Friday, July 30, 2021

Abdul the Damned (1935)

Abdul the Damned is a 1935 British historical drama/biopic directed by Karl Grune. It is the story of the latter days of the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the last Sultan to possess effective power over the Ottoman Empire. More specifically the movie takes place against the background of the Young Turk Revolution of 1908.

As the movie opens the Sultan has caved in to pressure to restore the constitution and has appointed the Young Turk politician and reformer Hilmi Pasha (Charles Carson) as Grand Vizier.

Fritz Kortner plays Abdul Hamid II and also plays Kelar, an actor who serves as the Sultan’s double (there were numerous assassination attempts against the Sultan’s life so having a double was a sensible precaution).

Yet another assassination attempt fails, with Kelar being shot and wounded instead of Abdul Hamid.

The Sultan may have appeared to have given in to the demands of the Young Turks but he intends to destroy them, and his plans to do so are devious and subtle. His plans are to be carried out by his ruthless Chief of Police Kadar-Pasha (Nils Asther).

There’s also a romance sub-plot. A beautiful Viennese opera singer, Therese Alder (Adrienne Ames), has caught the Sultan’s eye but Therese is in love with a young Turkish officer, Captain Talak-Bey (John Stuart). When the Sultan decides that he wants a woman he expects to get her. There is some subtlety to the relationship between the Sultan and Therese - her feelings towards him are a mixture of horror, repulsion, sympathy and affection.

It’s Fritz Kortner’s performance (or rather performances) that provide the main attraction. He’s delightfully sinister but with a certain roguish charm. Abdul Hamid is cruel and ruthless but he is a fighter and we have to have a certain respect for his determination to survive. And, in his own way, he does believe that the empire needs him. Kortner makes him a fascinating and magnetic personality, with a surprising but genuine element of tragedy.

Nils Asther as the Chief of Police is just as impressive - smooth but utterly devoid of scruples. The whole cast is extremely good.

There were no less than six writers involved in this movie, including Emeric Pressburger and Curt Siodmak.

Karl Grune had an interesting career as a director from 1919 until 1936 after which time he turned to producing.

Abdul the Damned is visually very impressive. The sets and costumes are marvellous but Grune also adds some imaginative touches. There’s a very clever scene early on, with Fritz Kortner as both Abdul Hamid and Kelar being reflected in multiple mirrors. And there’s a wonderful tracking shot at the opera.

This is a very lavish production. There was some serious money spent on this movie, and spent well.

The trick with an historical movie is making the ending work without making a mockery of the actual historical facts. Abdul the Damned pulls off this trick very adroitly. I liked the ending very much.

It should be noted that this is not an adventure movie as such, although it does have some suspense. It’s more of a historical drama with international intrigue set against a backdrop of revolution.

Abdul the Damned is included as a bonus movie in VCI’s three-disc Special Edition DVD release of the bizarre but intriguing 1934 British musical Chu Chin Chow. Since Chu Chin Chow is well worth seeing and the Special Edition is well worth buying you might as well give Abdul the Damned a watch since effectively you’re getting it for nothing. The transfer of Abdul the Damned is reasonably decent. Abdul the Damned has also been released individually by Network in the UK.

Abdul the Damned is an excellent and very handsome historical drama with a great lead performance by Fritz Kortner. Highly recommended.

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