The Sword and the Claw

| January 26, 2018

The American Genre Film Archive (AGFA) launched their home video imprint in 2017 with a series of impressive Blu-ray releases including HD transfers of oddities like The Zodiac Killer (1971), The Violent Years (1956), and Bat Pussy (197?) in collaboration with Something Weird Video. Their latest release is something of a departure, but also in line with their previously America-centric exploitation slate. Originally released in Turkey in 1975, Lionman was picked up for distribution in the United States by the infamously cheap William Mishkin Motion Pictures–perhaps best known as the company run by the man who produced nearly all of Andy Milligan’s films. Mishkin took Lionman, gave it the new title The Sword and the Claw, and had an English dub track made for its U.S. theatrical run in 1982.

Turkish action superstar C├╝neyt Arkin stars as King Solomon, the wise and beloved ruler who is betrayed and slain in a coup d’etat that leaves his pregnant queen dead and his newborn son left to fend for himself in the jungle. Fast forward many years and Arkin returns as Solomon’s son, now an adult who has been raised by lions. He never learned to speak, but he is a ferocious hunter and fighter. The resistance that has been growing since the death of Solomon hopes “Lionman” will lead them to victory against Antoine, the traitor who killed Solomon and has ruled the land ever since. But things are not so simple: jealous Selma, daughter of the resistance leader and sister of fiery rebel fighter Ida, is working as a spy for the crown. And then there’s the shocking fact that Antoine’s top general and son Altar may be actually be the bastard son of Solomon, who spent his last night on Earth with Antoine’s wife Maria. Will Altar embrace his destiny and join his brother in the fight? Can Lionman and a small, ragtag group of fighters overcome Antoine’s army and free the people? And perhaps most importantly, how did everyone learn to jump so high?

The Sword and the Claw is a very simple and familiar story that borrows liberally from any number of other films and mashes elements together with little regard for whether or not the final product makes any sense. While there are some nice sets and locations, the costumes and especially the weapons look incredibly cheap, giving the film a lo-fi homemade charm. This stands in stark contrast to the action of the film, which includes Lionman laying waste to scores of faceless henchmen, usually by leaping spectacularly and slashing their faces. The fighting in the film is hilariously impossible, just barely short of wuxia-style fantasy martial arts; nobody actually flies in The Sword and the Claw, but they bounce around very high a lot. The English dub Mishkin had made for the film is the icing on the bizarro cake here. The writing is atrocious, and the voiceover actors sound like they were probably cast from people who were sitting around the office with nothing else to do on that particular day. It’s hysterically at odds with the deadly earnest film playing under it, and the result is a wildly entertaining hybrid of cheapjack action and accidental absurdism.

AGFA’s Blu-ray of The Sword and the Claw is much lighter on bonus features than their previous releases, which have featured booklets with writing on the films and frequently included commentary tracks with cult film historians and/or people involved in the productions of the films. This disc includes a handful of martial arts trailers transferred from film prints and a bonus feature film. Brawl Busters (1978) is a South Korean-produced kung fu action period piece that tells a needlessly convoluted revenge tale punctuated with lengthy, embarrassingly inept fight scenes that frequently do tip over into dime store attempts at physics-defying wuxia maneuvers. The dubbing here is not as flat as that in the main feature, and in fact often goes in the polar opposite direction. Some of the voiceover is wildly overacted and done with inexplicable accents, including a stereotypical American redneck and a truly horrendous attempt at an Australian accent. Depending on your tolerance for that sort of thing, Brawl Busters may be tough to sit through, but it has enough moments of “what the hell just happened?” insanity that it’s well worth a look for paracinephiles. Both films are presented in 2K transfers, and true to AGFA’s previous modus operandi they retain the grit and character of well-worn “grindhouse” prints. The color and sound are great, but expect a fair amount of dirt and other visual noise (especially in Brawl Busters, which has some notable water damage). This double feature is hugely entertaining and a worthy addition to AGFA’s lineup of cult and exploitation classics. Hopefully they will be able to bring more Turkish action insanity to home video in the future!

AGFA released The Sword and the Claw on Blu-ray 23 January 2018.

About the Author:

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He is author of "The Unrepentant Cinephile," and a regular contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly as well as a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. He is co-director of the Chicago Cinema Society and proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's "Guru, the Mad Monk." Follow his long-form film writing on Medium: www.medium.com/@rabbitroom
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