Taras Bulba (1962) Poster


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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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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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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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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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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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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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