Taras Bulba [1962]

Director: J. Lee Thompson
Stars: Tony Curtis, Yul Brynner, Christine Kaufmann, Sam Wanamaker, Brad Dexter
Genre: Adventure, Drama, History
Rating: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Runtime: 122 minutes

"I will kiss the devil before my son wears a Polish collar!" declares Cossack warrior Taras Bulba, thus laying down the fundamental conflict of this epic film, based on the classic book by Russian novelist Nikolai Gogol. After the Polish army and the Cossacks defeat the Turks, the Poles betray their fierce collaborators in order to claim the Cossacks' ancestral home, the Steppes. Scattered, the Cossacks bide their time, and Bulba (Yul Brynner) sends his son Andrei (Tony Curtis) to a Polish college to learn the secrets of their culture. Though Andrei faces cruelty and prejudice, he falls in love with a Polish noblewoman, Natalia (Christine Kaufmann, a lovely German actress in one of her few English-language roles). Andrei, torn by love and loyalty to his people, risks everything in a desperate attempt to win Christine, even if it pits him against his own father. Taras Bulba is far from a great film--there are some laughable special effects, the battle scenes are confused and sluggish, and Curtis never quite loses his Bronx accent. Despite that, Curtis' star power comes through, and Yul Brynner tears up the screen with his amazing physical presence and emotional intensity; the man was truly a unique and compelling actor, who found only a few roles that suited him--this was one. By the end, Gogol's muscular plot catches you in its grip. The hypnotically gripping final scenes overcome all the cheesiness that came before. --Bret Fetzer

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