Horne is an officer who is sent to the outmost reaches of Russia as a punishment. He is accompanied by Homolka, his valet, an old family retainer. The two trek across the frozen wastes and save the life of Heflin, a cossack they find freezing to death. Heflin later rallies a group of
peasants, assuming the identity of Peter the Great's mentally retarded son, Czar Peter III, who had been assassinated and disposed of years before. Horne arrives at the fort where he is to be stationed and falls for the commander's daughter, Mangano, but her father, Keith, is not pleased. Nor is
Dantine, a traitorous officer who'd hoped to win her hand. Heflin's troops capture the fort and Keith, a loyalist, is hanged, but, since Horne had saved Heflin's life, he spares the officer and his love. Horne goes to St. Petersburg and tries to get the High Command to attack the fort but evokes
no interest. They think that Horne may be in league with Heflin. Mangano is still being held in the fort, so Horne goes back there to save her. By leaving St. Petersburg, he is tagged a deserter. Heflin's men capture Horne, but the cossack realizes that Horne and Mangano are in love, so he orders
them to be married. Heflin's men are defeated in a huge battle, and he and Horne are captured by the forces of the empress, Lindfors. They are both scheduled to be executed for treason. Mangano attends a palace ball and makes a direct appeal to Lindfors to spare Horne's life. The empress goes to
the prison to meet Heflin, who assures her that Horne is a loyalist and had no part of the rebellion. Satisfied, Lindfors saves Horne, Heflin loses his head, the lovers are united, and the picture concludes.
The film was adapted from two Pushkin stories, each of which had some basis in history. Shot in Yugoslavia (which allowed its soldiers to be used as partial payment for distribution rights), France, and Italy, it is a spectacular film and one of the best ever about life in Russia in pre-Soviet
times. Many of the same technicians were used who had worked on WAR AND PEACE, and their attention to detail makes this a visual delight. A palace at Caserta was used to simulate St. Petersburg, and it looked quite authentic, probably because many of the men who designed the Russian palace were,
in fact, Italian. The film features good performances by everyone, especially Heflin, who was superb in a highly complex role. The sweep of the battle scenes is vast, but the love story between Mangano and Horne is a standard sidebar tale and adds nothing to the immensity of the film.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Horne is an officer who is sent to the outmost reaches of Russia as a punishment. He is accompanied by Homolka, his valet, an old family retainer. The two trek across the frozen wastes and save the life of Heflin, a cossack they find freezing to death. Hef… (more)