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"Ride Like A Cossack, Fight Like A Cossack"
bkoganbing22 August 2007
Although the famous Nikolai Gogol novel, Taras Bulba, was filmed many times, this version starring Tony Curtis and Yul Brynner is the best known at least in the USA. It's an exciting portrait of 16th century Ukraine under the then powerful kingdom of Poland.

What's strangely muted in this version though is the religious angle. The Poles are Roman Catholic and the Ukranians are Russian Orthodox, it's a very big part of the reason for the resentments shown here yet we never see the religious beliefs portrayed for either group. Not sure why the script didn't include it.

As rulers the Poles hire out the Cossack Ukranians who in today's terminology might be considered a paramilitary outfit to fight off the Ottoman Turks and then turn on them. Yul Brynner as one of the Cossack brigade commanders lops off the right hand of Guy Rolfe, the Polish prince in retribution, but that hardly satisfies. He goes back to the steppes of the Ukraine and awaits a time for some real payback.

In the meantime he fathers two sons, Tony Curtis and Perry Lopez, who both inherit their father's geopolitical views. Brynner sends them off to school in Poland to learn all the Poles know.

While there Curtis falls in love with a Polish princess Christine Kauffman. It's the beginning of his downfall as a Cossack.

In his memoirs Tony Curtis says that Yul Brynner was a strangely aloof character with a sort of self imposed grandeur about him in his manner. But that Taras Bulba was a part he was born to play. I certainly can't visualize anyone else in the role, including Burt Lancaster who originally had the screen rights then gave them to Tony Curtis when he couldn't do the film. Of course Brynner being in the title role might have had some resentments to being second billed to Curtis, but Curtis in fact as a co-producer and he who produces decides billing.

Curtis also mentions that on the Argentine pampas location away from American laws, the long banned 'flying W' was used in the filming of the battle and charge scenes and many horses were killed. He also mentions that with production overrun costs and accountants ripping him and the film company off what started as a three million dollar film became a nine million dollar film and Taras Bulba in theatrical release barely cleared ten million.

However Tony did get a second wife out of the film. Christine Kauffman became the second Mrs. Tony Curtis after the film. Curtis says that Christine did not break him and Janet Leigh up, that things were over before he met here, still that was the common gossip back in the day.

Director J. Lee Thompson made great use of the Argentine pampas standing in for the Ukraine steppes and one does get a feel for the Cossack love of the land the freedom of the wide open spaces. Cossack stories in the Ukraine are just like our American westerns. Those people for all their faults settled and conquered much of what is now Russian Federation.

As a bonus Franz Waxman's musical score which did earn Taras Bulba it's only Academy Award nomination is really quite rousing. We get to hear Yul Brynner sing in this film which is a treat, a Cossack drinking song. And the love theme for Curtis and Kauffman, The Wishing Star, is a very beautiful song that Tony Martin put on an album of film songs he did at the time.

Ukranian Americans loved this particular film for which I can personally attest. I think others will as well.
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Entertaining (but not in the "pampas")
ragosaal13 October 2006
I've seen the reviews here and a couple of comments set "Taras Bulba"'s location in the Argentine pampas. As a native Argentine I must say that's not correct; the pampas run all through the middle part of our Country but this film was shot in the Province of Salta way up in the northern part of Argentina (some 1400 miles from Buenos Aires); the pampas are a huge flat ground very fertile, but Salta is uneven with not too high hills ("cerros") very different from the pampas. Another reviewer says Tony Curtis declared once that when he and co-star Kristine Kaufmann got mixed up during the filming he was already divorced of Janet Leigh; I don't know about that but I can assure you that Leigh came to Salta with him (a friend of mine has a photo with her on the "cerros").

As to the picture, I really enjoyed it -also because I lived in Salta a couple of years and the landscape is very familiar to me- but I think a real classical epic could have come out of Nicolai Gogol's famous novel with a more elaborated script (as a reviewer correctly stated here).

J. Lee Thompson's product seems sort of "cheap" and lacks spectacle (except for some real good battle scenes) although I admit if has some very good moments. A somehow impressive one is when the big doors of the sieged city open slowly and André (Curtis) appears in a frontal close shot wearing a Polish armor and helmet for he will make a run for food too feed the starving citizens inside in a clear treason to his country and father for the love of a woman. Also the final dark atmosphere Thompson achieves when Taras (Yul Brynner) confronts his favourite son after a treason he can't possibly understand and even less when André just explains "I did what I had to do".

Brynner's performance though a little overacted is good enough and he fills the role of Taras easily. Tony Curtis makes a great effort and gets some good moments as André though he clearly lacks the appropriate "physic du rol". The rest of the cast gives a good support, among them Sam Wanamaker, Brad Dexter, Guy Rolfe and George MacReady. German actress Kristine Kauffman shows her beauty.

All in all "Taras Bulba" comes out as an entertaining and amusing film in its genre and a decent intent on Gogol's book, but no much more than that.
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Amazing such a subject made by Hollywood!
necrodemion11 June 2001
That this classic novel by Gogol about the legendary Ukrainian cossack hero could have been made into a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster, and that this was done at the very height of the cold war seems unbelievable today.

While the film is dated a bit by the kitschy love story involving Tony Curtis' character, Yul Brynner is perfect in his role which seems one of those he was born to play.

A colourful and spectacular historical epic in the best of the then-dying old Hollywood tradition, this is probably the only exposure that the American public at large has to Ukrainian history, and in this alone it is a valuable work. But the film manages to succeed on the entertainment level as well, and I recommend it to all fans of the good ol' Hollywood studio historical drama.
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Yul Brynner - the definitive Cossack
marzmello22 May 2006
Taras Bulba is the story of the Cossack's fight for freedom, a fight to reclaim their beloved land from the Poles. It is also a story of a father's love and pride for his son. Yul Brynner is the definitive Cossack in this movie. His swagger and bigger than life persona is the perfect match for Taras. His portrayal is both powerful and moving. Added to that is the fantastic horseback battle scenes on the Steppes. The scenes where the Cossack regiments gather with a rallying cry are awesome. Those alone deserve a 10.

The story of Taras Bulba had the potential to be a great historical epic had it focused on Taras' struggle between his love for the Cossack way of life and that for his son. Unfortunately, given the box office requirements of the time, the studio execs decided to toss in a cheesy love story (complete with fuzzy close-ups) and Tony Curtis, with his matinée-idol hairdo untouched. That just jars you out of the period. According to his biography, Brynner worked long and hard to bring the rich character to life, but broke down when he saw the final cut. That said, this movie still deserves a watch if only to see the magnificent Yul Brynner and the wonderfully choreographed battle sequences.
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Faith and a good Sabre arm.
Spikeopath25 November 2011
Taras Bulba is directed by J. Lee Thompson and adapted to the screen by Waldo Salt and Karl Tunberg from a story by Nikolai Gogol. It stars Yul Brynner, Tony Curtis, Christine Kaufmann and Perry Lopez. Out of United Artists, it's a DeLuxe/Eastman Color/Panavision production, with the music scored by Franz Waxman and cinematography by Joseph MacDonald.

Loosely based on Gogol's short novel, story tells of a Cossack uprising against the Polish forces who have taken control of the Ukraine. At the centre of the Cossack army is the leader Taras (Brynner) and his two sons, Andrei (Curtis) and Ostap (Lopez). But when Andrei falls in love with a Polish princess called Natalia (Kaufmann), it sets the wheels in motion for the Bulba family to crack from within; just as the Polish come calling asking for the Cossacks help to defeat the Turkish.

While not as epic as the film, the troubled back story of the production is big enough to lend one to understand why Taras Bulba is not the grandiose picture the story deserves. Main problem comes with casting, particularly that of Curtis as the elder Bulba son. It should have been Burt Lancaster, who walked, so in came Curtis and a decision was made to put him front and centre of the picture. Thus rendering Brynner's title character to playing second fiddle, so much so they really should have called the film Andrei Bulba instead. On his day Curtis could act, but he's out of place here playing a Cossack with brain and brawn. Then there was the small matter of Curtis' marriage to Janet Leigh falling apart, with Leigh visiting the set, falling ill and no doubt noticing the sparks flying between Curtis and his delectable co-star, Kaufmann. Curtis would say it wasn't the final straw, but with him going on to marry Kaufman shortly after his divorce, it's hard not to think that it sealed the deal!

He's not helped by the writers, though, who allow the love story sub-plot between Andrei and Natalia to form the core of the plot. They too, Messrs Salt & Tunberg, were brought in after historical novelist Howard Fast (Spartacus) refused to tone down the screenplay. He wanted to include what was an important part of the Cossack/Pole war, that of the Cossacks anti-Semitic attack on Polish Jews. The makers balked and Salt & Tunberg came in and delivered the Andrei overkill and some rather cheese laden dialogue. Brynner was crushed, his biography (written by his son Rock) reveals that it was a role and film he cared for more than any other, he had grand plans for the portrayal but the makers didn't share his view. A shame because what we do get of Brynner is wonderfully exuberant, muscular and (correctly) scene stealing.

However, when Taras Bulba as a film is good, it's real good, and thankfully it's never dull, even if it's it a bit more jovial in the mid section than it is meant to be. Thompson was a fine director of action and suspense, and he gets to flex his muscles here to great effect. Casting aside the cheap shots of dummies and wooden horses being hurled about a couple of times, the sight of thousands of men on horseback swarming across the Steppes (actual location used was Argentina) is spectacular. The battles are fierce, violent and gripping, while the scenes in the Cossacks camps are joyous as men drink, sing, test their manhood by doing things like dangling over a bear pit, it's all very robust and Vikingesque, but entertainingly so. There's even some dashing sword play, while quality suspense is eked out during a challenge to the death over a seemingly bottomless gorge.

Joseph MacDonald's Panavision photography neatly brings the wide vistas to life, aided by the use of Eastman Color which gives off a nice period hue. Waxman delivers a blunderbuss score that's seasoned with Russian vitality, while the costume department deserves a mention for their efforts, particularly for the Polish army who look dandy men of steel. Yes it's a film of flaws and bad decisions, but the good does outweigh the bad in this instance, and how nice it is to have the chance to see a little known part of "bloody" history up there on the screen. 7/10
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Flawed, But Profound Spectacle
Bob-4520 February 2006
How does one choose between the life of a person you love and your father, your family, your nation? The moral dilemma presented in "Taras Bulba" would be a tough sell in any era, but particularly in "last year of the 50s" ("American Graffitti"). Producer Ben Hecht, screenwriter and director J. Lee Thompson pull no punches. However, one can only wonder how great a film "Taras Bulba" would have been if directed by, say, David Lean and the love story expanded. As it stands, the movie is wildly uneven. The Kiev sequences tend to bog down the movie; while, at the same time the romantic scenes play too quickly for dramatic impact. Curtis' well publicized adulterous affair with actress Christine Kaufman certainly didn't help box office; and, it seems the screen careers of both Curtis and Yul Brynner were permanently damaged, as both went into decline after "Taras Bulba". Sad and ironical, since Curtis recently revealed he was legally separated from wife Janet Leigh for over a year before embarking on "Taras Bulba" (and his liaison with Kaufman); and, in any event, adulterous marriage breakups certainly didn't hurt Liz Taylor. It's all a pity, because "Taras Bulba" is an exciting, profound movie, the kind we are most used to seeing recently from China ("Hero," "House of Flying Daggers," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon").

Director J. Lee Thompson ("The Guns of Navarone") makes excellent use of the widescreen process, filling the entire frame with action. I say this, seeing only the full screen version, since it is clear from what remains there was plenty to fill the screen, while key action was wisely staged center screen.

Curtis is effective in the difficult role of Andre, Taras Bulba's son. However, Yul Brynner is phenomenal as Taras Bulba. Too bad he's not on screen more. Christine Kaufman is decorative, but her scenes with Curtis are too meager to be truly effective.

One hopes a widescreen DVD soon becomes available; or, at least, Turner or ENCORE ACTION shows the movie in letterbox. The version I previewed on FLIX showed some signs of damage. Flawed or not, "Taras Bulba" is well worth an "8" on my scale of 10.
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Historically inaccurate
gunjinokanrei21 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
While I admire Yul Brynner as Bulba, as well as those breathtaking battle scenes, I must say some idiotic historical inaccuracies in this movie took out a bit of fun while watching it.

1st of all, costumes. Especially those silly Russian-style shirts on both sons in tavern scene. Polish army outfits.

2nd - cossacks (ukrainian Cossacks - NOT Russian cossacks) were mostly infantry, they were renowned by being best foot-soldiers of their time. While many horse raiders look great on widescreen it's not really true.

3rd - some music used in movie is actually Russian! Ukrainian Cossacks from 16th century sing Russian song from 19th century??? Kalinka-Malinka is NOT Ukrainian song! In general, while watching this movie I see a lot of Russian-based influences, interesting where and why they came from. In 16th century Russia was unimportant and weak country, still bearing heritage of Kyiv Rus' and paying tribute to Golden Horde in order to survive. Hence she has no significant, if at all, influence on her neighbors. But in movie we see Brynner speak with Russian accent, Cossacks sing Russian songs and dancing weird dances (this is NOT hopak, Ukrainian traditional dance) What we see here is yet another example of old Hollywood blockbuster movie made without serious historical research, and yes, it's really great that to-day movies are made using totally different approach - instant examples are Gladiator, Rome TV-series or With Fire and Sword.

All in all, movie is good, but remember: Ukrainians are NOT Russians, and in Ukrainian language Zaporostsi is pronounced Za-po-ro-zh-tsee.
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How to rule the world
rob-143712 March 2006
I have not seen Taras Bulba for many years and just came online to try and buy a copy. No mention of it at all on Amazon, as if it had never existed. No-one could ever forget the contest as the horses jump the gradually widening ravine, and the defeat in victory for the young Andrei (Tony Curtis) as the old warrior dies. When my wife married me nearly 20 years ago she reminded me of the times I had quoted the polish commander, excuse me if it is not quite accurate but it went something like this. "If we could harness the power of love we could rule the world" So many have tried other ways but still only the power of love will overcome all in the end.
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Great battle scenes, totally predictable script about Cossack fight for independence.
bullett-326 February 2000
A Romeo and Juliet plot wherein Tony Curtis falls in love with a Polish princess on first sight. He later betrays father, brother, friends, and his homeland, because he had one date with the princess. Well, O.K. From the first moment that we see the princess we know exactly where we are going. Needless to say the most important thing in the fathers life is driving the Poles from 16th Century Ukraine. And here the son betrays all, and runs off with a polish princess. Yul Bryner is Taras Bulba , a pure warrior Cossack. He loves his Steppes, his sons, his friends, his horse, his sword, and his wife. In that order. Of course Yul overacts but given what he is supposed to be, well who can blame him. And after all who else could have played this part.But really,Tony Curtis as a 16th century Cossck. Well O.K.,but with the perfect hairdo, perfect teeth, and perfect blue eyes......it just doesnt seem as if Tony has spent much time mowing his front lawn, let alone invading, raping, and pillaging much of Eastern Europe. The battle scenes are wonderful, and we get the full effect of cavalry battles. They are really quite rousing. They however are the only things that save this film. As such I give this film a SEVEN.
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They don't make 'em like this anymore!
azcowboysingr27 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I first saw Taras Bulba when it was a theatrical release, & then again on TV once...it is one of those films that, once seen, can never be forgotten. From the thrilling theme music to the haunting love score, the musical director proved himself the equal of MGM's Korngold. The visual impact of the sweeping granduer of the Argentine pampas (substituting for the Russian Steppes...remember, this film was made back when the Communists would not allow Americans behind the Iron Curtain to make "decadent Capitalist" movies). To my dying day, I will never forget those scenes of thousands of Cossacks (no CGI...it hadn't been invented yet...there really were 1,000's of actors on horseback!) charging at full gallop, brandishing cavalry sabers & yelling "ZAPAROSTI!" at the top of their lungs.

Tony Curtis would not have been my first choice to cast as the son of a Cossack Chieftain (a fine actor but way too skinny). Ahhh...but Yul Brynner...what a magnificent stroke of casting genius! If Brynner wasn't a real Gypsy Prince, he should've been. The scene in which Taras must kill his own son for betraying the Cossack Brotherhood to the enemy over the love of a woman is one of the most powerful and sobering on film.

The dialogue, while perhaps a bit "corny" to modern teenagers, strikes an honest chord with those of us who grew up believing that honor & courage are still something that men should strive to protect...with their lives if necessary. When one of the drunken Cossacks calls Curtis' character "a coward", precipitating a deadly horse race across a huge crevasse that means certain death to one of them, Brynner's wife begs Taras to call off the contest, saying "It was only a word!" Brynner calmly (and a bit sadly) replies, "Some words are worth dying over."

All in all, I rate this film 9 out of 10. If it has one flaw, it would be expecting the audience to believe that a wimpy little guy like Tony Curtis could successfully compete in a contest of strength with someone as muscular & solidly built as Yul Brynner. That part really needed someone like Steve Reeves, or Gordon Scott...even Aldo Ray would've been a better choice as Taras' son. If you haven't seen this classic movie, I urge you to do so as soon as possible...even on late night TV if necessary, commercials & all.
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Taras Bulba
markiw4 May 2005
Taras Bulba is a movie about the Ukrainian Cossacks and not Russian Cossacks! The Ukrainian land was independent and not part of Czarist Russia in the 16th century, the time the movie portrays.

Taras Bulba shows the fighting spirit of the Ukrainian Cossacks fighting to defend Ukraine form their enemies. My favorite part of the movie was when young Andrij Bulba asks his father Taras Bulba why the Ukrainian Cossacks did not wear armor like the Poles. Taras showed his son a cross around his neck and told his son that that is the Ukrainian Cossacks armor.

It is a movie about the best European fighters of that era and is a very fun and exciting movie.
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mikemoldovan2 February 2006
I agree with most of the posts. However, one area that does not get attention is the soundtrack to the movie. When the Cossacks gather and ride to the Polish city to fight, the music is truly great. Having seen the movie over 40 years ago I can still hear the music of the ride to Dubnoi over and over in my head. I find it intoxicating!! Yul Brenner is made for the part of Tarus. I could never see Tony Curtis as a Ukrainian prince and his looks do not fit the part. He is however a Hungarian of Eastern European descent. This is a fun movie that has a great score, cinematography, and some interesting scenes and performances. The Yul Brenner song is laughable though.
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Impressive battles and loving intrigue with a sensational duo : Yul Brynner and Tony Curtis
ma-cortes5 February 2007
From Harold Hecht production comes the magnificent presentation of Nicholas Gogol's undying story of the mighty chief charging against the Poles into strange lands of the steps . Taras Bulba with his tribes wager war through the long corridors of courage . At this time Polish rule over Ukraine , they join forces with the Cossacks to vanquish the Turks . One time are defeated they force to the Cossacks to live on bad lands . Taras Bulba (Yul Brynner) sends his sons (originally was hired Burt Lancaster but role subsequently was to Tony Curtis and Perry Lopez) to a Polish school . There they encounter hatred , confrontation , struggles but also love when Curtis is enamored with the daughter (Austrian actress Christine Kauffman , she met Tony Curtis on the set and later married him) of a Polish nobleman .

The film gets noisy action , adventures , romance , jarring burst of violence and results to be quite entertaining . Breathtaking battles well staged with thousands of extras displayed by Army of Argentina where was actually shot . Besides , it contains exciting rider races with bounds and leaps over cliffs as well as horses and men falling into the deep . Actors interpretation is more distinguishing , it features of otherwise routine spectacle . Brynner as a straight-talking , savvy chief leading his tribe is superb . He's perfect as a proud , wise and stalwart leader . Brynner plays one of his usual oriental or exotic roles (similarly to Brothers Karamazov , King and I , Salomon , Ten Commandments). Tony Curtis turns a fine performance . Brynner and Curtis together for the first time , like father and like son in this exciting adventure . Tony Curtis plays Yul Brynner's son, but Curtis was only five years younger than Brynner in real life . Perry Lopez and Curtis are also "college students" , when in real life they are about age of 37 . The secondary casting is frankly good such as : Brad Dexter , Sam Wanamaker , Guy Rolfe , Abraham Sofaer and Vladimir Sokoloff's last film , among others . Spectacular and epic musical score by Franz Waxman . Colorful and glamorous cinematography filmed amid the splendor of its original locale by Joe McDonald . The motion picture was brilliantly directed by J. Lee Thompson (Guns of Navarone , Cape fear) , though in his finale career directed Charles Bronson vehicles . The Nikolai Gogol story titled ¨Taras Bulba¨ was formerly filmed in France (1936) , England (1963) and Italy (1963) by Ferdinando Baldi . The movie will appeal to Yul Brynner fans and costumer enthusiasts .
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Book is much better than this film
esteban174722 September 2003
So many years have passed when I read Taras Bulba in Russian. This was by the way the first Gogol's novel I read, but I always enjoyed this author. Gogol wrote most of his novels in Russian and some others in Ucranian languages, and this Bulba was not Russian as many people believe, instead he was Ucranian Cosack. The name Taras was popular in Ucraine but not in Russia, and the war between greek-orthodox Ucranian and Belorrussian with catholic Poles was nearly eternal. That's why these countries decided to unite themselves so many centuries ago with also orthodox Russia while Poland always looked for partnership with Lithuania. The main differences were religious, and only when the dangerous Turks attacked them you could find Poles fighting together with Khokhols (Ucranian people). In my opinion this epic film of Taras Bulba is a bit vulgar and not reflecting well the differences between slav people (Poles were slavs too). In the film it seems that Cosacks attacked Poles because they just wanted to do it, and no mention of invasiveness of Poles at that time in the name of Catholic Church. The sudden return of Bulba's sons from Kiev was a pure invention. They both finished well Polish school, and Taras knew the advantages of educating them there, but certainly Andrei felt in love with Natasha, and finally betrayed his father and his people. Taras was tough with himself and his family, but was also intelligent and educated, far to be a wild person as it is shown in the film. The film shows too many scenes of drinking and heavily eating by cosacks, it is impossible to deny that they did it heavily but it was more civilized, and far to be as wild as shown here. May be in the future a more successful remake can be done, more similar to the original Gogol's version.
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So Bad It's Almost Good
wforstchen27 March 2005
Like a couple of other reviewers I remember seeing this film as a kid at a riotous Saturday matinée. For weeks afterwards we played cossacks, even found a ravine in a landfill where I lived in NJ to play out one of the scenes. We were lured into seeing it with a great "trailer" of cossacks running riot, fighting, horses galloping about. It looked cool. The absolutely wretched love story that took over most of the film almost triggered a riot in the theater that day.

This is one of those epics films that I like to describe as "so bad it's almost good." The writing is awful, the so called epic scenes tend to be ridiculous, a couple of thousand extras might have helped, and of course a overly mushy love story is thrown in, complete to the soft focus scenes. (David Lean could pull off the soft focus over and over in Zhivago but whoever directed this turkey simply made them laughable.) And yet. . . I just love Yul. He looks the part of a cossack and he plays the part. Tony, in contrast is absurd. I guess he just couldn't shave his head to the traditional cossack style so it get's explained away as adopting the "Polish" style. The parties though, and the riding around. What a kick. When I saw this film again in grad school with my Polish girl friend at my side, it triggered our first real fight. I roared over the line, "put your trust in the sword and the sword in the Pole," (Freud would have loved that one!) and she just freaked. She then announced she would enjoy attending the party as it unfolded on my dorm room TV, a thought I found appealing in regards to her, but I made a comment that I would be hung before I'd let my as yet hypothetical daughter go to one. That really set the girl friend off with accusations of sexism.

In fact this movie and "The Vikings" finally inspired us to stage a "barbarian party," a riotous success which is still legend with our friends, I won't go into the details but it was great, everyone in costume, food and drinking horns filled with beer flying about, etc.

But back to the film. The book is remarkable, in fact when I use to teach Russian history it was required reading. It appealed to me not only as the great Ukranian epic but the sci fi author as well, a model actually for the great heroic epic fantasies of Howard, Lamb, DeCamp and others. In contrast the film could actually be a case study in how Hollywood can turn an epic book into smush, and then lure kids into seeing it with a great trailer of a bunch of guys riding around.

And definitely do not miss Yul singing the "Cossack song," absolutely hysterical. If you can dig up a few Ukranian friends to sit with you, do so, and watch them go berserk! It would be like their making a movie in Kiev about George Washington and casting Danny DeVito in the lead, building a couple of log cabins out in the middle of the real Ukranian steppes (and I've been there) and saying its Valley Forge.

And yet, if it ran again tonight at midnight, I know I'd watch it. . .the same way I'd watch a train wreck.

A final note. Tony was insane. Janet Leigh was ten times (dare I say it?) "the babe" when compared to his co-star in this film whom he later married.
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Odd political stance
regalhistory18 February 2008
Taras Bulba, a loose version of the Gogol short story, is a strange film. I found myself asking what the political statement was? First Yul Brenner is wonderful as he chews his way through the dialog and scenery. He loves to throw his chest out and spout 'important' lines about freedom and freeishness. However, the film drops the anti-semitism of the original--Gogol blames it all on the Jews of course. Being made in 1962 just as the Cold War is getting going the theme seems a bit peculiar. The Cossacks are fighting for their freedom from the devilish Poles. At the time the film was made the real Polish people had suffered horrifying cruelty during WWII at the hands of the Cossacks and their Russian masters, and Poland was being absorbed into the Soviet sphere loosing their freedom for the next half century. Who do we root for, the Cossacks or the Poles? Ceriantly not those heathen commies!
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Not without its flaws, but big, colorful and engaging nonetheless
Poseidon-32 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
What could have been one of the strongest epic films of the early 60's is weakened by the miscasting of Curtis, a few studio-imposed cuts and some really juvenile-looking matte work in the city scenes. Brynner plays the title character, a Cossack warrior, fighting against the more civilized Poles who rule over the territory in which he lives (the Steppes.) For a time, the two peoples exist in a sort of peace, but eventually the restless and proud Cossacks tire of the oppression they feel from the Poles and a major conflict arises. Unfortunately for Brynner, he has shipped his sons off to Kiev in order to educate them in the civilized Polish ways and, not only has the education had an affect on one son's (Curtis's) thinking, but Curtis has fallen for a young noblewoman (Kaufmann) and this later complicates things greatly when the war erupts. Brynner felt more deeply about this role than practically any other in his career (including The King of Siam) and he immersed himself in it fully. Though he complained about the editing of his performance, he is clearly perfect for the part and does an admirable job. He took an extra $100,000 to soften the blow of second-billing to Curtis and it was that casting that throws the film off track. Aside from the fact that Brynner and his olive-skinned wife would hardly have produced a son with pool-blue eyes, a pompadour and a Brooklyn accent, Curtis adopts an acting style that is wildly erratic. Though he clearly tries to bring depth and passion to the serious scenes (with middling results), he offers a quirky, irreverent take during other scenes and this seems both out-of-place and cheap in the midst of the serious goings-on in the story. Kaufmann (only seventeen at the time of filming, but already a ten-year veteran of the cinema!) is lovely and cries beautifully, but that's almost all she is ever given to do. She and Curtis make an attractive and appealing couple, but their relationship is never as realistic or as fleshed-out as one might hope. (They fell in love during the filming and married soon after in real-life.) Other notable cast members include a nearly unrecognizable Dexter as Brynner's brother, razor-thin Rolfe as the chief Polish antagonist, MacCready as Kaufmann's stern father and Rust as her handsome, but detestable, brother. Rust is so mysterious and captivating in his few brief moments that one longs to have seen more of him. His career seems to have been stifled by type-casting as unsympathetic henchmen (see "Walk on the Wild Side" for more of him.) A truly marvelous score by Waxman is reminiscent of "The Sabre Dance" at times. It adds considerably to the film. What hurts is the focus on Curtis over Brynner and the cuts that were made in order to whittle this gigantic story down to a movie that could play three times an evening. Also, the sets and backdrops for Kiev look like something more suited to "The Student Prince" or "The Pirate" than a serious story like this. A few unfortunate rear-projection shots mar a few of the outdoor riding scenes as well. Though a few changes were made from the source novella, the story adheres fairly closely to the original. One thing that stands out here is an unintentional (?) homoerotic subtext. Brynner and Curtis can't keep their hands off each other and are often hugging, kissing, wrestling and even caressing in some scenes! Curtis and his brother sleep in a dormitory with many athletically-built students in skimpy pajama shorts and both gentlemen are stripped and whipped frequently. It's an imperfect film, but an interesting one with many virtues, many of which have been buried in the bad reviews and lost sands of time. A widescreen DVD would surely grant the movie more attention as it contains massive spectacle with the Argentine Army pitching in to make sure the battle sequences aren't puny looking. There's a lot worse out there in the way of historical epics than this.
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It's for everyone who loves a sweeping spectacle of a film.
Bond-5418 September 1999
I first saw Taras Bulba when I was 13. Seeing it now (1999) I'm still impressed with this sweeping historic tale of Poles vs. Cossacks on the Russian Steppes! The Argentine Pampas was used for the Steppes and the cinematography is so grand it gets across the fierce love the Cossacks have for their land. Yul Brynner, with bold posturing and stirring statements of courage,connects you to the story as well. Tony Curtis and Christine Kaufmann provide the "Romeo & Juliet" love story. It's not everything that Nikolai Gogol presented in his classic novel, but powerful enough in its visuals alone to stay with you a lifetime.
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Worth watching for its shedding light on the world of the steppes.
pronker8 November 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Filmed in Argentina, Taras Bulba suffices to show broad expanses just made for horsemanship, which we see plenty of. It's been years since I've ridden, but I remember the thrill of feeling horseflesh respond powerfully to my direction, and that's worth the watch.

Now for particulars: Brynner fills the bill for patriotic, charismatic leaders born to the Cossack way of life; Curtis and Lopez are okay in their roles, though Lopez hadn't enough to do, IMHO; Kaufmann served as pretty, elegant love interest with her elevated status as noblewoman meaning that Curtis just couldn't resist idealizing her and eventually giving up his existence for her in a convoluted way. The other Cossacks served pretty interesting roles as Ousted Leader dying ignobly, stupid Outspoken, Drunken Partygoer dying for bravura without a single scream as his life ended, and Woman Who Stands By Her Man (Mrs. Bulba) not dying, though maybe she wanted to after learning her husband killed her son.

Finally, I liked the horsemanship most in this movie, The scenes of gathering clans resonated, I found no fault with the castle backdrop (matte work? I guess so.) and any costuming accuracy errors. The politics I could ignore in a heartbeat, because, well, horses.
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Prime Candidate for the Flamboyantly Bad Movie Hall of Fame
Danusha_Goska7 November 2010
"Taras Bulba" is a prime candidate for the Flamboyantly Bad Movie Hall of Fame. It's sad to give a thumbs-down review to a movie that features the late, and missed, Yul Brynner, but hey – I'm a Cossack, and I skewer babies for lunch.

"Taras Bulba" offers two attractions: exhibitions of burly Cossack manhood, and hatred of Poles. The lead singers of the Village People – a cowboy, a construction worker, a cop – look like little girls in comparison to "Taras Bulba"'s Cossacks.

Burly macho Cossacks duel by racing their horses over a widening crack in the earth; the first to slip into the crack loses (and presumably dies), but receives a eulogy worthy of a Burly Cossack. Burly Cossacks walk a plank over a pit of fighting bears while chugging vodka, they lift up off the ground a fully grown horse on which sits a fully grown rider, they chop off the hand of an evil Polish character, they plunge their newborn baby boys into freezing cold streams, they lay siege to a city and party down while its citizens die of plague. Cossacks wrestle with their dads, kill their loved ones, trample their hetmans, ignore their wives, orgy with Gypsies, vault on extemporized trampolines, and thunder across the steppes in carefully choreographed ballet that would make Busby Berkeley's heart beat like those prancing horse's hooves and his eyes well up with envy and admiration.

With all of that, how can this movie suck so bad, and be such a painful, boring slog to sit through? Direction, production, set design, dialogue: nothing works here. Other than Yul Brynner, nothing in this movie comes together. Well – the horses are nice.

An epic doesn't have to be real – it has to create a conceivable alternate world. In what conceivable alternate world is it possible that Yul Brynner is the biological father of Tony Curtis? You get the picture.

Neither Yul Brynner nor Charlton Heston is a believable ancient Egyptian, but they are utterly believable as each other's nemesis in "The Ten Commandments." Yul Brynner was a real live Russian wild man. When Brynner had lung cancer, he continued to do the demanding waltz in the stage production of "The King and I." Tony Curtis was Bernard Schwartz of the undying Bronx accent who, in fights, used to protect his pretty face because he knew it was his fortune. These two are not related; on screen they clash as if colliding while walking home from the sets of two different films.

Movies can do hate in gripping, even if morally bankrupt ways; we've known that since "Birth of a Nation." But "Taras Bulba"'s hatred of Poles is laughable. Poles here are not dumb Polaks. They are, rather, snobbish noblemen, too effete to fight, and sadomasochistic Catholics who order the torture of Cossacks and then kneel before a crucifix as the torture is carried out. The real sadomasochists are the filmmakers who created these scenes and the audience members who receive a pleasurable, anti-clerical thrill while watching them. The caricature is so two-dimensional no matter what twisted thing the movie has the Poles do – eventually they tie a pretty girl to a stake – it's boring. Yeah, yeah, the viewer wants to scream at the screen. You want me to hate the Poles. Ho, hum. Can't you get this lead balloon of a movie off the ground? Who was behind this bomb, anyway? Was it a desire on some Hollywood mogul's part to get back at the Poles? But then why cast Cossacks as the heroes, given the many populations brutalized by this warrior people, including those who suffered under the Cossacks who allied themselves with Hitler? The source material, Nikolai Gogol's novel, is anti-Polish, but it is also anti-Semitic; Jewish characters did not make it into this film version. I don't know the backstory behind this film, and the film itself is such a bore I can't bring myself to research the question.
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Lively historical epic, slightly undone by a soppy romantic subplot.
barnabyrudge7 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
"Taras Bulba" is a film by the prolific J. Lee-Thompson, and comes directly after two of his most fondly remembered films – "The Guns Of Navarone" and "Cape Fear". Sadly, Thompson is not able to record his third critical hit in a row with "Taras Bulba". While the film has plenty of lively set pieces, stirring music by Franz Waxman, an enjoyable performance by Yul Brynner, and epic widescreen cinematography by Joe MacDonald, it falls short in a handful of other departments. There's a romantic subplot, written in a manner that makes it seem over-ripe and soppy. There's a lack of historical and geographical authenticity which is hard to overlook. And, apart from Brynner as the titular character, too many of the actors are guilty of over-exaggerated performances.

The Ukrainian Cossacks, led by the talismanic Taras Bulba (Yul Brynner), fight a battle against Turk invaders. They are assisted in their fight by an army of Poles, led by Prince Grigory (Guy Rolfe). Grigory makes a deal with the Cossacks that if their joint forces win the battle, he will reward them by granting them control of the Steppes of Eastern Europe. But once the battle concludes with victory, the Poles go back on their word and betray their Cossack allies. The Cossacks retreat into the hills, where Taras Bulba contemplates how he will one day have his revenge upon the treacherous Poles. He eventually decides to send his two sons – Andrei (Tony Curtis) and Ostap (Perry Lopez) – to a Polish university, where it is intended that they learn all there is to know about the ways and customs of their enemy. The plan begins to fall apart when Andrei falls in love with Polish noblewoman Natalia Dubrov (Christine Kaufmann). Andrei is torn between his love for Natalia and his devotion to his own people's cause. Later, when his son's split loyalties become clear, Taras Bulba also finds himself torn between his love for his son and his need to lead the Cossacks against the Poles.

"Taras Bulba" is a film that sounds great when described, but the actual article doesn't quite live up to its potential. I've already made clear my feelings about the romantic subplot involving Andrei and Natalia, but the over-ripeness and soppiness that plague these scenes are only half of the problem. For the film to reach the devastating tragic climax it seems to be aiming for, Andrei and Natalia's relationship needs to be convincing. We need to feel for them; we need to be fully absorbed in their dilemma of loyalties; we need to be moved by the terrible ironies that bring the film to its supposedly sad conclusion. But we aren't. "Taras Bulba" is ten times more effective when concentrating on spectacular action and epic-scale battles. For these scenes alone it remains a film well worth watching. But it's those attempts to turn it into a tear-jerker – an epic for the soft-at-heart, if you like – that simply don't work, and pull the film significantly downwards.
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Epic Story Needs Much More of an Epic Screenplay!
schweinhundt19674 May 2003
This is such an enjoyable,and fun movie,that I add this review not in a spirit of criticism,but,rather,as a note of how it could have been even better.The reviewer from Salzburg,Austria mentioned that there were a number of points that could have been drawn out of the script.I am in agreement with that person,and wish to discuss the fact that,with a more developed screenplay,a B level swashbuckler could have achieved the status of "Lawrence of Arabia"or "Fall of the Roman Empire."

1.)First,we need to have some scenes indicating that the Cossacks(Ukrainians)are quite leery of the Poles,viewing them as a colonial ,imperialistic power.

2.)Next,a scene would have helped where Mykola,reluctantly agrees to ally the Cossack forces with the Polish army.Taras should have been adamantly opposed,and Filipenko could have revealed,much earlier,his venal,greedy,mercenary character.In this fashion,when Mykola blamed himself AFTER the rout,he would have been seen as a truly fallen leader.AND,when,years later,he decides to ally the Cossacks again with the Poles,he could have been shown as a leader demonstrating a lack of good judgement who was willing to become ethically compromised.That way,Taras' usurpation of the role of hetman would have been more believable.

3.)The initial battle scene could have been a lot better.400 Turks chase onto the field,and clash with the Poles.The the Cossacks appear,and chase the Turks off again.BIG DEAL!

4.)Prince Grigori was a dope.He stands alone with a dozen barbarous cutthroats,unarmed,with no guards,and openly reveals his treachery.If you're going to double cross someone,you don't do it when you're alone,unprotected,and in a position when they can retaliate.You do it when they're not around,and,in the best of circumstances,they don't even know that you did it.When Taras cut off his hand,Grigori left himself open for it.(I guess you have to hand it too him,no?)

5.)We need more scenes between Taras and Sofia,to establish their love.And what,exactly,is Shilo's relationship with the family-brother,father,henchman?

6.)The scenes in Kiev are well-handled up to the point when Ostap kills Alex.Then,within 45 seconds,the entire city is aroused,with patrols of cavalry,posses of students,rows of armed soldiers all out on the prowl.Maybe should have had the boys arrested,and then they escape with Natalie's help.That way,her outraged father would REALLY have had some justification for sending her away.

7.)Could have added some background for the Trial by Combat of jumping over the ravine.We just have an insulting argument,and decide to settle it right afterward.

8.)The gathering of the horde is first rate.Couldn't have been better.Music is good,too. 9.)Need a more detailed power struggle between Mykola and Taras.It's been my observation that,given the choice between nationalistic fervor and money,the financial aspects will win out every time.

10.)The siege of the city would probably have required a number of months,both to let the food supply diminish,and to allow sanitary conditions to decline and allow the plague to spread.A change of seasons,and accompanying weather clues would have helped.

11.)The final battle,with the Polish cavalry being forced over the cliff,wasn't terribly good.The miniatures of men and horses falling wasn't at all realistic.

If I offer these observations,it is only because i feel that a good costume drama could have been made even better.It's still a rousing story,with fine acting,dealing with a little understood part of European history.
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Good for Saturday Afternoon
moonchildiva3 January 2005
I saw this movie in the theatre when I was a kid and even then I was slightly angered by the slams on Poles in it... but in some ways, I guess I could understand too, and anyway, I remember liking it, I never forgot it. This movie's lost in a time warp though - it seems like it was made in 1942 not 1962. I enjoyed it even with all the horses running in it, over & over. And over. The highlight for me was the close up of Richard Rust as Captain Alex - as far as I'm concerned, he outswaggered the other Moonchild in the movie, Yul. I watched this on a Saturday afternoon, I own it, and I recommend it for lazy Saturday viewing. Who's prettier than Tony Curtis?? Well, I'd say Richard Rust, but actually, nobody (maybe Tyrone Power.) Taras Bulba's a film for many people for many reasons!
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Curtis as Brynner's COSSACK son? NOT!
Psalm5216 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This film is not as impressive as some IMDb reviewers hint. It has overall poor production design and even worse set design. The Kiev sequence reeks of studio backlot and it shows. The matte drawings have a cartoon-like way of NOT helping set the era of the story. Waldo Salt's script is terrible. The casting of Brynner is brilliant, but then the casting of Curtis truly wrecks the film. The direction has a by-the-numbers feel to it that robs battle sequences of drama and the horses/soldiers going over the cliff is done w/ toy horses/soldiers KILLING any illusion of reality. Then again it was made in 1962, but still ... epics were an established genre and this is not an epic film. The Curtis/Kaufman love subplot is unbelievable. There's one scene near the end when Brynner and Curtis face off and it's a textbook example of serious acting (Brynner) and matinée idol posturing (Curtis). Skip this film if at all possible.
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This could have been a movie filling in our knowledge gap about Russian history, particularly the origins of the Cossacks but it became a love story.
Deusvolt28 July 2004
The Cossacks, a distinct ethnic group in Czarist Russia, is in a life and death struggle with the Poles about territory. Led by Taras Bulba (Brynner), they stand toe-to-toe with the invaders. What could have been a national epic was sidelined into a corny love story between the son of Bulba (played by Tony Curtis) and a Polish princess (Kristine Kauffman).

Romance between Kauffman, the 17-year old rising starlet, and the very much married Tony Curtis (to Janet Leigh) was grist for the movie fanzines at the time.

It features the usual overacting of Brynner and the tepid performance of Curtis.
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