Taras Bulba is a 1962 film loosely based on Nikolai Gogol's short novel, Taras Bulba, starring Yul Brynner in the title role, and Tony Curtis as his son, Andriy, leaders of a Cossack clan on the Ukrainian steppes. The film was directed by J. Lee Thompson. The story line of the film is considerably different from that of Gogol's novel, although it is closer to his expanded 1842 (pro-Russian Imperial) edition than his original (pro-Ukrainian) version of 1835.
The film opens in the 16th century, when Russia and Eastern Europe were divided into small sections and principalities that fought each other or against one enemy: in this case, Turkey. It starts with a battle raging between the Turks and the Poles. The Poles are losing until the Cossacks arrive to save the day. However, it turns out that the Poles were merely holding back so that they could treacherously attack the Cossacks after they won the battle for them. As a result, the Poles become masters of Ukraine and the Cossacks are subjugated. Taras Bulba, one of the Cossack officers, returns home to raise his family but now it is under Polish dominion.
Several years later, Taras sends his two sons, Andriy (Tony Curtis) and Ostap (Perry Lopez) to the academy at Kiev, to obtain a Polish education. There, the eldest son, Andriy, falls in love with a Polish princess Natalia Dubrov (played by Christine Kaufmann), to the ire of the locals, who treat the Cossack brothers like scum of the earth. Ultimately, the brothers are forced to flee Kiev, returning to their father’s house on the Ukrainian steppes.
There, word comes that the Poles want the Cossacks to raise an army to help them in a new war in the Baltic region. When Andriy objects, he is accused of being a coward. This is a serious offense that can only be resolved by a test of courage. Andriy and his accuser ride and jump their horses over a chasm until God chooses which one is right by having the accuser fall to his death. Taras embraces Andriy’s lead and plans to betray the Poles and take back the Ukraine.
Assuming command of the Cossacks, Taras leads them to Dubno, where the Poles are expecting him to join them. Instead, the Cossacks attack the Polish army and drive it back into the city. The Cossacks then lay siege to the city. Hunger and disease set in and Andriy, fearing for the life of his Polish lover, sneaks into the city in an attempt to rescue her. He is captured and she is condemned to be burned at the stake for the crime of loving a Cossack. To save her, Andriy agrees to lead a raiding party to bring cattle into the starving city.
Meanwhile, the Cossacks have grown bored with the inactivity of the siege and a large number of them have departed for home. When the Polish commander realizes the weakness of the Cossacks against the raiding force, he orders his whole army to attack. Taras Bulba encounters his son on the field of battle and kills him for his betrayal before joining the general retreat to the edge of a cliff. There, the Cossacks who left the siege to go home, rejoin the battle and large numbers of men and horses, both Cossack and Polish, are pushed over the edge to their deaths in the river below.
The movie ends with the Cossacks victorious and entering Dubno. Andriy is to be buried there, as “it is now a Cossack city” and presumably, the Cossacks will not treat the Poles as badly as they were treated by them.
- Tony Curtis as Andriy Bulba
- Yul Brynner as Taras Bulba
- Christine Kaufmann as Natalia Dubrov
- Sam Wanamaker as Filipenko
- Brad Dexter as Shilo
- Guy Rolfe as Prince Grigory
- Perry Lopez as Ostap Bulba
- George Macready as Governor
- Ilka Windish as Sofia Bulba
- Vladimir Sokoloff as Old Stepan
- Vladimir Irman as Grisha Kubenko
- Daniel Ocko as Ivan Mykola
- Abraham Sofaer as Abbot
- Mickey Finn as Korzh
- Richard Rust as Capt. Alex
- Ron Weyand as Tymoshevsky
- Vitina Marcus as Gypsy princess
- Martine Milner as Redheaded girl (uncredited)
- Chuck Hayward as Dolotov (uncredited)
- Syl Lamont as Kimon Kander (uncredited)
- Ellen Davalos as Zina (uncredited)
- Marvin Goux as Brother Bartholomew (uncredited)
- Jack Raine as Mayor (uncredited)
The score was composed by Franz Waxman, and film composer Bernard Hermann considered it one of the best scores ever written. It is now available on a CD from the City of Prague Philharmonic.
Concurrent with the release of the film, Gold Medal Books, an imprint of Fawcett Publications, issued a tie-in screenplay novelization by Robert W. Krepps. An author who had established himself with brilliant adventure novels set in Africa, Krepps was also one of the great novelizers of the era, and his adaptation is typically stylish and compelling.
On 25 March 2008 this film was released on DVD in Regions 1 and 2. This is its first release on DVD. On 23 September 2014 a Blu-ray version was released by Kino Video in the United States.
The film was budgeted at $3.8 million but went $2.2 million over, and ended up causing United Artists to lose $4.5 million.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- 2005: AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores – Nominated
- List of American films of 1962
- Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry, University of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p. 155.
- "Top Rental Features of 1963", Variety, 8 January 1964, pg 71.
- Taras Bulba (1962) Filming Locations (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056556/locations) Retrieved 12/7/2013
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