Taras Bulba (1962)




Director:   J. Lee Thompson

Starring:  Tony Curtis (Andrei Bulba), Yul Brynner (Taras Bulba), Christine Kaufmann (Natalia Dubrov), Sam Wanamaker (Filipenko), Brad Dexter (Shilo), Guy Rolfe (Prince Grigory), Perry Lopez (Ostap Bulba), George Macready (Governor), Ilka Windish (Sofia Bulba), Vladimir Sokoloff (Old Stepan), Vladimir Irman (Grisha Kubenko), Daniel Ocko (Ivan Mykola), Abraham Sofaer (Abbot), Mickey Finn (Korzh), Richard Rust (Capt. Alex), Ron Weyand (Tymoshevsky).

cinematography: shot in Argentina

Based on: a short historical novel by Nikolai Gogo.

Cossack life in 16th century Ukraine where Taras Bulba and his two sons, Andriv and Ostap, journey to Zaporizhian Sich and fight against the Poles and each other.


The case for the DVD for Taras Bulba says that the movie is set in the early 16th century.  But I can't find any mention of a big battle between the Cossacks and the Poles in the early 16th century.  In the years between 1648-1654, the Cossacks fought against the Poles in the Khmelnytsky Uprising.  This period is covered in Ogniem i mieczem (With Fire and Sword) (1961).   And I don't see a mention of the Turks until 1667 when the Turks fought on the side of the Poles against Russia.  

I just don't understand the introductory information provided in the movie.  They concentrate on the spread of the Ottoman Empire, but the movie itself deals with the fight between the Poles and the Cossacks. 

Instead of saying this movie deals with the early 1500s, it is better said that it deals with the Khmelnytsky Uprising, 1648-1654.   Unless they are talking about the Battle of Vienna in 1683, but I don't see a mention of the Cossacks in this battle. 

So, anyway, the Cossacks help the Poles defeat the Ottoman Turks in battle.  But once the battle is done, the Poles open fire on the Cossacks to weaken and disperse the Cossacks so they don't pose a future threat to Poland.  The Cossacks are so weak that one of their leaders, Taras Bulba (Yul Brynner), tells them to go into the hills and wait until they are stronger.  Taras himself has two sons: Andrei Bulba (Tony Curtis) and Ostap Bulba (Perry Lopez).

When the two sons are sent for a better education to an academy in Kiev.  There they are treated very badly by the mostly Polish students.  The one redeeming feature of their experience is that Andrei meets and falls in love with a beautiful Polish girl, Natalia Dubrov (Christine Kaufmann).  The brother of Natalia tries to break up the relationship by force, which ends in Ostap killing the brother.  Now the boys have to flee the academy and return home. 

The Cossacks are now called to fight for Poland in the Baltic War.  But Taras Bulba declares that he will not fight for Poland, but rather fight against Poland.  He convinces the other Cossacks to war against the Poles. 

The Cossacks force the Poles under Prince Grigory (Guy Rolfe) back into their castle and eventually lay siege to it.  While the Cossacks lay siege, Andrei fantasizes about reuniting with Natalia, who resides in the castle.  He gets himself into the castle, but he and Natalia are discovered and arrested.  He is now confronted with the problem of how is he going to save Natalia from being burned at the stake.  Will he risk the lives of his father and brother and risk losing his entire family or will he save Natalia regardless of the consequences?

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


I got an E-mail from a guy named Dmitry.  I reproduce it here along with my response because it is an important clarification of dealing with history in film.


I came across your web page http://www.vernonjohns.org/snuffy1186/taras.html.  You said that though the movie is supposedly "wet [sic] in the early 16th century", you couldn't find any mention of a big battle between the Cossacks and the Poles.  Well, that's because this story is fictional.  It is based on a short novel by Nikolai Gogol, a 19th century Russian writer  (the movie "Inspector General" with Danny Kaye is based on his comedy of the same name).  Taras Bulba is a fictional character.



My response: 

Dear Dmitry Turovsky:
Of course I knew Taras Bulba was a fictional character.  After all, there was no mention of the fellow in Wikipedia except in relation to the Taras Bulba movie itself.   That's a good sign that the character is fictional.  But it is perfectly o.k. to have a fictional character to convey a deeper emotional feeling to movies dealing with historical subjects.  Scarlettt O'Hara is not a real historical figure, but the Gone with the Wind film deals with real historical events such as the Battles of Gettysburg and Atlanta.  In essence, I was saying that the character is fictitious, but worse than that there is no real coverage of key historical events, such as battles. 
You have a kind of "got-yah" attitude about your note.  But you didn't really "get me". 
I have gotten over a hundred wonderful leaders from teachers of history for the work that I have done and this was done without even one cent of remuneration.  I do it just for the enjoyment and for the service I supply. 
So I'll place your letter up against the 100+ and just figure you are a guy who thinks he's smarter than the rest of us. 
Patrick L Cooney 




Historical Background:


See The Cossacks (1959)  and Ogniem i mieczem (With Fire and Sword) (1961).



Ukraine is located in Eastern Europe, with Russia to the northeast, Belarus to the north, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary to the west, Romania and Moldova to the southwest and the Black Sea to the south. Its capital is Kiev.

862-1598  --  the Rurik Dynasty rules what is now Russia and Ukraine. 

900s and 1000s --  the territory of Ukraine was the center of a state known as Kievan Rus, a powerful and prestigious state, which laid the foundation for Ukrainian national identity.  The elite of the state were the Varangians from Scandinavia. 

980-1015  --  Vladimir the Great turned Rus' towards Byzantine Christianity.

1019-1054  -- the son of Vladimir the Great, Yaroslav the Wise ruled; under him Kievan Rus' reached its zenith of culture and military power.

1132  --  after the rule of Vladimir Monomakh (11131125) and his son Mstislav (11251132) the Kievan Rus' finally disintegrated into the separate principalities.

13th century --   the Mongol invasion dealt Rus' a final death blow.

In the Ukraine, the principalities of Halych and Volodymyr-Volynskyi were established and then merged into the state of Halych-Volynia.

c. 1350  --  Halych-Volynia subjugated by Casimir IV of Poland.  The area around Kiev fell under the Gedimid Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

1386  --  marriage of Lithuania's Grand Duke Jagiello to Poland's Queen Jadwiga. Most of the Ukrainian territory was now controlled by the increasingly Ruthenized (for "Rus") Lithuanian rulers as part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Zaporizhian Sich (the center of the Cossacks of Zaporizhzhia). 

1556  --  the Zaporizhian Sich was founded as a military camp on the Isle of Khortytsia by D. I. Vyshnevetsky.

The Sich was a center of a Cossack state, Zaporozhian Host.  It was governed by Sichova Rada.  (Sometimes the term Zaporizhian Sich is applied to the whole Cossack state.)

1569 Union of Lublin formed the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Ukraine now was part of Poland.

second half of the 16th century  --  Polish relations with the Turks of the Ottoman Empire was not friendly and this was worsened by the Cossacks-Tartar border warfare.  It turned the entire border region between the Commonwealth and Ottoman Empire into a semi-permanent warzone. 

1596 the Union of Brest attempted to bring the Orthodox population under Catholicism. It failed. But most of the upper class increasingly turned towards Catholicism. In response, the Ukrainian commoners turned for protection to the militant, and fiercely Orthodox, Cossacks.  The Cossacks felt oppressed by the Poles and so they moved towards an alliance with Orthodox Russia. 

1618  --  Hetman Petro Konashevych Sagaidachny built a log fort, consisting of an earthen perimeter with the log walls on top of it and surrounded with massive abatis.  (The term "Sich" come from this fort;  it is derived from the verb "to cut" entire trees for the abatis.) 

1648-1654  --   the Khmelnytsky Uprsising; a civil war in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth between the Commonwealth loyalists and the Ukrainian Cossacks (led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky).  The Commonwealth lost parts of its territory to Russia and was was weakened at the moment of invasion by Sweden (known as the Deluge). 

1654  --  the Treaty of Pereyaslav between the Cossacks of the Zaporizhian Host and Tsar Alexey I of Muscovy, following the Khmelnytsky Rebellion,  gave the Tsar's protection to the Ukrainian Cossack state.

1655  --  Russia invaded and occupied the eastern half of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  The Swedes invaded and occupied the rest.

After the treaty  --  the Host split in two, the Hetmanate with its capital at Chyhyrn and the Zaporizhzhia Sich. 

1687-1708  --  Mazeppa (c. 1640l-1709) was the Cossack Hetman (Ataman) of the Hetmanate in Left-Bank Ukraine.

1702  --  the Cossacks of Right-bank Ukraine, under hetman Semen Paliy, began an uprising against Poland that was defeated.  Mazepa took advantage of this and convinced Russian Tsar Peter I to allow him to intervene.  Mazepa took over major portions of Right-Bank Ukraine (while Poland was weakened by invasion of Swedish king Charles XII.)

1709  -- after siding with Mazepa, the town of Baturyn in northern Ukraine was razed, and the Sich (sometimes called the Old Sich) was disbanded.

1734-1775  -- the New Zich existed.  

1775  --   Yemelyan Pugachev, a pretender to the Russian throne and leader of a great Cossack insurrection during the reign of Catherine II, was executed. 

after 1775  --  the New Zich was disbanded after the failure of the Pugachev Uprising. 



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