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Four centuries ago, in a barbaric age ruled by violence, vast armies clashed in desperate battles and fierce men struggled to regain their freedom. Taras Bulba, a breathtaking epic that engulfs the screen with high adventure that enthralls from beginning to end. Set in the Ukraine of the 16th century, Taras Bulba stars Yul Brynner (The King and I) in one of his most colorful roles as a powerful Cossack chieftain determined to regain his land from treacherous Polish invaders. Despite bitter dissension in the ranks, he is soon leading his soldiers into savage warfare. But further conflict erupts when his headstrong son Andrei (Tony Curtis, The Defiant Ones) falls deeply in love with a Polish girl. Spectacular battle scenes highlight the nonstop action, arriving at a shattering climax in which father and son must ultimately confront the rift between them. With sharp direction by J. Lee Thompson (The Guns of Navarone) and a strong supporting cast that includes Christine Kaufmann, Sam Wanamaker, Brad Dexter and George Macready. Franz Waxman s rousing score was nominated for an Academy Award.
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Originally the film was to be directed by Robert Aldrich, who had specified that Yul Brynner not be hired; but he was forced to sell the rights to a group of buyers who included Yul Bryner, so guess who got the role. That was one of the film's lucky breaks, because this was a role Brynner was born to play; who was Aldrich thinking of anyway? Because the United Artist film was planned as a major release, it had to have a major star in the role of Bulba's son, Andrei. This was 1961, so there was no question of anyone but a Hollywood star playing the role. Originally it was going to be Burt Lancaster, but he decided not to do it and Tony Curtis ended up in the role against the wishes of Yul Brynner. This is one of the problems in the film. Though he plays it with full commitment, Tony Curtis just doesn't give off even a hint of being a 16th century Cossack. They might as well have hired Cary Grant. With new director J. Lee Thompson fresh off the success of The Guns of Navarone, they trucked off to the Andes foothills of Argentina near Salta to shoot the film.
What resulted is a mixed affair. The movie almost splits itself into two distinct parts, one thrilling and one boring. All the outdoor scenes are exciting and excellent, with vast panoramas of horses and men gathering and in battle, including the justifiably famous "Ride to Dubno" in which Yul Brynner and a few horsemen eventually add others until thousands of horses and riders fill the screen. There are also fun-filled scenes of Cossacks drunkenly celebrating, which echo the spirit of the painting behind the opening credits (a version of a famous Cossack painting by Ilya Repin). These are the high points of the film. But the rest of the film mostly takes place on a cleanly swept sound stage version of Kiev and concerns the forbidden love between Cossack peasant Andrei and a beautiful Polish Princess, Natalia (Christine Kaufman).
That's where the problems of the film lie. The script is dull and everything in it is a cliche from the Polish students' hazing of Andrei and his brother to the love affair itself. Christine Kaufman is given so little to say or do that all she is left with is standing around looking sweet. The romance should be full of incendiary passion, since it forces Andrei into a terrible dilemma, but instead we're left wondering at his motivation after a single pleasant day in the country. The Poles are painted as the blackest of villains, which is typical of films but unfair to them. Oddly, the film reverses the usual conflict formula of film, where the audience generally is given to root for the forces of civilization over barbarism. Here we are given the relatively barbaric Cossacks as the heroes, despite the fact that when not fighting, they seem to only indulge in drunken carousing, and the relatively civilized Poles as the bad guys. the film is careful to show that the wild-looking Cossacks are Christians.
So what you end up with is an unsatisfying film with sequences that are really exciting. Fortunately there are enough of the good parts to make the film watchable. The film is buoyantly supported by one of the most famous scores in film history. Franz Waxman's score received a deserved Academy Award nomination (but lost to Lawrence of Arabia. But who could have beaten that?). The score is almost a character in its own right and really keeps things moving.
Yul Brenner and Tony Curtis were superb. However the very end with the Cossacks fight scene with the Poles was too quick with a hard to believe forced ending. Still loved the scene with the gathering of the Cossacks using the thousand or 2 extras on horseback. Quite a site you rarely saw in movies. Very moving if you are into action flicks.
Yul Brenner in a movie is always a plus to me.
Story line isn't the best written.
Top international reviews
Personally Yul Brynner and Tony Curtis must've been skint to appear in it. Definitely a mans film!!!!