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THE COSSACKS (Viktor Tourjansky and Giorgio Rivalta, 1960) **1/2
Some time ago, I'd watched the above-average peplum THE MONGOLS (1961), co-directed by Andre' De Toth and action sequences helmed by Riccardo Freda; back then, I had written that it was probably made in the wake of THE VIKINGS (1958) and that more epics in this vein followed with the film under review being one of them.
Interestingly, the father/son antagonism plot line here anticipates another favorite Hollywood spectacle TARAS BULBA (1962) though that was actually based on a famous Nikolai Gogol novel which had already been filmed at least twice before; anyway, the results in this case the narrative being slightly unbalanced by pageantry and local color were rather patchy (though not without interest). The latter, in fact, is mostly due to surprisingly nuanced leads (Edmund Purdom and John Drew Barrymore, both ex-Hollywood alumni who eventually became peplum regulars). The dual romance for the young protagonist (the Cossack leader's offspring had been bartered during an earlier struggle and, in the interim, received his education at a Russian military academy) is something of a cliché, but it's not too intrusive under the circumstances. In any event, coming into play towards the end when Barrymore is returned to his people so as to dissuade Purdom from keeping up his "holy war" the girlish rivalry complements the tense situation between father and son; besides, with Barrymore having at one point saved the hated Czar's life, the Cossack leader publicly disowned him in favor of a devoted warrior/follower who, naturally, doesn't appreciate now the unexpected re-appearance on the scene of the 'prodigal son'!
The film is typically climaxed by a sweeping battle with the Cossacks, greatly outnumbered, ending up decimated which is quite well done as these things go; however, it's undeniably enhanced by the inevitably tragic (and commendably abrupt) denouement as Purdom is forced to shoot down Barrymore (whom he perceives a coward for wanting to throw in the towel) but soon realizes it has been a desperate, unfortunate and merely futile gesture! By the way, THE COSSACKS has some notable credentials: co-scriptwriter Damiano Damiani and cinematographer Massimo Dallamano would both graduate to a director's position, ditto camera operator Sergio D' Offizi became a d.p. and work on such interesting and stylish fare as DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972); besides, the supporting cast includes the likes of "special guest star" Massimo Girotti (from OSSESSIONE  and THEOREM , appearing briefly as Alexander II), Giorgia Moll (from CONTEMPT , as Barrymore's Russian girlfriend) and Pierre Brice (the hero of the fine Gothic horror MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN , playing Moll's childhood friend and Barrymore's military companion).
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