Blasts from the Past! Blu-ray Reviews: THE SWORD AND THE CLAW (1975)

This title is being released January 23rd on Blu-ray from AGFA (www.americangenrefilm.com).

Some readers may not know this, but there’s a small fanbase out there devoted to a very low-budget Turkish knock-off of Star Wars produced way back in the early 80s. Even this writer remembers the movie making rounds via old tapes and eventually digital files. As the years have passed, the movie is just as popular as ever, with fans tracking down other films from the same makers. This week, the AGFA (American Genre Film Archive) are releasing a Blu-ray of a hard-to-locate movie from the same producers.

Titled The Sword and the Claw aka Kiliç Aslan aka Lion Man, this effort is just as bizarre and fascinating as their later sci-fi work. While it did receive a VHS release in some parts of the world, the movie quickly disappeared soon after its unceremonious home video debut. So it’s remarkable that it’s being made available today in any form. This 4K Blu-ray transfer arrives courtesy of the recently discovered and only theatrical print known to exist. As a reviewer, I’m happy to see an unknown-by-many B-movie salvaged from complete destruction.

This jumbled action/adventure has been dubbed into English and the credits for the cast and characters aren’t very clear, so bear with my attempts to sum up the story. Set in the Byzantine empire, the heroic King Solomon (Cüneyt Arkin) has just won a major victory in battle against an enemy. But after deciding to end war and declare peace throughout the land, Commander Antoine (Yildirim Gencer) revolts against the throne and murders Solomon, taking power for himself.

Thankfully for the King’s lineage, Solomon had a thing for the ladies. Queen Amelia manages to get her newborn baby to the wilderness before her own execution, and it is suggested that Solomon may also be the true father of Anotine’s son, Altar. As for the wilderness baby, he’s raised by a pack of lions (naturally), growing up to be an incredibly powerful warrior (Arkin also essays this role). Dubbed “Lion Man” and the person who will bring order and justice to the world, he teams up with revolutionaries to take down Antoine. Meanwhile, the villain insists that the grown up Altar prove his worth by killing the Lion Man and squashing the resistance.

Notes on the film call it a mash-up of Conan the Barbarian, The Three Stooges and Dolemite. But really, the inspirations here are the characters of Tarzan and Robin Hood, placed in the framework of a kung-fu flick. It’s an amusingly anachronistic combo. Being raised by lions has given our loincloth-clad hero a claw-like motion can pierce the skin. Our hero takes down evil armored knight after evil armored knight by chopping at them and plunging his fists into their bodies (when he’s not throwing them over his head).

A movie like this can only really be judged on how much cheesy fun it provides, and it does so with aplomb. It’s a very low-budget production, so the sets and costuming are a little ratty in appearance. The acting (or truthfully, dubbing) is extremely funny as well. Dialogue is delivered in the flattest manner possible, lending a humorous tone to all of the awkward exposition and obvious statements from the cast. Instead of maintaining a serious tone, the somber, low-key voice work only highlights the absurdity.

And the story itself is full of ridiculous melodrama. Despite being raised by animals, Lion Man is taught to speak and communicate in clear English over what appears to be an afternoon of lessons. It’s also remarkable that the characters don’t come to the obvious conclusion about Altar and Lion Man much sooner. There’s a ham-handed prophecy about Solomon’s heirs all having a large birthmark of a lion and sword on their left shoulders. How no one including Antoine noticed it on Altar is beyond this reviewer. Perhaps the screenwriters were too busy trying to convince viewers that the birthmark itself was not a tattoo. There are even scenes of King Solomon insisting that, “No, it’s a birthmark…” after its appearance is brought up. The writer/filmmaker doth protest too much, methinks.

By the time the Lion Man is injured and has a blacksmith forge clawed, steel fists for him to storm the castle with, the movie has well established its surreal and goofball charms. It’s all very corny and doesn’t make a lick of sense, but the energy level on display is consistently high and events never become dull. As the hero cavorts his way around, posturing and fighting off bad guys like a swashbuckling pirate during the climax, the movie reaches a very funny plateau.

As for the image quality, this is the only known print, so one should not go in anticipating reference-level audio and video. The copy has specks and a few scratches early on, but improves quite dramatically as it progresses. Picture quality is actually pretty clean and impressive overall, adding a layer of humor to the quick and dirty effects work and production design. To be honest, it looks much cleaner and sharper than I would have expected.

The Blu-ray includes a couple of impressive bonuses. There are a ton of fun, scratched-up trailers for superhero and kung fu pictures that you no doubt will have never heard of previously. Additionally, the disc has a second kung-fu feature called Brawl Busters (the box credits it as having been made in 1981, although IMDB suggests 1978 for the year of production).

It’s a crazy feature from South Korea about a lady martial artist out for revenge against the man who murdered her parents, She teams with a skilled vagabond to fight all manner of villains who use spinning blades, torture chambers, sticky glue and flying daggers. There’s some outrageous stuff featured in the fight scenes. The print itself is covered in scratches and in absolutely abysmal shape, but that kind of adds to the B-movie charm. This is a really enjoyable bonus.

While the movies featured aren’t exactly classics, they are more than entertaining for bad-movie-night fans. It is an excellent Blu-ray that will make viewers really feel like they’re in a rundown movie-house watching a crazy midnight movie. Thanks to AGFA for fully embracing the cheesy asthetic of these unheralded titles and saving them from destruction. One can only hope that they’ll eventually get their hands on a copy of the Turkish Star Wars film (titled Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam and pictured here) and get it out on Blu-ray too. In the meantime, The Sword and the Claw provides plenty of mind-boggling action entertainment.

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