greenwald, whose specialty is "socially-relevant TV movies" such as THE BURNING BED.



Lee Remick

The late Lee Remick, as she appeared
in 1975. She died of cancer.

A television-movie version of MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, but with a twist: the prisoner is a woman. Lee Remick, in her last role, gets framed by having an antique put in her bag, and her nightmare in the Turkish prison system begins (although she doesn't get anywhere near as brutalized as Billy Hayes... well, it is a TV-movie). An Australian IMDb reviewer comments: "Whilst much is made of Remick's blonde hair in a country of dark women, and her fear is believable, she isn't the heroic type, so her repeatedly being told how admirable she is, is unintentionally funny." I don't remember much of the film, but I do remember how the other Turkish inmates were always in awe of Lee Remick, clearly the superior human being.


While the above might have featured a woman in prison, it was not a true "Women in Prison" movie... the genre that is the tawdry underside of the b-film, featuring ingredients such as "nubile innocents being abused by lecherous wardens and guards, molested by lesbian fellow-prisoners, and taking lots of showers." For that, we have PRISON HEAT.... a natural combo of a W.I.P. film, set in the worst country on earth to be imprisoned in; a can't lose proposition!

Prison Heat

The rest of her clothes won't stay on for long

I haven't seen the movie, but I understand the Turkish warden rapes an inmate under a portrait of Kemal Ataturk. The four American beauties who are falsely arrested are shown treated very nicely in Greece, where they were formerly vacationing (or maybe they were vacationing there, and the villainous Turks somehow got their hands on them, but the message is clear: Greece=Good, Turkey=Bad), and to top it off, the Turks in the film reportedly speak... Arabic!

Perhaps this was so because it looks like the film was probably made by American Jews in Israel. While I can understand the prejudice and ignorance of some American Jews, having been raised in New York City and getting firsthand exposure to the thinking ways of some (certainly not all; most are very cool) of them... (and why should American Jews be any different in their ignorance and prejudice than any other American?), I kind of wish Israelis wouldn't be so prejudicial, as I would hope they would know a little more about Jewish history than ignorant American Jews. They would hopefully know Turkey has historically been one of the Jews' very, very, very, VERY few friends. For example, Turks saved the Jews in WWII, Armenians killed the Jews, and yet American Jews and Israelis love to snuggle up to their supposed fellow genocide suffering-Armenians.


John Rhys-Davies menaces Sharon Stone in KING SOLOMON'S MINES

Pretty blond American maiden and a Lustful Turk

The RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK rip-off with Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone — before she became a star — featured a double dosage of villains Westerners love to hate, a WWI era German and a Turk (dressed in the clothing style of an Ottoman era long past). At least the always wonderful John Rhys-Davies, playing the Turk (named "Dogati." Dogati... Pascali... are these Turks, or Italians?) doesn't come across as a total buffoon, and gives as well as he gets; even though his German "master," played by the equally always-wonderful Herbert Lom, keeps calling him "STUPID TURK" throughout the movie. I still enjoyed this film, regardless. Brought to us by the Israeli tag team of Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan... who would soon be replaced in anti-Turk cinematic depictions by Miramax's Harvey Weinstein. (ARARAT, coming up.)



The wonderful masterpiece by David Lean offers the cinema a cut of the finest irony: the "always" villainous Arabs in Western films are, for once, the heroes. ('Course, we know who the REAL hero is.) Even in a film where the Arabs are portrayed not-so-negatively, the Turks are still the villains.


Omar Sharif and Peter O'Toole in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA

Is this the STAR WARS scene, where our
heroes escape the clutches of the stupid
Turks, by talking their way out... or the
scene where Lawrence gets arrested?

The Turks are certainly presented as cartoon characters, and the worst scene is the one exhibiting sado-masochism and homosexuality between Lawrence and Turkish Bey, played by Jose Ferrer. (Why in the world Turkish men are cinematically so depicted as being gung-ho about homosexuality, I'm at a loss to understand. No, I know the reason why.)

I always wondered whether the bankrupt Ottoman Empire actually owned airplanes, like the one we see near the film's beginning, conveying how the poor, simple Arabs are oppressed by the "modern" Turks. Apparently, two Turks studied flight in France, and the two airplanes the nation possessed got ruined in the hangar... then the empire spent something like 30,000 francs for a new airplane around 1912. That's all from memory, but it appears the airplane in the film might have been the only one owned by the empire, sputtering about. (Actually, the film presented two airplanes, perhaps twice the actual air force.) Click Here for Pic

Regardless, the film is a classic, and I appreciated the scenes that showed some sympathy for the Turks, like the regiment on its last legs that is slaughtered by the Arabs (while Lawrence's pangs of conscience get to him. Awwwww!) Another little gesture I appreciated was the handsome actor selected for the Turkish soldier taking a shot at our hero, from the derailed train. Click Here for Pic Hey, Turks have got to take what they can get.



This wonderful and ironic film explores the travails of an Italian immigrant to Switzerland, failing at practically everything. The comic relief is the stupid Turk, a fellow migrant worker who is even more of a foul-up. Our hero's "girlfriend" is yet another immigrant, who is clearly an outstanding human being. What ethnicity does she happen to be? Why, Greek, of course.

One moving scene was the Turk, at the receiving end of our hero's insults throughout the film, being observed by the hero as the Turk greets his family at the train station. His children kiss the Turkish boob's hands, and show him much respect, while our hero looks on with... envy? Some remorseful emotion, anyway.

A quarter-century or so later, at least the struggling Turkish immigrant would be treated more sympathetically, as with DIRTY PRETTY THINGS (2002), on the short list of "Good Treatment" films, near the top of this list.


I look forward to seeing this Spanish film one day. It regards a woman, Desideria (Ana Belén) whose sexual urges are not fulfilled with her husband, until she meets Yaman (Georges Corraface), on a trip to Turkey. He is a brutal lover, and ravages her, as only Turks can; she gets so hooked, she leaves her husband to be with the cad... who makes a practice of seducing women.


She's in for it... wait till she gets a taste of The Lustful Turk 

I like the idea of this film because it seems to highlight a quality of Turkish men that has been kept hidden: their virility. I've encountered a couple of accounts by Western travellers who remark on this facet. However, while Frenchmen have the reputation of being great lovers, anything positive about Turks would certainly be squashed, so the only hint we get about this passionate quality about Turks is in the stereotype of "The Lustful Turk"... where instead of driving a woman mad with desire, the Turk exhibits the negative characteristics of perversion and lechery.  Yaman does not appear to be the kind of screen lover that women would ordinarily sigh over; he represents the typical rough, macho creep modern women know to reject. (Apparently, he ultimately drives Desideria into "a self destructive circle of violence, prostitution and sodomy.") Regardless, I prefer to look at the good in this guy; we're not going to get a Turkish Johnny Depp. At least his character gives a hint that Turkish lovers might have something to offer. (Cheee!)


 LOVERBOY (2003)



Michael the Moroccan loverboy with Denise

Another European attempt with a similar motif is one I haven't seen.... a Dutch tele-film called LOVERBOY (2003), for
the teenage market. The "loverboy" of the title appears to be Moroccan, but the big bad boss of the movie is Turkish.
(Turks reportedly represent the seamy underbelly of Dutch society, probably not alone among Western European nations where Turkish immigrants have made themselves noticeably felt.) Michael, the chief loverboy takes a sweet seventeen-year-old girl, Denise (Monique van der Werff), and turns her into a cheap street hooker; she goes along, because she falls deeply in love with him, thus throwing away her old world's safe environment... like Desideria from TURKISH PASSION. Sounds like an interesting film, shot
documentary-style, as we follow our heroine's depraved (mis)adventures. The catch is, the Moroccan loverboy falls in
love, and becomes as protective as his loveless upbringing will allow... but the real victimizer seems to be the Turkish
overlord and perhaps one-time loverboy, to whom... from what I have gathered...  the smaller-time loverboys owe money.

This brings to mind a famous Dutch film called TURKS FRUIT (1973), a frank, let-it-all-hang-out love story with a
realism uncommon to Hollywood, directed by BASIC INSTINCT's sexual madman Paul Verhoeven (and starring Rutger
Hauer)... nominated for the Oscar as Best Foreign Language film. It is reportedly still the biggest-grossing Dutch film in history. A
provocative, sexually explicit, graphic and even violent film, not for the fainthearted, that hasn't anything to do with Turks,
save for the title... an interesting choice connoting passion and intensity... also known as TURKISH DELIGHT. I gather
there is a scene where the two lovers eat the Turkish candy ("lokum"), and the symbolism is perhaps applicable to
Rutger Hauer's character, rough on the outside and sweet within, which some say applies as well to the movie as a
whole, judged as rude and base at the surface... by those who weren't able to see the tenderness and beauty within.

The Cinematic Sexuality of Turkish Women

"The Lustful Turk" stereotype as discussed at TAT applies only to Turkish men. What about Turkish women?

Naturally, there is always a danger when one thinks in stereotypical terms... but something usually doesn't become a stereotype unless there is a grain of truth to begin with.

The stereotype of Northern Europeans, the French excluded, is that sexually, they are not very hot stuff. Let's not insult the women, and just talk about the men. Gwyneth Paltrow caused a furor in England not long ago, criticizing English men for not being sexually aggressive; perhaps she was not without a point, as when I think of Roger Moore as James Bond (exceptionally handsome on the outside, but one who doesn't look like he could let loose on the inside), it's hard to imagine any woman fluttering her eyes and going, "Oh, James..." (Sean Connery, on the other hand, would be a much different story; but Connery is hardly veddy, veddy British.) German men don't have a reputation as being wonderful in bed, and when I once asked a Swedish girlfriend what she thought of Swedish men, she opined they were fairly unexciting and "square." (Then I brought up the young Max Von Sydow, and her heart skipped a beat; so obviously, there are exceptions to every rule.)

Southern European men are stereotypically much more hot-blooded... as Soghoman Tehlirian's German lawyer made sure to point out, to distinguish how much more animal-like Turks and Armenians could be, compared to the Germans.

No Spaniard could become a flamenco dancer or bullfighter without knowing how to satisfy a woman. The Italians can be like firecrackers... even Benito Mussolini made sure to often be photographed without his shirt to demonstrate his virility. I don't know much about the sexuality of Greek men, but I'd imagine they would not be far from this rule, as long as they didn't wear their funny looking skirts. (For example, think of "Zorba the Greek," who embodied passion.) Only the Turk gets the stereotype of being "Lustful," and even though this is meant in a denigrating fashion... if we can look at the positive side of the coin, the meaning of a red-blooded man is to be nothing but lustful.

The same must be applied to women; who needs a fuddy-duddy ice princess? Just as a real man would pride himself on being virile and passionate, a real woman would think no less the same.

All of the Southern European, Mediterranean women have a "hot" reputation in Western culture. The Spanish are fiery vixens, the Italians are earthy, and the Greeks are hot-tempered and tempestuous... if Melina Mercouri's image serves as an example.

Sophia Loren: One Woman

(You know, my mind just travelled to Sophia Loren as an example of the sexy, earthy Italian woman... and then I thought of Vittorio de Sica's classic, TWO WOMEN. Sophia's character, along with her daughter, gets raped by African soldiers in war-torn Italy, and she curses them out afterwards, calling them... among other things... "TURKS." Sigh! Et tu, Sophia? [ADDENDUM, 10-06: A reviewing of the film in the original Italian with subtitles made no reference to "Turks"; the first viewing was of a dubbed print. In addition, as the Africans left their victims unconscious, the ones being cursed are Americans, for letting their riff-raff loose.])

Turkish women? They are not thought of in this same way. Although I have a feeling "The Lustful Turk," in its most positive sense, would not be a one-way street.

One hint not supportive of this view was presented in a years-ago American article about Natashas, desperate Russian women looking to make a living after the fall of the Iron Curtain... and many found a market in Turkey as prostitutes, threatening the stability of many marriages. The reason given was that Turkish wives were lacking in keeping the home fires burning, but when I thought about it later... isn't the "Not tonight, dear, I have a headache" attitude from wives a universal concept? On an "Oprah" program from a few years back, for example, forty percent of American women were revealed via a survey to "hate" sex. The bulk of these women were older, and presumably married.

How have Turkish women fared in Western cinema regarding sexuality? This is not an area that's covered, as "Moslem" Turkish women are probably seen as wanting to stay as far away from sex as possible (and among the very religious Turkish women, that would appear to be the case.... as it would be among the very religious of any religion)... so there isn't much to talk about, as opposed to the Lustful, "perverted" Turkish male.

Here is the only example I've come across in a Western film touching on the topic of Turkish female sexuality: In 1974's French-Italian co-production THE GYPSY (with Alain Delon in the title role, an outlaw anti-hero), two criminal accomplices head off in a car after the gang parts ways. One says they'll be in Switzerland soon, and maybe they'll go to Turkey. The other, a lady-killer (Nicolas Vogel), looks dreamily into space and mutters, "Those submissive broads..."


ADDENDUM (Outside reading): Western quotes on Turkish women, as this one by Paul Rycaut:
Turkish women "are accounted the most lascivious and immodest of all Women, and excel in the most refined and ingenious subtilties to steal their pleasures." From the West Chester University page.



Italian soldiers marooned on a Greek island during World War II, with nothing to fight....so they explore the meaning of life. A Best Foreign Film Award winner, the film explores Greco-Roman sensuality, and the common traits of both Mediterranean people. I haven't seen this film, and it sounds wonderful... I can't understand how any anti-Turkishness would enter this scenario, but according to a blurb about the book that examines the image of the Turk in Western Cinema, evidently the film makers found a way to squeeze this popular notion in.

DUST (2001, etc.)

Milcho Manchevski's DUST


The German Der Tagespiegel declared the film anti-Albanian and Neo-Fascist, saying: "Instead of the Albanian Muslims we have here the Ottomans as the 'untermenschen' and the Macedonians are as innocent as lambs," which are slaughtered during the film numerously. Alexander Walker from the London Evening Standard accused the Macedonian filmmaker, Milcho Manchevski, of making a racist film, showing the Turks "as herd of a corrupt people who gibber like apes in red fezes, and are more violent and far less responsible than Macedonians." Walker then asked Manchevski: "I wonder what you think the effect will be upon contemporary Turkey which is at the present moment trying to enter the European Union. Do you have a political agenda by this film?" Manchevski only replied: "Thank you for your statement." I have not seen the film, but how nice of the British and the Germans to stand up for the Turks.

Aren't the Macedonians and Greeks at each other's throats? I guess Greeks who love to pass off the Macedonian Alexander the Great as their own can take this as positive proof that Macedonians are cut from an entirely different cloth... since Macedonians don't seem to follow the iron-clad Greek rule, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."



By Elia Kazan

Director Elia Kazan's account of an Anatolian Greek, Stavros, who arrives as an immigrant in the United States (whereupon he falls to his knees in gratitude and kisses the ground). Kazan, born in Turkey (and half-Armenian), wrote the screenplay and novel as a means of exploring his family’s cultural heritage...Stavros Topouzoglou is based on Kazan’s uncle, the first member of the family to immigrate to the New Land.

The film's hero. 

Oppression rears its head when the Turkish Army sets fire to a church filled with Armenian women and children, and the Turks are not treated as being very nice people all around. The only "fair" moment I remember was when (Stavros, I guess) was in line to get seriously harassed by Ottoman troops when one of them recognizes Stavros as an old pal... whereupon the belongings the soldiers roughly took from him are quickly put back in the cart. The Turk says something like they are being treated badly, too. (Two seconds of the Turkish viewpoint! Ho-paa!)

The great director (ON THE WATERFRONT) became largely despised by the Hollywood set for ratting on many during the Senator McCarthy period, in the interest of saving his own skin, which led to the ruin of many careers. Of course, Kazan wasn't the only one who was a fink.





Hissss! It's the Turkish villain

Turkish ambassador Munir Ertegun might have been able to stop the big-screen MGM version of the phony book (in the 1930s), but at least the Armenians and their deep pockets came up with this obscure version. Directed by Sarky Mouradian. I have a feeling we would be hard-pressed to find even the teeny-weeny "fair" moment described for AMERICA, AMERICA, above.


MAYRIG (1991), 588 RUE PARADIS (1992)

Henri Verneuil (Achod Malakian) & Claudia Cardinale, at an awards ceremony for MAYRIG

Verneuil (Achod Malakian) & Claudia Cardinale

I knew Omar Sharif was famous for DR. ZHIVAGO, but I had no idea another of his claims to fame was that he might be the one actor who has appeared in the most Turk-unfriendly movies..! Noted French director Henri Verneuil's real name was Achod Malakian, born in Turkey, and his last film efforts dealt with his family's escape from the brutal Ottoman Empire... and I take it MAYRIG ("Mother," played by Claudia Cardinale) presents the biographical tale of "Azad" rising in his new land to become a playwright, and in the sequel, 588 RUE PARADIS, a film director. Followed in 1993 by MAYRIG, the apparent mini-TV series, where Omar Sharif reprised his role of "Hagop." The original MAYRIG has a character named "Tehlirian," which I assume represents the Armenian hero/assassin who shot Talat Pasha in the back of the head, and (as the New York Times reported; it probably was not true) heroically shot Talat’s innocent wife. An IMDb commentator from Italy calls MAYRIG a "masterpiece," and adds: "The film totally smells ‘hate & revenge’. "


KOMITAS (1988)

"Armenian monk" Soghomon Soghomonian, known as Komitas, is a composer (the music for this film is mostly his)... he was later "devastated by the horrors of the 1915 massacre and spent the rest of his years in various mental institutions." (Komitas was among the 235 arrested in Istanbul on April 24, 1915, but was released after only two weeks' imprisonment. Having left for Europe not long afterwards, it's doubtful that he actually witnessed any massacres. Sounds like the old "He went mad for who knows what reason.... hey! Let's blame the 'genocide'!" trick.) Director Don Askarian emigrated from the Soviet Union to West Germany, and biographer Nune Hovhannisyan gushes, "He is perhaps the only director whose ‘purely Armenian’ films have been professionally distributed and proved financially successful in Germany, Japan, Holland and England."

ARARAT (2002)


Film critic Roger Ebert wrote: "Ararat clearly comes from (Atom) Egoyan's heart, and it conveys a message he urgently wants to be heard: that the world should acknowledge and be shamed that a great crime was committed against his people. The message I receive from the movie, however, is a different one: that it is difficult to know the truth of historical events, and that all reports depend on the point of view of the witness and the state of mind of those who listen to the witness. That second message is conveyed by the film, but I am not sure it presents Egoyan's intention. Perhaps this movie was so close to his heart that he was never able to stand back and get a good perspective on it — that he is as conflicted as his characters, and as confused in the face of shifting points of view."

ARARAT is the second movie explored on TAT that got its own page.



I gave my story on how I came to see this film (about Talat Pasha’s assassination and the ensuing trial), when it was presented by a university’s Armenian club, in the Trial of Tehlirian section of TAT. Naturally, it was the duty of the Armenian director to show the Ottomans were behind a state-sponsored policy for extermination, and there was even a fantasy scene of a Wannsee-type Conference… where Turkish officials discuss the Armenian Final Solution. The proof supplied that allowed for the assassin to walk away a free man were the forged Aram Andonian telegrams of Talat Pasha.... yet these documents were rejected, even at what amounted to a kangaroo court. Imagining that the fake telegrams were actually introduced in the trial, since the film makes it sound like the telegrams were the reason for the acquittal, it would have been ethical to let the viewer in on the illegitimacy of these forged papers, the originals for which Andonian claimed were "lost," and later personally admitted were meant as propaganda. (Did I say "ethical"?)




Click for detail

The one that started it all! Oscar Apfel, a reported protégé of Cecil B. DeMille (that’s what Peter Balakian claims, anyway… although I was not aware THE TEN COMMANDMENTS director was already that "big" in 1919, to have had a protégé) directed this silent film based on the stage play, "The Auction of Souls," produced by the Near East Relief. The movie starred Aurora (Arshaloys) Mardiganian, whose memoirs the play was based on, and whom Balakian claims "survived harems, rape," and "witnessed the mutilation, torture and rape of hundreds of young girls like herself." It’s a wonder how she made it to the United States with all the inconceivably ghastly horrors she has claimed to have experienced, but somehow she did… only to become a movie star, appearing alongside fellow movie star, Ambassador Henry "Holier-than-Thou" Morgenthau. Only one reel of the film reportedly survives, and proceeds from the movie supported the relief efforts. The more sympathy, the more contributions, of course… perhaps why the film’s poster promises "over four millions perished." Balakian claims the film caused a "sensation," and I believe the English professor is being actually truthful.

From a New York Times article reporting on a private showing of RAVISHED ARMENIA (February 15, 1919):

Mrs. Oliver Harriman, Chairman of the National Motion Picture Committee, delivered an address in which she said that Miss Mardiganian had come to this country because she was a typical case selected form among her people as one of many victims of the terrible desolation wrought in Armenia By the Turk. The young woman, said Mrs. Harriman, established direct contact between a stricken people and a generous human America.

"The whole purpose of the picture is to acquaint America with ravished Armenia," said Mrs. Harriman," to visualize conditions so that there will be no misunderstanding in the mind of any one about the terrible things which have transpired. It was deemed essential that the leaders, social and intellectual, should first learn the story, but later the general public shall be informed. It is proposed that before this campaign of information is complete, as many adults as possible shall know the story of Armenia, and the screen was selected as the medium because it reached the millions, where the printed word reaches the thousands."





The punishment isn't capital

Great special effects film pioneer Georges Méliès got in on the anti-Turkish act almost during the birth of the cinema! The Turk of the title is terrible enough to pull out his great big sword and decapitate four men with one blow. The victims don't stay dead, however (making the Turkish executioner pretty terrible in another sense), and exact revenge. The film is three minutes long.

(Thanks to Dave Sindelar.)



"A Turkish criminal, sir. A horrible man."

The Russian son reveals the villain

Boris Karloff holds up the head of the "cursed Turk"

Karloff shows what "Turk's Head" means


Mario Bava directed this wonderful Italian compilation film of three terror tales, the middle one featuring the legendary Boris Karloff, who turns into a "wurdulak"... a Russian vampire who targets loved ones. Loosely adapted from a Tolstoy story, we learn the villain is Alibeq, a "cursed Turk" who gets hunted down by Karloff's character.




There were photos of Abdul from the 1942 British book, "Grand Turk," that I had scanned and used elsewhere on TAT, often wondering where they were from. Now I know. Directed by Karl Grune and starring Fritz Kortner in the title role, and Greek-Briton actor George Zucco (as the firing squad captain; see pic at bottom of page), I can't say for certain whether the British film is unfair... but I suppose the title itself gives a good clue. (Naturally, it could mean in the sense of "Damned if Abdul did or didn't," but I don't think so.) It sounds like one to catch. The menacing chief of secret police "removes" possible threats to the paranoid sultan. A foreign dancer/actress spurns Abdul's attentions, and the police chief arrests her fiancé, forcing her to enter Abdul's harem. I think that's only a subplot... the film as a whole seems to be more of a character study, "an intense psychologically sound portrait of a man terrorised by the repercussions of his own reign of terror!", as "Film Weekly" put it. Photo 1 and Photo 2.

ADDENDUM, 11-06: This film now has an in-depth analysis.



This film doesn't belong on this list, since it's not about Western treatment of Turks or Turkey... not as far as I remember, as it has been years since I had seen it. However, it sure was weird. Directed by Pakistani Jamil Dehlavi, Brian J. Wright opines: "The big appeal of this movie is the Turkish locations — between the deserts, caves, and a gorgeous glacier loaded with streams, waterfalls and pools, it didn't really matter what was happening; it kept me involved just looking at it." Richard Scheib concluded: "Born of Fire can probably lay credence to being the world’s first and only Islamic horror film." (Turkey has made a slew of horror films in previous years, including a Dracula film in the 1950s and a rip-off of THE EXORCIST in the 1970s. Perhaps Scheib meant this film had an Islamic theme, but that's not what I recall.)



The film begins with a camel rolling on its back to give the flavor we are in the Middle East. To drive home the "exotic" point, several men in Arab costume stand alongside Turkish government officials. At least the Turks are the good guys as American agent Cleopatra Jones (Tamara Dobson) orders the British-accented Turkish general ("I hope it meets with your approval, Miss Jones") to destroy a poppy field: "That's right, baby; thirty million dollars worth of shit that ain't going in some kid's veins. Burn it."

Tamara Dobson as Cleopatra Jones, in Turkey
Jones and Turkish general (right) pass a group of Turkish military
officials that strangely include several in Arab garb


Massacre scene from "La Masseria Delle Allodore"
A little boy, among others, lies bloodied and dead. The music: very sad.

The killers: official Turkish soldiers

The Taviani Brothers of Italy took the Armenian author Antonia Arslan's fiction, "The Lark Farm," and evidently went to town with the Armenian "Genocide." In mid-2005, Holdwater contacted the producer, Grazia Volpi, and asked him to please look into the claims more carefully. Looks like it was to no avail. Italians have been nurtured with a negative stereotype against Turks, and even their "responsible filmmakers" have simple-mindedly accepted the reality of a "genocide."

Atom Egoyan's wife, Arsinée Khanjian, is in the cast, as well as an actor with a Muslim name who may be mistaken for a Turkish actor; yet Mohammed Bakri is a Palestinian Arab. Perhaps the Tavianis  were proud regarding what they might have thought was a stab at "authenticity."


Goldie and the Turk

Goldie Hawn plays Private Benjamin, a spoiled woman who rises in the ranks of the U.S. military, ultimately assigned to NATO in Europe, under Lt. Rahmi, a Turkish officer who mangles the English language; yet another buffoon used as comic relief, reinforcing the image of incompetence.

THE QUEST (1996)

Jean-Claude Van Damme escapes the cops, heads for the Far East, and enters a prestigious martial arts competition. This is a film I had seen, at least partly, and I don't remember a Turkish connection, but a reader has informed me one of the villainous fighters Van Damme faces off against happened to be Turkish. The really bad guy was a Mongol, and one of the decent fighters was a Greek. What are the odds of having a brutal Turk as well as a Mongol in the same film? The reader discovered Van Damme, who also directed the film, was once married to a woman with what sounds like an Armenian name. 


Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, merrymaking guests and
one stoic Turk.

This fine flick that takes off on War and Peace and other Russianisms that have seeped into our culture is neutral on Turk depiction. Yes, there is that cigar store wooden Indian passing for a Turk in a party thrown by the occupying French where everyone else is animated; but there is also a line by a husband lying on his deathbed (having shot himself accidentally) because he had challenged a "Turkish cavalry officer" to a duel,  for casting suspicion on his wife's virtue. At least we got an idea this Turk was a regular Joe. Shockingly, the Armenians fared worse; in a scene where Diane Keaton's character consults a Russian Orthodox priest, she tells him that her husband (Woody Allen) contemplated suicide by "inhaling next to an Armenian."

The film makes one think: both the Russian and Ottoman empires were regarded by the West as not quite making the grade as far as acceptable civilization, since the savage peoples from both have been looked upon as more "Asiatic." Yet what a huge gap; we have enough iconic Russian imagery and music and ideas that can make us get into a satire like LOVE AND DEATH, yet the Turkish counterpart would be unfeasible, as the only thing the West knows about Turks is that they were barbarians. Isn't that interesting, given that in both cases we have had great empires lasting for centuries. Of course, the Christian bond has played a role, but for practically none of the Turkish cultural and scientific contributions (naturally, the Turks are famously known for being good only for war) to have passed on to the West (some that have — like yogurt — are not known for being Turkish) is a jarring reminder of the power of prejudice.




Yul Brynner as Taras Bulba.

The narrator begins with: "In the dark days of the dawn of the 16th century, the conquering hordes of the Turkish sultan spread terror throughout the civilized world. The Ottoman Empire swept east, across Asia Minor, south across the Mediterranean, north across the Crimea. Triumphant, the Turkish sultan turned west, toward the Ukraine. Turkish spearheads threatened the frontiers of Poland. The fate of Europe hung in the balance in the vast, fertile plains known as the steppes."

On screen, the Turks get the edge against the Poles in battle (with such a bogeyman in Polish culture, no wonder why genocide man Raphael Lemkin accepted the reality of an Armenian genocide), but not to worry; the Poles' Cossack allies appear, and in two minutes, save the day. The Polish commander gleams, "cutthroat animals," but concedes the Cossacks make fine fighters. Too bad they are double-crossed, and come under the domination of Poland. Taras Bulba swears to rise again, as he teaches his young boy (who will grow up to be Tony Curtis) how to kill a man, the current lesson focusing on an armored one. When the boy asks why Cossacks are not armored, Taras shows the cross around his neck, proclaiming, "This is our armor, boy — faith!" (Such a good Christian must have been oddly unaware of the enormous dichotomy; he must have skipped the "Thou shalt not kill" part.)

The film accentuates how the Poles regard the Cossacks living among them as barbarians. How ironic then, that such barbarians are treated heroically in the movie, whereas our more familiar barbarians are dismissed as "hordes." As to what determines a good barbarian, Christianity must make the difference
. While Taras Bulba, the fictional novel of a Ukrainian Cossack, has been adapted into film several times, Hollywood has never seen fit to similarly base either a fictional or historical Turkish figure, not even a major one as Ataturk. (One of the abortive attempts, besides the most recent one, coincidentally was set to star Yul Brynner himself.)



The villain, Shevket Bey.

Recently found and restored, this silent comedy produced by a 22-year-old Howard Hughes features two American soldiers (the handsome one, William Boyd, went on to play TV's Hopalong Cassidy) and his grizzled sergeant, escape from a ("realistically" depicted, unusual for the time) WWI German POW camp only to find their way into "Arabia"; at one point in the subtitles, "Turkey" is substituted, and this film can't tell the difference between the two — predictably, they are one and the same. The "Arabian" woman ()Mary Astor) who wins the heart of Hopalong says she learned English in "Constantinople," and when our heroes find their way to "Arabia," they stumble upon the American Consulate. (Of course, the only such consulate was in Istanbul.) No matter; the Turks (or Arabs; what's the difference?) wear the gamut of Oriental clothing, and along with the scenery, it's all interchangeable.

Doesn't the sarge (Louis Wolheim) look great?

At least some attention  was paid to the soldiers' uniforms, which tells us we are really in the Ottoman Empire (since, if we were truly in "Arabia," Arab fighters would have suited up to look like the ones from LAURENCE OF ARABIA, when the Arabs were rebelling..!) At least the Turks/Arabs are not treated as monsters, and the Ottoman officer (Shevket Bey, who is the rival for the lady's heart) is handsome.


Myrna Loy  plays spy to Ali Bey (C. Henry Gordon)

The film begins with Arab-style music, and it looks like we're in for another "Arabian" setting. German intelligence suspects a Turkish officer of turning traitor during WWI, it looks like the usual slanted and/or ignorant perspective will be cemented. (When the German espionage chief, played by Lionel Atwill, asks one of his "James Bonds" what he thinks of Turkey, listen to the answer.) As the movie progresses , however, it turns out responsible research has been performed to some degree of accuracy, and the Turks are, refreshingly, treated as civilized human beings. Beyond the Turkish element, the script (by Herman J. Mankiewicz) was intelligent, and kept one guessing as to the involved intrigues.



Characters Named TURK

There are plenty of characters named TURK in the movies, usually assigned to criminals or tough guys or those who don't have their heads on straight.

At least he's not holding a sword?

KELLY'S HEROES, starring Clint Eastwood, offers a "Turk" who serves in a colorful tank crew led by Donald Sutherland's "Oddball," a World War II hippie. Turk makes sure to wear his fez in battle, and even sports a pirate-style earring.


Since this page is getting too large, new additions will be featured on their own pages.








One Example of...






Benji visited Greece

Observing the cinematic rule of Greek=Good and Turk=Bad, Greeks are always played positively in American Films and Television (and the focus here is on "modern" Greece, since all films dealing with ancient Greece and/or Greek mythology [the TV show XENA being a recent, although inadvertent, example] exhibit the Greeks as heroes), from ZORBA THE GREEK to ESCAPE TO ATHENA to MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING (So many others…MOTHER GOES GREEK [1968... no, not a porn film!], MY PALIKARI [1982, with Telly Savalas], NEVER ON SUNDAY (1960), ASTORIA (1999), FOR THE LOVE OF BENJI and SUMMER LOVERS [1977, 1982, where Greece is presented as heaven-on-earth], LARA KROFT TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE (2003), and even Costa-Gavras’ excellent French-produced political intrigue, Z [1969, with unnamed Greeks vs. Greeks]). THE FAMOUS TEDDY Z and KOJAK to MY BIG FAT GREEK LIFE offered positive Greek role models on television, although usually the positive Greek representations on television stem from Greek "guest appearances," rather than shows with Greeks as recurring main characters... as when FRASIER attended a jubilant Greek wedding… an occasion which almost always culminates in the American hero joining in the festive Greek dance.)

The dashing Gilbert Roland (right) is the father of the handsome
Robert Wagner (center), playing Greek fishermen in

Jennifer Garner is Electra, in DAREDEVIL (2003)

The beautiful heroine of DARE-
DEVIL; daughter of yet another
Greek tycoon. (Jennifer Garner)

The only time I remember a Greek villain in an American/Western feature film was in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, and he (Greek tycoon Kristatos, played by Julian Glover) was a sophisticated, subdued and "good" kind of bad guy (in contrast to your typical, megalomaniacally evil, "Dr. No" type of James Bond-villain). The diner owner from THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1981; the Greek immigrant Nick Papadakis from the novel was called "Nick Smith" in the1946 film noir version) might have been a little greasy (but still the greasy victim), and Victor Buono played a rich Greek (the only Greeks allowed to be villains are filthy-rich, except when the filthy-rich Greek depicted is Aristotle Onasis [THE GREEK TYCOON from1979, with Anthony "Zorba the Greek" Quinn playing yet another Greek, a "thinly-disguised" Onasis... and THE RICHEST MAN IN THE WORLD from 1988, with Raul Julia]… I have yet to see a "common Greek" portrayed villainously) who was villainous in a benign way in THE MAN WITH BOGART’S FACE (1980)… compared to the vicious Turk in that film ("Hakim," played by Franco Nero), who was incomparably more evil. (But at least he was handsome.) In case even the subtlest idea of villainy for a Greek would be too much to handle for Western viewers, Buono’s "Sydney Greenstreet" character had a beautiful Greek daughter (Michelle Phillips) who happened to be the heroine and love interest of the movie.

Nick the Greek

Nick, lovable mechanic & pal of Mike Hammer
in 1955's KISS ME DEADLY. Va-va-voom!
Greek-American Nick Dennis made a career
of playing Greeks, and of characters named
"Nick." He was a semi-regular on KOJAK.

A film I’ve never seen (but sure would like to; it's the only one with the pairing of the two stars) is SMART MONEY (1931), where Edward G. Robinson plays a Greek barber humiliated by gangsters. He teams up with James Cagney, and they both out-con the conmen. "Robinson plays Nick as a really nice guy all the way through — we genuinely like him and want him to succeed even though it's at gambling." Yet another example of the rare Greek screen villain who is really a hero. Similarly, in 1945's ISLE OF THE DEAD, Boris Karloff plays a Greek general in the first Balkan War who has the potential not to be nice, stern as he is shown to be (at times); but is ultimately sympathetic. (There are other "nice" Greek characters thrown in for balance, at any rate.)

Armenian characters haven’t had as much wide cinematic exposure as the Greeks, and when one encounters the occasional Armenian portrayal (who is identified as Armenian; I have been noticing more screen characters who are completely American but simply happen to have "ian" in their last names; e.g., the cop played by John Heard in television's THE SOPRANOS), you can bet word of the "Genocide" will rarely be far behind. I forgot the name of the film, but an Armenian character was the hero cop's sidekick in one run-of-the-mill police drama … and of course, the writer stuck in a line where the Armenian alluded to the suffering of his people. Brother!

William Hurt as Varian Fry in VARIAN'S WAR

William Hurt as Varian Fry
CLICK on PIC  for another view

In an Armenian site, people were complaining that the main character in VARIAN’S WAR (2000), a cable movie about an Armenian-American "Schindler" (the real-life Varian Fry was quoted as having said, “In all we saved some two thousand human beings. We ought to have saved many times that number. But we did what we could”… the courageous journalist was aided by other Americans, including Miriam Davenport Ebel, Mary Jayne Gold, Charles Fawcett, Leon Ball and American vice consul Hiram Bingham, Jr., the latter given a 2002 posthumous award presided by Colin Powell) who saved Jewish artists and intellectuals (including Franz Werfel, Hannah Arendt and Marc Chagall) from WWII Vichy France, was written in a way where Varian Fry (William Hurt) wasn’t classically heroic, and perhaps had a "gay" side (in the film, he reportedly enjoys "some mild flirtation with Marseilles' most urbane Nazi") … Lord! Here they have a movie where the Armenian is played by a handsome leading man who is CLEARLY portrayed as a HERO, and they’re still griping? Armenians! There is simply no satisfying them…


ADDENDUM: An example of Armenians on American television where they don't come across as "good." Unbelievable!

ADDENDUM, 9-07: And an example of Armenians on American television where viewers were teased by Armenian villainy; let's have Van Zakarean tell it, from an Armenian forum: "I do remember once in 'Law And Order' two Hayastantsi were shown as murder suspects but right at the beginning they were proven to be hard worker immigrants and they were off the hook. Another time in the same series they chased down a 'Vartan Dadirian' as a murder suspect but he was an innocent Armenian historian, he was off the hook."

Aram "Il'yich" Khachaturian

ADDENDUM, 11-07: I was holding on to my seat while watching the very well made documentary on the Soviet-Armenian composer, entitled KHACHATURIAN (narrated by Eric Bogosian). At the point in his life when he and other Soviet composers were denounced, Aram Khacaturian was sent to Armenia as punishment, but the "relocation" provided for an opposite effect, re-awakening nationalistic feelings that proved therapeutic to his depression. This served as a segue to the film's "Armenian factor," and the narrator described 1915 as the "year of trouble." Uh-oh! Bracing myself to the inevitable genocide reference, what a delightful surprise that the expression simply served as "code," as the real idea was the threat of the Turks moving into Tiflis, Georgia, forcing the Khacaturian family to flee. This must be a first; an Armenian-related film refusing to plunge into genocide talk. (The filmmaker was a non-Armenian, and probably that helped.) However, later came the telling of Khachaturian's inspiration of the story of Spartacus: "We will always be helpless in the face of power and violence" served as the spark for his work that took over three years to complete, and examples of such perpetrators included "Roman centurions...Nazi stormtroopers," and, you guessed it, joining that lovely company were the inevitable "Turkish hordes." For the love of...! Much as these mindless subhuman killers have been imprinted in the Armenian consciousness as an eternal threat, when have "Turkish hordes" ever served as a threat to Armenians throughout history? The Turks saved the Armenians from the Byzantines, allowed the Armenians to retain what they wished and to prosper for centuries, and troubles began only after Armenians went on the warpath, toward the mid-to-late 19th century... engaging in the art of extermination during times the Armenians gained the upper hand.


A Holdwater Salute to Two Favorite Armenian & Greek Actors:


George Zucco



Sid Haig as he appeared in BEYOND ATLANTIS

Sid Haig











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