Uçan daireler Istanbulda [Flying Saucers Over Istanbul] (1955)


Let’s face it, under the best of circumstances, the first science fiction film from another country — oh, let’s be honest, the first anything — isn’t likely to be great.  Or good for that matter.  Heck, I always end up grumbling at those lists of the best SF films ever made that feel they have to include Destination Moon.  It wasn’t even one of the best SF films of the Fifties, let alone of all time.  But it was the first film of the SF boom of the Fifties, give or take a Rocketship XM.  

But when we’re talking about the first science fiction film from Turkey? The first SF film from the country and film industry that brought us “Turkish Star Wars”?

Well, we know better than to expect much.

And it’s unlikely we’ll even get that.

For starters, it is Ed Wood cheap.  The Alien flying saucer (and despite the title, there is only one) is a spinning pie plate thing with fireworks going off.  However, on the ground, it looks like someone tried to build a copy of Klaatu’s spaceship from The Day the Earth Stood Still out of cardboard.  Only not quite so good.

Now obviously the people who made this knew that they couldn’t afford to compete head to head with such expensive American efforts as, oh, Catwomen on the Moon, so they decided to make a comedy.  Which means that this one ends up suspiciously like a bad remake of Abbott and Costello Go To Mars (which was bad enough to begin with, thank you very much!)

So a flying saucer full of beautiful alien women shows up looking for virile men, but settles on the nearest two idiots, bumbling reporters who make The Three Stooges look like expert businessmen.  One of them lugs around the world’s silliest fake camera through the whole film, which is about the size of a small microwave.  The aliens want to take the boys off to their home planet, so they can share them around with all the girls, but our “heroes” object, and then there’s some nonsense about the elixir of youth and rayguns being used for odd things before they’re sent off to recruit more men.

Now, a lot of this doesn’t make much sense and we get a club made up entirely of rich ugly women; a cardboard robot that can barely move and whose head looks a lot like Rosie on The Jetsons; supposedly comic scientists talking about how flying saucers don’t exist (unless they do); and an appearance by “Marilyn Monroe.”

She’s played in a very vulgar and coarse sort of way by an impersonator who doesn’t look much like her. You have to wonder if she isn’t a deliberate burlesque of Marilyn (and a fairly nasty one at that!) as she is so overtly oversexed.  One of the aliens dismisses her with disdain as all the women on their planet are far more attractive than she is, which I can’t help but read as a boast that Turkish women are more beautiful than Western women!

Now Flying Saucers Over Istanbul might be an easier pill to swallow if anyone in this film were actually funny.  The director, Orhan Ercin, plays a Jerry Lewis-ish boob, but lacks any of Jerry’s talent.  He adopts a painful stutter which makes you cringe a bit when you hear it.  I doubt if it is any less painful if you speak Turkish.  It certainly isn’t funny.

However, this misses one of the main selling points of the film:  belly dancing.

In fact, a large part of the film consists of dancing women, often with the camera seeking out their jiggling midriffs.  Most of these dances are done in scanty costumes, including one fairly bizarre number in which “Marilyn” seemingly spits in two, in the worst split screen shot ever (with her double coming out of the split, then going back into it in the end!).

One of the film’s big surprises comes in one of these numbers when the camera, which has remained stubbornly in the middle distance through the whole film, and at about shoulder level, suddenly does a crane shot that gives us a good look at the dancer’s bosom, then tracks down and follows her around as she writhes on the floor.  A similar camera move happens later on, during another dance.

The only notable name here is Özcan Tekgül, who gained a lot of notoriety for her belly dancing (often wearing nothing but a tiny G-string), nude modelling and all around outrageous behavior.  She plays the alien second in command with undisguised arrogance and is by far the most beautiful of all the aliens.  Here she performs a wildly sexy dance, but does so wearing clothes for a change — and without baring her bellybutton like every other attractive woman in this thing.

It remains one of those curious contradictions of Turkish culture, this love for an artform expressing blatant sexuality within a Moslem society.  I assume it probably is quite ancient and predates Mohammed’s rise in the Seventh Century, but it clearly has not fit in well, not even in the more secularized Twentieth Century Turkey.  Somehow, Özcan’s notorious career seems to sum it all up  — a huge star who rarely appeared in her native land except at private events and night clubs.  When it was rumored that the National Turkish Cinema Council was about to honor her for her contributions, a politician demanded to know whether the Prime Minister was going to pin her medal to her belly!  The Minister of Culture then denied that she was one of the honorees and it’s unclear whether she ever did get that medal, wherever it was pinned.

Unless you are a completist, film critic, Belly dancing fiend, or masochist, you probably will be just as happy avoiding this one.  It lacks that passion that transforms the terrible films of an Ed Wood into something transcendently bad.  Which means that it is just…bad.

And about as unexciting as it gets.

Unless you like belly dancing.

(My thanks to Janne Wass of The Scifist for introducing me to this one.  Maybe.)

Movie — with subtitles — available at Internet Archive


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2 thoughts on “Uçan daireler Istanbulda [Flying Saucers Over Istanbul] (1955)

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