Taras Bulba is a 1962 American Color by Deluxe in Eastmancolor adventure film loosely based on Nikolai Gogol's novel Taras Bulba, starring Tony Curtis and Yul Brynner. 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.
|Directed by||J. Lee Thompson|
|Screenplay by||Waldo Salt|
|Based on||Taras Bulba|
by Nikolai Gogol
|Produced by||Harold Hecht|
|Edited by||Folmar Blangsted|
|Music by||Franz Waxman|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Box office||$3,400,000 (rentals)|
The film opens in the 16th century, when Ukraine, Russia, Poland and elsewhere in eastern Europe were divided into small sections and principalities that fought each other or against one enemy: in this case, the Ottoman Empire. 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 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.” By the words of Hetman Taras Bulba, the Cossacks will not treat the Poles as badly as they were treated by them: "We will not ravage. We will not pillage. We will burn out the plague, and open the supply wagons, and feed the people of our city."
The film was a long-time dream project for director Robert Aldrich who worked on it for five years. He said they did "four or five" scripts of the novel, the last of which was "sensational". In January 1959 it was announced the film would be made in Yugoslavia as a co production between Aldrich & Associates and Avala Films of Yugoslavia. The budget was to be $3 million and Anthony Quinn would play the lead. David Chantler wrote the script. It would be the first American-Yugoslavian co production.
Financing fell through at the last minute and the film was cancelled in March. Aldrich still wanted to make it but fell into financial trouble and ended up selling the script. In May 1959 it was announced Joseph Kaufman purchased the script and associated research materials from Aldrich for $100,000. Aldrich later claimed Kaufman was acting as a front for Harold Hecht.
Producer Harold Hecht had been associated with more social realist dramas when he was working with Burt Lancaster. He decided to do some projects without Lancaster, including an adaptation of Gogol's story. Hecht said "it was color, flamboyancy, but most of all, a strong personal story, difficult to come by in spectacle."
In February 1961 Harold Hecht signed Tony Curtis to a lead role, simultaneously negotiating a co-production deal with the actor's film production company, Curtleigh Productions. In July Yul Brynner's casting was announced. The same month it was stated that the director would be J. Lee Thompson, following Cape Fear. "The spectacle will come second," said Thompson. "The important things are the storyline, credibility and the characterizations." After doing a location of ten countries it was decided to film in Argentina.
The female lead was Christine Kaufman, who had been in Town without Pity. Harold Hecht signed her to a two-year six-film contract. The same month Van Heflin said he would be starring in a rival Taras Bulba movie to be shot in Europe.
Filming began in Argentina on 10 October 1961. The unit was based in the town of Salta. The Argentine shoot went until the end of the year then shooting took place in Hollywood until late February.
Thompson called Brynner "an open air actor who needs a big expanse, a big tour de force. He is a marvelous Taras and a fine actor, but should never play comedy." The director also admired Curtis saying "he has really fought and is so eager and he has never stopped working. His is a very romantic part but not as flashy as Yul's."
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. The score also serves as the theme tune to morning news programs Melo Del Prado sa Super Radyo DZBB, Buena Manong Balita, Super Radyo Nationwide & Saksi sa Dobol B, aired on the radio station DZBB in the Philippines.
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 the 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: