The Desert of the Tartars (1976)
"Il deserto dei tartari" (original title)

PG  |   |  Drama, History, War  |  29 October 1976 (Italy)
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Lieutenant Giovanni Drogo is assigned to the old Bastiani border fortress where he expects an imminent attack by nomadic fearsome Tartars.



(novel), (story) (as Andre G. Brunelin) , 3 more credits »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Lieutenant Giovanni Drogo
Colonel Giovanbattista Filimore
Giuliano Gemma ...
Major Matis
Helmut Griem ...
Lieutenant Simeon
Francisco Rabal ...
Marshal Tronk
Colonel Nathanson
Laurent Terzieff ...
Lieutenent Pietro Von Hamerling
Major Dr. Rovine
Captain Ortiz
Shaban Golchin Honaz ...
Private Lazare
Giuseppe Pambieri ...
Lieutenant Rathenau
Bryan Rostron ...
Von Armin
Kamran Nozad ...
Von Sern
Manfred Freyberger ...
Caporal Montagne


As his first assignment, lieutenant Drogo is sent to an isolated fortress on the borders of a desert and of a range of high mountains. The mission of the garrison is to prevent a possible incursion by the fearsome Tartars, coming from beyond the desert. Some fellow officers are eagerly awaiting an attack; some no longer want to believe in it; others take advantage of the vague threat to further their career. All of them are sacrificing everything -- health, youth, friends, family -- for a distant military ideal: leading the defence against the onslaught of the enemy. But in the vast emptiness surrounding the fortress, nobody has ever sighted the Tartars... Written by Eduardo Casais <>

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Drama | History | War


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Release Date:

29 October 1976 (Italy)  »

Also Known As:

The Desert of the Tartars  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
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Did You Know?


In West Germany and other countries the film was released under titles which mean translated back "The Desert of the Tatars". Obviously the editors in these countries missed that the original title does not refer to the actual Tatarian people but to the ancient Greek-Roman mythological "Tartars" (from the ancient Greek word "tartaros"). So "Tartars" in this context is not an outdated spelling of "Tatars", but an intended metaphor referring to the historical idea, that there are a people "coming from hell". See more »


Drogo: I was sent here by mistake.
Le médecin-major Rovin: Here or elsewhere, we're all somewhere by mistake.
See more »

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User Reviews

Imaginary enemies
17 July 2007 | by (London, England) – See all my reviews

Very little happens in Valerio Zurlini's The Desert of the Tartars two-and-a-half hours, which is exactly the point, as Jacques Perrin's initially ambitious young officer is posted to a magnificent desert fort overlooking the spectacular ruins of an ancient city on a non-existent border where soldiers wait endlessly for a possibly imagined enemy to give a sense of focus and purpose to their lives. Yet the Tartars remain the stuff of rumours and legends, the visually striking fort (Arge-E-Bam in Iran) a quietly malignant place, its very walls infested with an unidentifiable disease that slowly destroys its inhabitants. Yes, we're in allegory territory here, with the human condition distilled down to waiting and planning for a moment that may never happen, with all the malaise that entails, and it's a film you're either going to be drawn into or find two-and-a-half hours of pure tedium. One of the few films to show how cold and inhospitable the desert can be, there are vague similarities to the considerably less successful Fort Saganne in the way it undermines the expectations of a Beau Geste-like adventure in favour of the malaise and unrealised expectation that was really the stuff of a career-killing desert posting. With an impressively varied international cast – Max Von Sydow, Phillipe Noiret, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Helmut Griem and Fernando Rey among them – and boasting fine cinematography by Luciano Tovoli, it's not for all tastes but it certainly casts a spell on those it ensnares.

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