The Return of Superman [Supermen Dönüyor] (1979)
AKA Turkish Superman, Supermen Returns
Starring Tayfun Demir, Güngör Bayrak, Yildirim Gencer, Esref Kolçak, Nejat Özbek, Resit Hazar, Seref Çokseker, Reha Yurdakul
Directed by Kunt Tulgar
Expectations: I don’t really know what to expect. Greatness? Trash? I’m eager, whatever it is.
On the general scale:
On the B-movie scale:
Make no mistake: The Return of Superman — AKA the more well-known bootleg title, Turkish Superman — is a horrible movie. But like many horrible movies that pop up here, it is rather enjoyable. It’s much too slow-moving and boring at times, but when it’s good, it’s really good, so any fan of low-budget movies shouldn’t miss this one. Just in terms of seeing how someone with a totally non-existent budget tries to emulate the special FX of one of the biggest budget, FX-laden ’70s movies. Within 30 seconds I was laughing hysterically, as the infinite stars of the universe were displayed on the screen via black felt and a whole bunch of round Christmas ornaments. Arguably, the effect looks rather good for what it is, but it’s never a deceptive illusion so it’s impossible not to laugh at it. But as I like to laugh with things, this kicked the movie off to a rather great start.
As much as I love the Superman character, his story is inherently laden pretty thick with American exceptionalist ideas. Of course, this powerful alien champion crash lands on Earth and he’s an American! A wholesome American farm boy, no less! While I respect the basis this gives the character, I was eager to see a Superman that didn’t carry this baggage, and in The Return of Superman I definitely got that. Here Tayfun (AKA Turkish Clark Kent) has been raised by a poor, nondescript Turkish couple. We’re not shown that the Turkish Kents instilled any deep, resonant values in Superman, but he does fight on the side of good, so those scenes must have been left on the cutting room floor. One day, Tayfun decides he must leave to find his Kryptonian fortune, packing his suitcase for a journey across grazing fields and into rocky Turkish caverns, where he uses the green stone that came with him from Krypton to talk with Turkish Jor-El. But before I get there, I simply must mention that this suitcase packing scene has to be the most exciting, thrilling suitcase packings in the history of cinema. Not for its visual content, but for its score, a rousing suite for orchestra that would fit perfectly into the climax of a Hitchcock movie. That’s what those final Hitchcock films were missing… more suitcase-packing thrills.
Anyway, back to Turkish Jor-El, or as he identifies himself here: “Superman, the leader of Krypton.” He quickly gives a version of the “You’re Superman, kid, now go out there and kick ass,” thing that Jor-El does, before promptly exploding. The film then smash cuts to a full-screen Superman logo that snap-zooms out to reveal the fully suited-up Tayfun. The Return of Superman does in 12 minutes what it takes the Donner film something like an hour to do. Does it do it as well? Of course not, but the Donner film wasn’t nearly this funny, and I do appreciate the speedy pace, as I’m very fresh on my Superman screen origin. And honestly, this is a fantastic low-budget version of the Superman reveal. The scene is followed by a bunch of horrible rear-projecting flying footage, some of which looks like an action figure in front of a projector screen. Many would laugh and mock this — which I did do my fair share of — but honestly, for the budget here, I still thought it looked OK. Better than I would’ve expected, anyway, which shows how low my expectations were.
So before I make this whole review a series of plot points, I’m going to break away and talk about how Tayfun Demir fills the suit of Superman. He was great. Not just great, but perfect. In the Tayfun scenes, he wore the too big glasses and raised the pitch of his voice, but not to an absurd level. It was always believable, and very similar to Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of the character, with Kent and Superman feeling very distinct from one another. I also got a kick out of how much Tayfun reminded me of John Turturro in Barton Fink, especially in the scenes leading up to Jor-El in the cave. Tayfun and the filmmakers also do a good job of humanizing this version of Superman. When a truck speeds out of control carrying a kidnapped Alev (AKA Turkish Lois Lane) and her car, Superman doesn’t stop it with his super strength. Nope, he hops in the cab, hits the brakes and then pops the e-brake for good measure, just like any one of us would need to do. Demir’s Superman is a much more down to Earth Superman.
This version of Superman also has one clear advantage over Reeve’s incarnation: a super punching ability. This isn’t a defined power, it’s more of a choice on the part of Tayfun and the filmmakers. Whenever Superman is confronted with a group of baddies needing some justice, what does he do? He confidently strides over to each one individually, stares them down and then punches them mercilessly. And being Superman, one punch is more than enough. Sometimes it’s a wicked backhand, sometimes it’s a solid bop to the forehead, but more often than not the blow lands in the face, and there are few things I love more than a good punch to the face. A pie to the face is a good one, too. You can very quickly see why I loved The Three Stooges growing up.
The thing that surprised me the most about The Return of Superman was just how honest and legitimate of a Superman movie it tried to be. It doesn’t reach for wild deviations from the character, instead its varied choices on how to handle certain parts of the mythos feel natural here and work perfectly. Hard-nosed comic snobs will definitely cry foul, but there’s no pleasing them. Anyway, one of the big reasons this one felt so legitimate is that during the thrilling Superman moments, none other than John Williams’s score from Superman was playing! Music adds so much to a film, and the inclusion of a few key tracks (albeit in somewhat muffled, distorted versions) make all the difference. The James Bond music helps too, and I especially enjoyed one piece where the Bond theme was so distorted that its iconic guitar sounded almost sitar-like, giving it an exotic flavor that someone else should really try to replicate for a real James Bond score.
But by far my favorite use of music comes towards the end of the film, during one of the film’s many “People are kidnapped and Superman must save the day” scenes. While Superman flies to the rescue, completely out of nowhere the soundtrack cuts into a five-second piece of Santana’s Everything’s Coming Our Way. You have to be pretty awake and up on your Santana to catch it. At first, I thought this was shoddy filmmaking, the result of someone needing to fill a hole in the soundtrack and splicing in anything that was handy. But after a few minutes I finally pinpointed which Santana song it was and it made me think there could be more thought behind it than I had first considered. Does the use of Everything’s Coming Our Way echo the fact that a man who can do everything is coming to save the day? Is it meant to speak directly to us, the audience, and reference the thrilling climax involving the evildoer attempting to escape with the “Krypton Stone” via some late ’70s Ford sedan? Or maybe Superman himself is a Santana fan, and he was just tuning into the airwaves and rockin’ out on his way to kick ass? Whether you see it as an obfuscated stroke of auteur genius, or an especially poor piece of sound work, the moment is one that could only arise out of this type of no rules filmmaking.
For all its moments of confident backhands and exploding Jor-El’s, The Return of Superman isn’t quite as fun as you think it might be. There are a lot of boring scenes that make the film feel like an eternity is passing, when only a scant couple of minutes have actually gone by. At only 68 minutes long, The Return of Superman should feel like a breeze, but it feels a lot longer than that. But its riches are definitely worth it, so stride into The Return of Superman confidently and backhand those boring scenes like Tayfun would have!
Make sure to come back next Saturday for my review of Superman II!