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A "Romeo and Juliet" story that takes place in the late 16c. Ukraine. Taras has settled into comfortable farm life after years of adventures and swashbuckling with his cossack companions. Though not wealthy, he is able to send his son Andrei away to a Polish school. At this time the Poles are overlords of Ukraine and the origin of the cossacks is struggle of the Ukrainian serfs to free themselves and their land of Polish domination. Toward this end Taras hopes that his son will be educated in the ways of the enemy. Instead, Andrei falls in love with the daughter of a Polish nobleman, setting the stage for a clash between love, family honor, and a struggle for national identity. Written by
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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