Romance of a Horsethief


1h 41m 1971
Romance of a Horsethief

Brief Synopsis

Stoloff is a Cossack who is exiled in Polish Russia where he has gained control of a small Jewish village. Most of the people in the village work as horse thieves for a man named Kifke. Stoloff's rule is not welcome, but tolerated, until a local woman named Naomi returns from France with news of the revolution, which inspires the town to revolt. This puts Naomi in danger and only Kifke and his assistant can help her.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Drama
Adventure
Release Date
Jul 1971
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Gene Gutowski
Distribution Company
Allied Artists Pictures Corp.
Country
Yugoslavia and United States
Location
Vukovar,Yugoslavia
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel A roman fun a ferd ganev (Romance of a Horsethief) by Joseph Opatoshu (New York, c. 1917).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 41m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)

Synopsis

In 1905, the Jewish peasants in Polish border village of Malava, run a thriving horse trading business by crossing the border into Russia to steal horses which they then sell at a handsome profit to neighboring Germans. Among the most successful traders in the village are father and son Shloime and Zanvill Kradnik and their friend Kifke. One day a group of Cossacks ride into Malava to announce that all the village horses have been requisitioned for the Russian cavalry to fight the newly declared war against Japan. Puzzled and indignant that the cavalry should need horses to fight an island nation, Kradnik and his best German customer, Herr Gruber, demand to meet with the Cossack's commanding officer, Capt. Nicholai Stoloff. After dismissing Gruber, Stoloff tells Kradnik that everything in Malava belongs to Tsar Nicholas, including all its horses. Dismayed when Kradnik tells him the news, Kifke returns to his room in the brothel run by his girl friend Estusha and considers fleeing Malava. Attending Kradnik's Sabbath meal dinner later, Kifke finds the family in an uproar as the effect of the requisition has resulted in the indefinite postponement of Kradnik's daughter's wedding to young rabbinical student Mendel, because without the horses, the family cannot provide a dowry. Mendel insists he does not need a dowry and will work to save money for the marriage, but Kradnik insists he must study to become the family's first rabbi. The next day, Zanvill and Mendel wait at the train station after learning that charming and wealthy Naomi Strugatch is returning from a Parisian finishing school. Naomi's father meets the train and is dismayed when Naomi alights with her dandy Parisian fiancé, Sigmund. To Zanvill's chagrin, Naomi, his childhood sweetheart, completely ignores him and drives off in the family wagon. On their way home, the Strugatches are waylaid by Stoloff and a group of troopers. Stoloff extends a flowery welcome to Naomi until she declares the tsar an imperialist brute. Outraged, Stoloff commandeers the Strugatches' two horses, leaving them stranded. Having followed the wagon on foot, Zanvill and Mendel now rush to Naomi's aid, offering to pull the wagon the rest of the way. When Sigmund refuses to get his suit dirty by assisting, Naomi orders him and her father out of the wagon, then rolls off gaily with Zanvill and Mendel. A few days later, Zanvill complains to Kifke about the hardship brought on by the lack of horses and the men decide to sneak onto the estate of the wealthy Count Grabowsky and observe his champion horses. Unable to resist the elegant horses, Zanvill mounts and rides one around the Grabowsky property until he is interrupted by the beautiful Countess Grabowsky in her carriage. After sharing a romantic afternoon with him, the countess presents Zanvill with the animal. Heartened to be back in business, Zanvill takes the horse to Gruber, who is so impressed that he purchases it and agrees to pay in advance for more horses that Zanvill promises to deliver in two weeks. Buoyed by his success, Zanvill breaks into the Strugatch home to see Naomi who is fretting over how to distribute political handbills calling for the end of the war. Zanvill dismisses Naomi's political fancies and she laughs at his unsophisticated romantic overtures. That evening, Kradnik is outraged to learn that Zanvill has taken money from Gruber in advance and demands his son return it, until Mrs. Kradnik intervenes, declaring her daughter's marriage must proceed. The next day, while wandering in the woods, Zanvill sees Naomi, Sigmund and two young scholarly looking men and overhears their plan to distribute the anti-war bills. Sigmund refuses to join her, but the others agree the best opportunity would be at the celebration for the tsar's birthday the next day. The following afternoon, the entire village gathers to watch the trooper's commemorate the tsar. When Stoloff announces an open horse riding competition between any of the villagers and his troopers, Naomi spreads the word forbidding anyone to participate. Zanvill, however, agrees to the competition and easily out-rides the cavalry's best. Stoloff congratulates Zanvill then summons the villagers and announces the exciting news that the next day all young men will be conscripted into the Russian army. Just then Naomi's friends toss the handbills from the tree tops above the crowd and Stoloff immediately orders the villagers home under curfew. At home, Kradnik eagerly plans to get Zanvill and Mendel away to avoid the conscription. Father and son then hasten to Estusha, who has two of their horses hidden in her brothel. As the Kradniks and Kifke are about to depart, however, a drunken Stoloff and a couple of his officers pay a call for Estusha's services. The women engage in a lively dance to distract the soldiers as Kradnik and the others take the horses and escape. Zanvill and Mendel make preparations to ride over the German border to Gruber's and bid farewell to Kifke. The next day, Naomi and Sigmund are ordered to meet Stoloff, and Naomi takes full responsibility for the fliers. Stoloff orders Naomi imprisoned and Sigmund deported. At the German border, Sigmund stops at Gruber's to tell Zanvill of Naomi's fate and his realization that they are not meant for each another. Zanvill hastily sneaks back to Malava where he pleads with his father to help him break Naomi out of jail. The men enlist Kifke and, with Estusha's help, develop a plan. The next day, Estusha arranges a day-long outing in the country with Stoloff, his officers and her girls. Meanwhile, Kradnik arranges with the local tailor to loan him some cavalry uniforms and, disguised, the men ride to the military post, where Kradnik declares he has been sent to examine the troop's horses due to a nearby outbreak of anthrax. Confirming most of the horses have the disease, Kradnik orders the soldiers to burn down their barracks and all their clothes to prevent contamination. Kradnik then orders the townspeople to ride the horses away to quarantine. The villagers round up their former horses and gallop off to the German border, while Zanvill frees Naomi from jail. Witnessing the villagers thunder across the meadow, Stoloff is then startled to see his half-naked troopers following on foot. When his officers ask for orders, Stoloff rectifies the blunder by congratulating them for ridding the area of subversives and plagued infected animals by sending them off to the arms of the enemy. Over the border, the Kradniks, Mendel, Kifke and Estusha happily reunite.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Drama
Adventure
Release Date
Jul 1971
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Gene Gutowski
Distribution Company
Allied Artists Pictures Corp.
Country
Yugoslavia and United States
Location
Vukovar,Yugoslavia
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel A roman fun a ferd ganev (Romance of a Horsethief) by Joseph Opatoshu (New York, c. 1917).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 41m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)

Articles

Romance of a Horse Thief -


Blacklisted in 1951, writer-director Abraham Polonsky waited seventeen years to receive his next theatrical screenwriting credit, for Don Siegel's Madigan (1968). Polonsky then was able to direct the Robert Redford & Katharine Ross western Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, which became a critical success. Offered a chance at another original project, he chose a curious historical comedy drama, which Variety would later dismiss as 'an extended Polish Joke.' Bankrolled by a consortium of European companies and released by Allied Artists, Romance of a Horse Thief (1971) is a gentle tale of the small town of Malava, which is noted for dealing in horses -- not raising them, but trading, smuggling and stealing them outright. Crooked civic leader Kifke (Eli Wallach) loves the lusty madam Estusha (Lainie Kazan) and advises the handsome Zanvill (Oliver Tobias), whose success with women matches his skill in horse thievery. But Tsar Nicolas needs horses for his war with Japan, and sends the Cossack Captain Stoloff (Yul Brynner) to militarize the town. When he confiscates Malava's horses, the town resists, banding together out of shared interest mostly greed. Among them is the political firebrand Naomi (Jane Birkin), a newly returned college graduate committed to defying Tsarist rule. When Stoloff strikes back with oppressive measures, Zanvill must flee to Germany to escape conscription into the Russian army. With the help of Estusha and her girls, Kifke pulls off a slick confidence game to free Naomi and steal back the town's stolen horses. Abraham Polonsky shapes Romance of a Horse Thief as a collective ensemble. Brynner and Wallach's colorful characters have top billing, but neither takes center stage. Among the cast is the distinguished David Opatoshu as Malava's most successful horse trader, and Linda Veras as a Countess that Zanvill seduces, before stealing her prize horse. Jane Birkin's real-life lover and singing companion Serge Gainsbourg plays Naomi's French consort, a useless dandy. New discovery Oliver Tobias was compared to a young Oliver Reed. Neither a rollicking comedy nor a gripping drama, Romance did next to no business, but it did find a receptive critical audience at The Village Voice, which praised its socialistic vision and its notion of Jews as mediators between the classes. Abraham Polonsky's second career was short-lived. He had optioned Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End for the screen, but health problems forced his retirement at age 62. He never named names, not of other blacklist victims, nor of the industry employers that had hired him under the table.
Romance Of A Horse Thief -

Romance of a Horse Thief -

Blacklisted in 1951, writer-director Abraham Polonsky waited seventeen years to receive his next theatrical screenwriting credit, for Don Siegel's Madigan (1968). Polonsky then was able to direct the Robert Redford & Katharine Ross western Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, which became a critical success. Offered a chance at another original project, he chose a curious historical comedy drama, which Variety would later dismiss as 'an extended Polish Joke.' Bankrolled by a consortium of European companies and released by Allied Artists, Romance of a Horse Thief (1971) is a gentle tale of the small town of Malava, which is noted for dealing in horses -- not raising them, but trading, smuggling and stealing them outright. Crooked civic leader Kifke (Eli Wallach) loves the lusty madam Estusha (Lainie Kazan) and advises the handsome Zanvill (Oliver Tobias), whose success with women matches his skill in horse thievery. But Tsar Nicolas needs horses for his war with Japan, and sends the Cossack Captain Stoloff (Yul Brynner) to militarize the town. When he confiscates Malava's horses, the town resists, banding together out of shared interest mostly greed. Among them is the political firebrand Naomi (Jane Birkin), a newly returned college graduate committed to defying Tsarist rule. When Stoloff strikes back with oppressive measures, Zanvill must flee to Germany to escape conscription into the Russian army. With the help of Estusha and her girls, Kifke pulls off a slick confidence game to free Naomi and steal back the town's stolen horses. Abraham Polonsky shapes Romance of a Horse Thief as a collective ensemble. Brynner and Wallach's colorful characters have top billing, but neither takes center stage. Among the cast is the distinguished David Opatoshu as Malava's most successful horse trader, and Linda Veras as a Countess that Zanvill seduces, before stealing her prize horse. Jane Birkin's real-life lover and singing companion Serge Gainsbourg plays Naomi's French consort, a useless dandy. New discovery Oliver Tobias was compared to a young Oliver Reed. Neither a rollicking comedy nor a gripping drama, Romance did next to no business, but it did find a receptive critical audience at The Village Voice, which praised its socialistic vision and its notion of Jews as mediators between the classes. Abraham Polonsky's second career was short-lived. He had optioned Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End for the screen, but health problems forced his retirement at age 62. He never named names, not of other blacklist victims, nor of the industry employers that had hired him under the table.

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Although there is a copyright statement on the film, it was not registered for copyright. According to an August 1970 Hollywood Reporter item, Elsa Martinelli was cast as "Countess Grabowsky" in Romance of a Horsethief, but a September 1970 Daily Variety item noted Martinelli had withdrawn from the production due to scheduling conflicts and was replaced by Linda Veras. A November 1970 Daily Variety article stated Columbia Broadcasting System had filed suit against producer Gene Gutowski's production company Cadre Films Ltd., Ophite Productions, Inc. and Allied Artists. The charges indicated that CBS had entered into an oral agreement which was to have been written in December 1967 to develop a screenplay of the Josef Opatoshu novel by his son, actor-writer David Opatoshu. CBS was to have global distribution rights and script approval. CBS claimed that the defendants did not live up to their end of the agreement and demanded back their investment of nearly seventy-five thousand dollars. The outcome of the suit has not been determined. Romance of a Horsethief was filmed on location in Vukovar, Yugoslavia.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Summer July 1971

Released in United States Summer July 1971