Cast & Crew
J. Lee Thompson
After centuries of fighting for possession of the Ukraine, the Cossacks aid the Polish Army in 1550 by defeating the Turks and driving their soldiers over a steep cliff. Cossack leader Taras Bulba is invited to a Polish banquet celebrating the victory, but he and his men are betrayed by their hosts and forced to flee across the steppes. Later, Taras raises two sons, Andrei and Ostap, and eventually sends them to Kiev University to learn the ways of their enemies. The headstrong Andrei falls in love with Natalia, a young Polish noblewoman, but is considered unworthy of her because of his lowly birth. Driven back to his homeland after Natalia's brother dies in a fight with him and Ostap, Andrei finds that the Cossacks have amassed an army large enough to attack the Poles at Dubno. Taras and his men lay siege to the city, causing famine and pestilence, but Andrei sneaks inside the city walls when he learns that Natalia is trapped within. After he is captured trying to rescue her, Andrei agrees to raid the Cossack camp for food to prevent Natalia from being burned at the stake. Although Andrei succeeds in getting her to safety, he is shot down as a traitor by Taras; the Cossack leader is humbled, however, by the sight of Natalia weeping over his son's body.
J. Lee Thompson
Howard A. Anderson
Joan St. Oegger
Brynner stars as the title warlord, a Cossack whose comrades are killed by treacherous Poles in the sixteenth-century Ukraine following a battle against the Turks. Taras breeds his young son, Andrei (Tony Curtis), to infiltrate the Poles and avenge his people, but the plan is complicated when Andrei falls in love with a Polish princess, Natalia (Christine Kaufmann of Town Without Pity, 1961), which sets off a chain of battles, shootings, machismo contests, boozing, brawling, and an attempted burning at the stake.
The fact that Polish Jews were the victims of Bulba's attacks proved to be an early sticking point when Brynner recruited popular historical novelist Howard Fast to write the screenplay. When Fast refused to soften the implications of the borderline ethnic cleansing involved in the story, blacklisted writer Waldo Salt and Karl Tunberg were brought in to write the final script, with Harold Hecht (Sweet Smell of Success, 1957) producing. J. Lee Thompson, a skilled hand at action and suspense sequences after his polished work on The Guns of Navarone (1961) and the underrated Tiger Bay (1959), was brought in to helm the production, with Brynner throwing himself full force into the role. As his son Rock recalls in his biography of his father (Yul: The Man Who Would Be King), the actor "worked hard to create a rich, robust character for Taras, whom he described as a mythical figure...Yul wanted to track this character over the decades, to show how his idealistic nationalism exceeded his paternal instinct. He even proposed that the movie be filmed strictly in sequence-that way, when he was playing Taras as an old man, he could have the caps taken off his front teeth. There was never a film Yul cared about more, not even The Brothers Karamazov ."
Unfortunately the finished result would be compromised by a number of factors, particularly the various editors who ignored many of the rhythms established by the performances and story structure. However, for Brynner the biggest blow was the casting of Curtis (stepping in after Burt Lancaster left the production), who took top billing with Brynner accepting additional money to slip down to second-billed status despite playing the title role. Furthermore, Curtis' marriage to Janet Leigh dissolved while he became involved with co-star Kaufmann (with whom he shared some remarkably steamy on-screen love scenes), adding further distress to an already unstable production.
Leigh's on-set visit to the filming in Argentina proved disastrous, as Curtis describes in Tony Curtis: The Autobiography: "It turned out not to be such a good idea. Janet got food poisoning, I got a throat infection, and Jamie got hurt in a fall. So they went home early... I started seeing Christine during Taras Bulba, but she had nothing to do with the bust-up of my marriage. It coincided, and there was a lot of heat that Christine had caused it, but that wasn't true. My relationship with Janet had become untenable long before that."
According to Rock Brynner, "the end result [of Taras Bulba] was so far from his original dream as to be unrecognizable, and for several nights thereafter he hardly slept. There, and then, once and for all, something inside him broke." The Curtis/Leigh split (which happened as she was filming Bye Bye Birdie, 1963) became a tabloid-worthy story which quickly overshadowed Curtis' star vehicle, and Brynner felt that one of his best performances would never truly see the light of day. However, Curtis recalled the production more kindly, calling it "an unforgettable experience, and Yul Brynner, a charming and funny man, was to me the most fascinating of those players. He had a fabulous pomposity about him. An aloofness. A sense of grandeur about himself and everything he did."
Whatever its shortcomings in the editing or dialogue departments (one choice line: "There's only one way to keep faith with a Pole. Put your faith in your sword and your sword in the Pole"), Taras Bulba is certainly never dull and benefits from both its fiery Brynner performance and Thompson's steady action staging, complete with a reputed 10,000 Argentinean extras, blatantly non-ASPCA-approved horse stunts, and some of the most extreme violence seen on motion picture screens at the time. The film also features a particularly robust music score by one of Hollywood's finest golden age composers, Franz Waxman (Rebecca , Sunset Blvd. ), who skillfully integrates traditional Russian classical sounds into his furious orchestral arrangements. However, perhaps the film's greatest and most enduring contribution to worldwide culture is its unforgettable plague sequence, which inspired the "Bring out your dead!" sequence in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).
Producer: Harold Hecht
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Screenplay: Waldo Salt and Karl Tunberg, Nikolai Gogol (novel)
Cinematography: Joseph MacDonald
Art Direction: Edward Carrere
Music: Franz Waxman
Film Editing: Folmar Blanksted, Gene Milford, William Reynolds, and Eda Warren
Cast: Andrei Bulba (Tony Curtis), Taras Bulba (Yul Brynner), Filipenko (Sam Wanamaker), Shilo (Brad Dexter), Prince Grigory (Guy Rolfe), Ostap Bulba (Perry Lopez).
by Nathaniel Thompson
TCM Remembers - J. Lee Thompson
TCM REMEMBERS J. LEE THOMPSON, 1914 - 2002
Oscar-nominated director J. Lee Thompson died August 30th at the age of 88. Though he worked in several genres, Thompson was best-known for his action films. Thompson was born in Bristol England on August 1, 1914. After graduating from college he became a playwright and it was the appearance of one of his plays on London's famous West End that got him noticed by the British film studio, Elstree. His first filmed script was The Pride of Folly in 1937 and others appeared sporadically until his career was side-tracked during the war when Thompson served in the RAF as a B-29 tail gunner. (He also reportedly worked as a dialogue coach on Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn, 1939.) Thompson's directorial debut came in 1950 when he adapted his own play Double Error to the screen as Murder Without Crime. Throughout the decade he directed a variety of dramas and comedies until hitting it big in 1958 with Ice Cold in Alex (released in the US minus 50 minutes under the title Desert Attack). It was nominated for three BAFTAs and was enough of a commercial success that Thompson landed the film that made his career: The Guns of Navarone (1961). This enormous international hit snagged Thompson an Oscar nomination for Best Director. He immediately followed that with the original Cape Fear (1962) and his reputation was set. Though Thompson remained active almost three more decades he didn't reach that level again. He worked on Westerns (Mackenna's Gold, 1969), horror films (Eye of the Devil, 1967), literary adaptations (Huckleberry Finn, 1974) and others. During this time, Thompson directed two Planet of the Apes sequels but was kept most busy working with Charles Bronson, for whom he directed nine films. Thompson's last film was in 1989.
KATRIN CARTLIDGE, 1961 - 2002
The news of actress Katrin Cartlidge's death at the age of 41 has come as a shock. It's not just the age but the thought that even though Cartlidge was already a major actress--despite a slender filmography--she held out the promise of even greater work, a promise that so few artists of any type can make. "Fearless" is perhaps the word most often used to describe Cartlidge but emotions are never enough for an actor; much more is required. Director Mike Leigh said she had "the objective eye of an artist" while remarking on her "her deep-seated suspicion of all forms of woolly thinking and received ideas."
Cartlidge was born in London on May 15, 1961. Her first acting work was on the stage, in tiny independent theatres before she was selected by Peter Gill for the National Theatre. Cartlidge also worked as a dresser at the Royal Court where she later made one of her final stage appearances. She began appearing in the popular British TV series Brookside before making her first film in 1985, Sacred Hearts. A small role in the Robbie Coltrane-Rik Mayall vehicle Eat the Rich (1987) followed before Cartlidge had her first leading role in Mike Leigh's scathing Naked (1993).
Cartlidge never took a safe approach in her films. She told The Guardian that "I try to work with film-makers who I feel will produce something original, revealing and provoking. If something provokes a reaction, it's well worth doing." You can see this in her choice of projects. Before the Rain (1994) dramatized violence in Macedonia in the wake of the Yugoslavian break-up and made Cartlidge something of a star in the area. She appeared in Lars Von Trier's controversial look at redemption, Breaking the Waves (1996), Leigh's sharply detailed story of aging friends Career Girls (1997), as one of Jack the Ripper's victims in From Hell (2001), as a call girl trying to leave the business in Clair Dolan (1998) and in the Oscar-winning film about Bosnia-Herzegovina, No Man's Land (2001). Her last work included a BBC adaptation of Crime and Punishment (2002), playing Salvador Dali's wife Gala in the BBC comedy-drama Surrealissimo (2002) and an appearance in Rosanna Arquette's directorial debut, Searching for Debra Winger (also 2002), a documentary about women in the film industry.
Cartlidge died September 7th from septicaemia brought on by pneumonia.
TCM REMEMBERS LEO MCKERN, 1920-2002
The recent death of Leo McKern, 82, marked the passing of one of Britain's finest and most respected character actors. He was suffering from ill health in recent years and was moved to a nursing home a few weeks before his death on July 23 2002 in Bath, England. An actor of commanding presence with a deep-throated voice, the portly, bulbous-nosed McKern had a long, distinguished career spanning more than half a century, earning numerous plaudits along the way in all major mediums: theatre, film and television.
Born Reginald McKern on March 16, 1920 in Sydney, Australia; he served with the Australian Army during World War II and worked in regional theatre in his native Sydney before immigrating to England in 1946. It was a slow start, but after a three-year apprenticeship of painting scenery, stage-managing and acting, McKern eventually joined the celebrated Old Vic theatrical company in 1949 and proved one of the more versatile actors in the troupe tackling diverse roles in comedy, the classics and serious contemporary parts.
His film debut came in Murder in the Cathedral (1952) but it took a few years before he made his mark in cinema. Some of his best film work included roles as Peter Sellers' comic henchman in the classic satire The Mouse That Roared (1959); a bungling train robber in the charming Disney film The Horse Without a Head (1963); a nefarious professor who kills off his colleagues for amusement in the brilliant black comedy A Jolly Bad Fellow (1964); Clang, a cartoonish villain in the Beatles' pop film Help! (1965); Cromwell, the persecutor of Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons (1966) and as Thomas Ryan in the David Lean drama, Ryan's Daughter (1970).
Yet despite all the accolades McKern earned in theatre and films, it was television where he foundinternational fame as the wily, irascible barrister Horace P. Rumpole in John Mortimer's Rumpole of the Bailey in 1975. Infusing the character with beguiling skill and energy, McKern made the acerbic, wine swilling, Tennyson-quoting Rumpole a much loved figure that was adored by critics, audiences and even its creator Mortimer. Perhaps Mortimer offered the most fitting tribute when he once referred to McKern - "His acting exists where I always hope my writing will be: about two feet above the ground, a little larger than life, but always taking off from reality." Enough said.
By Michael T. Toole
TCM Remembers - J. Lee Thompson
I brought you into this world and I can take you out.- Taras Bulba
My son, why? Why?- Taras
I did what I had to do.- Andrei Bulba
From the day I plunged you in the river to give you life, I loved you as I loved the steppes. You were my pride! I gave you life. It is on me to take it away from you.- Taras
'Curtis, Tony' met Austrian actress 'Christine Kauffman' on the set of this film and later married her.
Originally began as a Burt Lancaster script before Tony Curtis was given the role.
Location scenes filmed in Salta, Argentina. Avala Film is credited as a coproducer by British sources.
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1962
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1962