Allied Artists hasn’t spared the coin in giving this period comedy a lush production, but a large cast and extensive location shooting can’t salvage a lifeless script made even flatter by Abraham Polonsky’s derivative direction.
Set in Poland (but shot in Yugoslavia), pic centers on a small rural community of Jewish peasants who live off the ofttimes illegal horse trade. Town is ruled by Cossack-in-exile Stoloff (Yul Brynner), who maintains a love-hate relationship with its residents, including horsethief Kifke (Eli Wallach), his madam ladylove Estusha (Lainie Kazan) and his protege Zanvill (Oliver Tobias). When the town’s horses are commandeered by Stoloff in the name of Tsar Nicholas, the people begin to stir under his oppressive boot, sparked by Zanvill’s girlfriend Naomi (Jane Birkin), just returned from a French finishing school where she learned the gentle art of revolution.
The international cast, sporting a babble of accents, always seems to be making a movie, and not having a bad time of it. Film’s best performances come from Birkin, who strikes an appropriate note of naive commitment to revolution, and Tobias, in his first major role.
Director Polonsky plays everything on too low a key and the result is a sluggish 101 minutes too padded with pointless dissolves and minor idyllic setpieces.