Directed by J. Lee Thompson
USA 19


Among the most spectacular and problematic of large-scale Hollywood epics, Taras Bulba (1962) originated as a dream project for actor Yul Brynner, who was at the height of his popularity after the success of The King and I (1956) and The Magnificent Seven (1960). The classic novel by one of Russia's leading writers, Nikolai Gogol, fuses a story of star-crossed romance and familial conflict with epic battle sequences, a perfect formula for big budget spectacle. However, the film's rocky production history and curious casting choices resulted in an idiosyncratic, frustrating, yet strangely impressive final result.

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.

Excerpt from Turner Classic Movies located HERE.


Theatrical Release: November 21st, 1962

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DVD Review: MGM - Region 1 - NTSC

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Distribution MGM Home Video - Region 1 - NTSC
Runtime 2:03:48 
Video 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 8.17 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s 

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.


Audio English and Latin (Dolby Digital mono), English + Latin (Dolby Digital 2.0) DUBs: French (Dolby Digital mono), Spanish (Dolby Digital mono)
Subtitles English, Spanish, None

Release Information:
Studio: MGM

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1

Edition Details:

• none

DVD Release Date: March 25th, 200
Keep Case
Chapters: 32



The bare-bones MGM DVD shows a bit of weakness - it's anamorphic (2.35:1 from the 35mm print - the 70mm would be 2.0:1), progressive and dual-layered but the print used is extremely dirty and has digital noise showing in monochromatic sky scenes and backgrounds. It is certainly watchable although colors seem dulled with age. Detail is acceptable and I don't see any untoward manipulation. This DVD is coded for region one in the NTSC standard and sports optional English or French subtitles. The audio has (original?) mono and a 2.0 channel plus optional mono DUBs in Spanish or French. It sounded consistent and clear to my ear.  

No extras at all - not even a trailer. The film? Not bad but I can't help but get the feeling there was some over-tinkering with the original narrative. Tony Curtis (replacing Burt Lancaster) is not as capable to carry the scenes - where the more sparsely used Brenner is a powerhouse. Pacing seems strong and the story is engaging. Fans of historical epics, especially this era, may get more out of it than I did. 

Gary W. Tooze


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Distribution MGM Home Video - Region 1 - NTSC


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