Yul Brynner and Tony Curtis star
in this enjoyable but flawed Cossack epic from director J. Lee Thompson. Optimum UK R2 DVD
victoriously defeating the Turks, the Poles and Cossacks celebrate
together, the but Poles have other plans and massacre hundreds of the
Cossack soldiers, leading only a few to flee. Among them is Taras Bulba
(Yul Brynner) who decides that the only way that they are going to
survive is to go into hiding and disguise themselves. During the years,
Taras has two sons
Adapted from 19th Century
Russian writer Nikolai
Gogol's short story by screenwriter Waldo Salt, Taras Bulba
is a reasonably accurate translation of the first half of the tale,
although the time gap between Andrei's return from Kiev and their
going to war seems to be much shortened and his ingress into the
Polish fortress is very different, sadly though is completely misses
out the interesting second half and thus its superb conclusion
(perhaps a sequel was planned?). Filmed
during the heyday of the Hollywood epic, it is a pretty conventionally
formatted entry - beginning with some action, giving us the storyline
(and a romance) and then building up to a climactic battle sequence.
The storyline of forbidden love is nothing particularly novel, but it
is made into the main focus of the film rather than just a subplot
and so carries more conviction than in many similar films.
The Cossack and Polish settings are quite unusual but are never quite
exploited enough and the story feels like it could easily have been
set in any Medieval European country – particularly the University
scenes in Kiev (no mention is made at all of the clash between the
Orthodox Christianity of the Cossacks and the Roman Catholic faith of
Director J. Lee Thompson gets plenty to play
with and helms some epic sequences, the
battle scenes are particularly impressive with cannon shot exploding
among crowds of horses, he also makes particularly good use of matte
paintings in a number of scenes, helping to back-up the good looking
sets. The film is very much a product of its era, with colourful
scenes and a generally family friendly tone. Unfortunately
the film is sorely let down by the editing and post-production –
many of the battle scenes are reduced to a comedy atmosphere by the
ludicrous overuse of sped-up footage and there are frequent jarring
splices of blue-screen shots to insert the main actors into a number
of the sequences. Some very poor and again almost comically bad model
work appears in a few scenes, most notably the climactic final battle
which is also marred by sped up action. Composer Franz Waxman
provides a typical epic soundtrack which suits the film well,
although is not particularly suitable for the era or location and it
is poorly used in a few places (again, in the final battle scenes).
Brynner takes the titual role and looks very well suited to it, with a
heavy tan and a cossack scalp-lock - he looks every bit the coassack
and the leader of a group of fighters. Tony Curtis had played in epics
before, with Spartacus
(1960) and The Vikings
(1958) but still seems rather out of place here with his modern,
New-York appearance simply not suiting the role particularly well, he
does try very hard though and gives a strong performance. The
particularly attractive Christine Kaufmann plays the love interest and
would soon become Tony Curtis' real life love interest.
Yul Brynner and J. Lee Thompson do their best, but Taras Bulba
never quite gels - whether it is the script that misses out a lot of
interesting points, Tony Curtis' miscasting, or just the dire editing
that makes the epic battle scenes into annoying paradies, it never
really ranks above the mid-card of 1960s epics, but it remains
enjoyable and fans of the genre or of Yul Brynner will enjoy this.
Anyone famous in it?
Yul Brynner - Russian born actor best known for his leading role in The Magnificent Seven (1960) Tony Curtis - more at home in romances and comedies, he also starred in classic adventure film The Vikings
Directed by anyone
J. Lee Thompson - a British born
director who also helmed the Yul Brynner epic Kings of the Sun (1963) as well as the classic British war films The Guns of Navarone (1961) and Ice-Cold in Alex (1958)
Several big battle scenes,
no strong violence
Who is it for?
Fans of the big 1960s
epics and of Yul Brynner films will enjoy this, although it is not the
best of either.
Ratio - 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
print is generally good with only mild speckling and grain.
English stereo - sounds fine.
Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Also available in the US
from MGM - with French and Spanish audio.
Believed to be fully
uncut. English language print
An enjoyable but sadly flawed epic, made watchable by Yul Brynner's typically fine performance. Of interest to genre fans.
A perfectly decent looking and sounding print but if you want the
French or Spanish, pick up the R1 disc.