Abdul the Damned (1935)
Director: Karl Grune.
Starring: Fritz Kortner (Sultan Abdul Hamid II / Kelar - his double), Nils Asther (Chief of Police Kadar-Pasha), John Stuart (Capt. Talak-Bey), Adrienne Ames (Therese Alder), Esme Percy (Ali - Chief Eunuch), Walter Rilla (Hassan-Bey), Charles Carson (Gen. Hilmi-Pasha), Patric Knowles (Omar - Hilmi's Attache), Eric Portman (Conspirastor), Clifford Heatherley (Court Doctor), Henry B. Longhurst (General of the Bodyguards), Annie Esmond (Therese's Train Companion), H. Saxon-Snell (Chief Interrogator), George Zucco (Officer of the Firing Squad), Robert Naylor (Opera Singer).
in Turkey, 1908, Sultan Abdul Hamid resists the Young Turk party trying to modernize Turkey
"In the Christian year of 1908, the Moslem Empire of Turkey was ruled by Abdul Hamid II . . . ABDUL THE DAMNED. Last of the absolute monarchs, his people had lived for years in cruel oppression. At last they have broken into revolt, led by Hilmi Pasha, founder of the Young Turk party, distinguished from the old order by their white fez. Fearing their rising power, the Sultan promised to sign a new constitution guaranteeing liberty and civil rights to all . . ."
The Sultan does not make a scheduled appearance. Instead, the chief eunuch Ali comes out to say Our Imperial Master will receive no one today. But Ali will answer some questions. Gen. Hilmi Pasha craves a permit to return to Turkey. The man is already on the Orient Express.
On the train a man reads a newspaper for August 24, 1908 with an article saying that there is a Government Crisis in Constantinople. Another article talks about the new era in Turkey with the Young Turk Organization. It's six miles by train to the frontier. Hilmi is returning after five years of exile from Turkey. The Chief of Police Kadar-Pasha wonders what the Sultan has in store for the General. The General says that five years of exile have left him with no illusions.
The pretty Viennese opera singer Therese Alder shows her passport to the conductor.
A young man tells an older man that they have just crossed into Turkey. The older fellow quickly searches through his hat collection to get the right fez. He has picked a red fez. He says that means he's an Old Turk rather than a Young Turk. He explains to the young man that the red fez is worn by the Old Turks and the white fez is worn by the Young Turks. The terms "young" and "old" don't refer to chronological age, but rather political support or no political support for the modernization movement of the Young Turks.
An older woman dines with Therese Alder and says that the Sultan has 300 wives and asks what can he do with 300 wives?
The train is stopped and policemen come on board looking for Hilmi Pasha. Then the train starts moving again. It doesn't take them long to find Hilmi Pasha, who is wearing a white fez. Captain Talak-Bey says they are going to detain Hilmi Pasha pending an explanation for why he has returned to Turkey. Hilmi shows a document that comes directly from the Sultan. The Captain apologizes and says there must be some mistake. So he lets Hilmi go on about his business.
The older lady leaves Therese Alder at the table. Therese sees the Captain and motions to him. She is his fiancÚ and her reason for coming to Turkey. The Captain sees her and excuses himself to go speak to Therese. He sits down at the small table with her and they hold hands. Therese explains that she wanted to surprise him, so she came a week earlier than scheduled.
The older lady tells another passenger that everything in Turkey is so beautiful, but at the same time so cruel.
Politicians await the arrival of the Sultan. On one side of the hall are the Old Turks with their red caps and on the other side are the white-capped Young Turks. But this day only representatives of the Young Turks are called in to speak to the Sultan. The Old Turks are left blustering that the Sultan couldn't have permitted Hilmi Pasha into the country.
Hilmi is greeted with the roar of hundreds of his supporters. He stands up in his convertible car and says that His Majesty has entrusted him with the leadership of the Young Turk party and the formation of his first Constitutional Government.
Therese's Captain is upset by the political news. He says the supporters of the Young Turks don't even understand what is happening. "They want to borrow a parliament from England, an army from Germany and a language from France. Everything that isn't Turkish."
The Sultan comes in and walks forward to sit on his throne. The Sultan has given his blessing to a new Parliament. The Captain is bitter about this, saying: "And all the Young Turks will come running back from exile."
Among the foreign diplomats there is mention of the Armenian atrocities [that mostly took place during and after World War I].
The Sultan at the ceremony was the real Sultan's double. The real Sultan comes to insult the poor performance of his double. He complains that the man has no sense of regal bearing.
The Sultan speaks to the Chief Eunuch saying he noticed that representatives of the old party were not at the gathering. Ali says that their leader, Asan Bey . . . The Sultan cuts him off saying to put the man down for an audience with His Sultan.
An assassin shots the body double and then runs out. He is captured by the palace guards. The doctor comes to visit the wounded man and says the fellow has a deep flesh wound. The real Sultan says then I have had a narrow escape. Ali says that the real Sultan will have to retire from public appearances until the flesh wound heals up on the body double, but in reality after six days they say the Sultan has made a miraculous recovery. The real Sultan starts making appearances again while the body double is still trying to heal his wound.
Then the Sultan's physician is knifed after leaving his patient.
Because of the assassination attempt, the Sultan's popularity had greatly increased. The Sultan says he would like to know who is it that is responsible for this recent attempt? He calls in the Chief of Police Kadar and tells him to put more pressure on the men trying to get information out of the captured assassin. Kadar goes in with the instructions and now the would-be assassin will be tortured.
Kadar comes back to the Sultan, who says he's sorry he had to call Kadar away from the opera. The Chief of Police says at the opera there was a really good-looking Viennese woman singer with a great figure. He recommends the woman to the Sultan. The tortured man dies.
Hilmi comes to the Sultan to tell him that every criminal has a right to a trial and to a legal defense. The Sultan agrees with Hilmi, but then adds that, unfortunately, the man is already dead. He was shot while trying to escape.
Hilmi is the Grand Vizier for the Sultan. He speaks with party leader Hassan Bey who argues that the would-be assassin deserved what happened to him because the position of Sultan is sacred. Hilmi says so too are sacred the rights of the Sultan's subjects. Hassan Bey calls Hilmi a traitor and Hilmi is so angry at this insult that he starts to pull his sword out. The Sultan comes in and puts a stop to the quarreling.
Hilmi departs. Hassan Bey says: "And these are the men Your Majesty has put in power!" The Sultan says these new reformers think that he will be the last despot in Turkey, but he himself is not sure that's correct. He tells Hassan Bey that he must learn to have more patience, like the Sultan.
The Sultan now speaks in private with Kadar. The Chief of Police learns from the Sultan of Hassan Bey's willingness to die for his country. He tells the Sultan that the Sultan would benefit from an assassination of Hassan Bey that could be blamed on the Young Turks. The Sultan tells Kadar to wear a white fez tomorrow night.
There is a command performance at the opera for the Sultan. Performing is Therese. Only the Sultan is at the performance.
Kadar in a white fez shoots Hassan Bey and wounds the man Hassan Bey is with. The witness says that the shooter was an officer wearing a white fez. It's the Young Turks that did this! A mob develops and they start chasing after people in white fezzes. Kadar goes to the opera to tell the Sultan that the job is done, but he also had to shoot the man with Hassan Bey.
After the opera finishes, Kadar goes to see Therese. He gives her the Sultan's congratulations for her wonderful performance. And His Majesty has given a beautiful necklace to Therese to wear. The Sultan also wants her to remain under the roof of his Palace as the lady of his household. She laughs and then says no to the offer. Kadar now says there's a law against vagabonds and traveling actors. Therese asks if he is threatening her? She says she is a citizen of Austria, not Turkey. Furthermore, she doesn't believe there is any such law. Now in comes her fiancÚ. He wonders if he is interrupting anything, but Therese says that the gentleman was just leaving. The fiancÚ recognizes Kadar and salutes him. Kadar leaves.
Captain Talak-Bey recognizes Kadar as the assassin. Therese asks Talka-Bey's what's wrong? He says he can't tell her. Why? Because it is something that if she knew it could make it dangerous for her. She still wants to know, so he tells her that Hassan Bey was assassinated tonight and the same man shot him too. That man was just here: Kadar Pasha.
Kadar goes to see the Sultan. He is about to break the bad news about Therese, when the Sultan warns him not to disappoint him. So Kadar says he won't disappoint the Sultan in this matter. Now for other news. The mobs are howling for the blood of the Young Turks, but the mobs may need a bit of assistance. The Sultan says Kadar has his permission to do something as long as it's successful. Kadar tells him it will be successful.
Kadar tells his men that the Young Turk leaders must be arrested. On the others use ruthless and simultaneous action.
The Young Turk officers are having their meal. Kadar's soldiers move in on the officers. The officers have to hold their hands up in the air. Other officers are arrested in night clubs. One of the officers is defiant and is shot down. The word gets out to other officers and they hole up in the War Ministry's office. A battle begins between the Young Turk officers and the Old Turk soldiers. Hilmi telephones the Sultan, but he says nothing and just hangs up on his Grand Vizier. Hilmi then tries to sneak out, but he and his men are captured.
Therese tells her fiancÚ that she wants him to leave on a boat to go to France where things are peaceful. Kadar tells his aide to have Talek-Bey arrested on the charge of high treason. Just as Talek is about to leave with Therese, he's arrested.
Now with Talek under the control of Kadar, he is going to use Talek to get Therese to reconsider her refusal to be the lady of the Sultan's household. He says he will send the security file on Talek to the Sultan and in the morning Talek will be shot. But if she cooperates, there's no need to send the report to the Sultan and Talek will be saved. Therese says she will go public with this black-mail. Kadar says that would be denied and Therese would be designated a crazy woman. So Therese decides to sign the document.
Kadar informs the Sultan of Therese's change of heart. The Sultan is pleased. Then Kadar asks to get rid of Talek, who was the witness to the shooting of Hassan Bey. The Sultan displeases Kadar when he says he wants to keep this Talek around as a counterweight to growing ambitions of Kadar.
Kadar tells his aide to take this Captain Talek and put him in the same cell as the 49 Young Turk officers. In the morning take nine of the first names listed and execute them as an example to others.
The orders are that Therese be received like a Queen. She is dressed up like a Queen. She is like a zombie, but she snaps out of it when she see Talek in the inner courtyard below her. She asks Ali where are they taking Talek? Ali says that they are only taking him to the prison overflowing with soldiers who are to be shot at night. Now she goes back to being a zombie.
Hilmi Pasha is to be one of the Young Turks executed.
Here comes the Sultan. Therese sits on his left side. He tells Therese that he will grant her one wish. She wants the life of the officers in prison spared. He says they are rebels. Therese counters by saying she doesn't want her first night in the palace to be tainted by the death of any officers. Or, perhaps, this is something beyond the powers of the Sultan. So, the Sultan tells Ali to go get the captain of the guards. While they are waiting, they will enjoy a performance of the dancing girls.
The Sultan orders the Captain of the Guard to offer a reprieve to the Young Turk officers as long as they will take an oath of loyalty to the Sultan based on the Koran.
The first group of officers is to be executed, since they won't take the oath. Hilmi starts singing a song and has the others join in with him. One after another of the officers are shot. Thinking that Talek has been shot, Therese faints. The Sultan picks Therese up and carries her to a bed. She awakens and he asks her what is troubling her? She says that her friend Talek was among those that the Sultan had shot. The Sultan asks what unit this fellow is from? She tells him and then he tells her then the man was not shot. He says he did not order this Talek person to prison. He says anyone that he did not order to prison, including Talek, will be released from prison. Therese is so relieved.
Talek is released and told to cross the border into another country and if he returns to Turkey, he will be shot on sight. Waiting for him is a man with a message for Talek. The message says: "To join us in Salonika on behalf of the Committee of Freedom and Progress." It is signed by someone named Omar.
An officer tells Ali that things are getting worse for the Old Turks. He says they just cannot rule Turkey without the help of Abdul, but the Sultan is too busy being with Therese. He plays the piano for her as she sings her operatic tunes. After the song he goes over to kiss her shoulder, but she pulls away from her. Therese tells him that she feels that the Sultan feels so alone, surrounded by enemies. She feels sympathy for him. He says sympathy is a gentle form of contempt. Therese says, oh, no.
Talek joins the secret organization in Salonika. The Young Turks show him an issue of The Gazette of Freedom & Progress. It has to be read with the help of a magnifying glass. They distribute the Gazette to Young Turks all over Turkey.
Kadar takes an issue of the Gazette to the Sultan and tells him that Talek-Bey is behind the newspaper. Talek is now the leader of the conspirators in Salonika. And Talek was a witness to the assassination of Hassan-Bey. The Sultan says he knows of only one witness and that is Kadar himself. In his hand Kadar carries the latest list of people to be executed. The Sultan takes a look at the list and wonders if he should put anybody else's name on the list (Kadar in implied as a possible listee).
As Kadar starts leaving the room the Sultan starts writing his name on the list of men to be executed. At the same time Kadar is thinking of killing the Sultan. He tells an aide to give the poison powder for the Sultan's food to Therese. She is the only one above suspicion and she has the motive to kill the Sultan.
Talek is able to get a note into Therese. It says: "Dearest, keep up your courage. I shall be with you soon. Ever yours, Talek."
The aide comes in and shows Therese the poison. Therese immediately says "no". The aide says he got the poison from a friend in Salonika. While he is saying this, he exchanges a jewelry box he brought in from Kadar for the one in Therese's room. When the man leaves the room, Therese goes to see the Sultan. She, however, runs into the body double instead of the Sultan. The real Sultan listens to their discussion. The body double identifies himself as such, aided by the fact that he doesn't have his disguise on. The body double says he doesn't know who he himself is anymore. Therese leaves the room. The Sultan comes in and has the body double thrown into a prison cell.
Therese finds the real Sultan. He says he is paranoid about being assassinated. So many of his royal ancestors were assassinated. He sees his parrot die after he eats some crumbs on the floor. The food was poisoned. The Sultan believes that the man trying to kill him is none other than Kadar.
Therese goes to see Kadar. She says Kadar tried to poison her, but she is still alive. Kadar laughs at the very idea. Then she says the Sultan is still alive too. That sobers Kadar up pretty fast. He opens the front door and sees the soldiers waiting for him. He now writes out a note and signs it. The note says that he killed Hassan Bey at the behest of the Sultan. He wore a white fez to make people think it was the work of the Young Turks.
The men in Salonika now say with this note, they will not have to be so careful with Abdul. They will make copies of the note and spread it everywhere. A revolution is called for to throw Abul the Damned out of the Sultanship. The Old Turks say they resign their offices. The troops are revolting. And the Palace Guard will not help the Sultan.
The Sultan can't sleep, so he orders the dancing girls to dance for him. The Sultan falls asleep while he watches the dancing girls. Ali tells the dancing girls to go.
The ordinary people start rising up against the Sultan. With the noise from outside growing, the Sultan wakes up. He is scared. He calls for Ali. The people rush into the palace. The Young Turks from Salonika return to Turkey. The soldiers parade in the streets, cheered on by the people. The Sultan tries to change places with the body double. People just run right over Ali.
The body double sits on the throne as scared as scared can be. The people grab him off the throne. The body double loses his beard and points to where the real Abdul is hiding. The people now chase after the real Sultan. The people find him and want to kill him. The arrival of Talek just in time saves Abdul. Talek tells the Sultan that he has now been deposed. Talek then says that Abdul is free to go in peace.
Abdul the Damned now leaves the palace. The soldiers march in celebration of the leaving of the Sultan. Talek and Therese reunite.
The leaders of the Young Turks led a rebellion against the absolute rule of Sultan Abdulhamid II (reigned from 1876 to 1908) in the 1908 Young Turk Revolution. They ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1908 until the end of World War I in November 1918. Military officer Enver Pasha was one of the leaders of the 1908 Young Turk Revolution, along with Talaat Pasha and Djemal Pasha. The film covers this period, but, of course, had to simplify the story, but at least it gives the audience a chance to learn something about Turkish history, even if simplified.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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