Friday, July 30, 2021
Abdul the Damned (1935)
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.