Taras Bulba J. Lee Thompson

Taras Bulba J. Lee Thompson
I’ll lay my savings on the probability that the Nikolai Gogol novel was better, but if you don’t have time to read it this schlock adaptation will facilitate one hell of an erroneous book report. Yul Brynner assays the title role, a proud Cossack who fights hard and parties harder. He sends his sons to college in the hopes that they’ll be accepted by their Polish peers, but no such luck. Number one son Tony Curtis (who is related to Yul Brynner the way I am related to Richard Nixon) makes the mistake of romancing a Pole and winds up nearly killed as a result. This doesn’t exactly thrill ever-vigorous papa, who when enlisted by the Poles to fight one of their wars decides instead to turn his troops against them. Problem: Curtis is now caught between his girlfriend and his people. Solution: big battle scene! There’s just enough good story here to suggest how it might be better handled by someone other than noted hack J. Lee Thompson. But that’s not to say you’d trade this movie for anything — the serious themes of ethnic pride and resistance make a hilarious contrast with the B-list epic campiness of the production and costume design. With the Cossack extras all wearing varying shades of saffron, it’s hard to take the plot seriously, but the earnestness with which the cheese is offered is touching enough to keep you rapt with attention. The final battle scene kind of stops it dead for a while, depriving us of the childlike speechifying that passes for a screenplay, but otherwise it’s a good tale tackily told and a wonderfully suspect dip into the well of "high culture,” Hollywood-style. (MGM)