Zaporozhian Cossacks Ride to Dubno

They don’t make movies like this anymore! Imagine how much it would cost with all those extras!

This scene is from the 1962 film ‘Taras Bulba’ starring Yul Brynner and Tony Curtis.

I have put this clip here simply because it is one of my all-time favourites and I have watched it countless times. Whenever modelling is going a bit sluggish or I am just generally in need of inspiration, I put this on!

Actually there is a sort of a personal link, too. I remember seeing this film at the cinema here in Exeter with my Father, all in glorious technicolor as it was then. What sticks in my mind is a remark he made and which I have never forgotten. I can’t remember how old I was when we saw it together but I must have been just a toddler.

He said that Dubno was where his Father (my Grandfather) had been taken after his arrest by the Soviet NKVD. There was a big prison in that town in pre-war Poland and many political prisoners were kept there. It is now in Rivne region in north-western Ukraine.

Funny how a single remark like that stays with you and of course much later in life after I wrote his biography, it all became understandable to me as I learned the tragic circumstances of his Father’s arrest and disappearance never to be seen or heard of again, just like so many thousands of others under the Soviet regime.

The fantastic score is by Franz Waxman, the German composer of Jewish descent who had a prolific career as a composer in the movie industry.

The scene is rather ridiculous really if that is supposed to be the Ukrainian or Podillian steppe! It looks more like the Carpathians! Never mind, this is Hollywood after all. The film or at least this part was shot in Argentina and the ‘Cossacks’ are extras hired from the Argentinian Army!

It is a great costume drama set in 16th century Ukraine or ‘Ukraina’, which back then referred to the Cossack territory on both sides of the Dnieper river. It was filmed with real live actors, the sort they don’t make anymore, and it is only very loosely based on the great book by Gogol which I urge everyone to read!

The story as far as the film goes is that the great Zaporozhian Cossack leader Taras Bulba (Yul Brynner) makes a pact with the Poles to join forces against the Turks and drive them from the steppe. After their victory, the Poles then turn on the Cossacks who are forced into hiding. Taras Bulba decides that one of his sons, Andrei (Tony Curtis), will be sent to an Orthodox seminary in Kiev to learn the ways of their mortal enemy, the Poles, who were referred to offensively as Lyakhy by the Cossacks in that period.

While in Kiev, Andrei falls in love with a Polish noblewoman Natalia and in the end, finds himself in Polish uniform fighting on the side of the Poles as the town of Dubno is besieged by the Cossacks. In that memorable final scene, Taras Bulba confronts Andrei and for his perfidy takes out his pistol and shoots his own son dead through his breastplate. That’s what you get for betraying Ukraine and the Motherland!

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