The Horsemen is a startling and robust adventure story--almost a fable, actually--that opens a window onto a brutal but exotic part of the world. Set in mountainous Afghanistan, the film (written for the screen by Dalton T... more »rumbo of Spartacus fame) concerns the devastating and near-impossible efforts of a great horseman, Uraz (Omar Sharif), to establish a reputation equal to that of his famous father, the chieftain Tursen (Jack Palance). Parts of The Horsemen have a semi-documentary feel, and those sections can be astonishing to watch, particularly footage of a shockingly brutal sport called Bozkeshi, in which men and horses die by the score. Director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate) literally whips up a sprawling and highly physical movie here, embroidered with a fascinating subplot about the treachery of a beautiful slave (Leigh Taylor-Young). Released in 1971, The Horsemen provides a startling glimpse of a pre-war, pre-Taliban Afghanistan. --Tom Keogh« less
"This movie, which I saw for the first time in 1971, changed my life forever. From the first moment of the film, I was struck by the stunning Afghan scenery. Over the next three years, I visited Afghanistan three times. It was a fantastic adventure, like a voyage in another time, on another planet. Since then, I have not stopped travelling in this part of the World.
The film is based on Joseph Kessel's (1898 - 1979) novel, "Les Cavaliers," written following his travel throughout Afghanistan in the early 60's. Kessel is, in the tradition of Saint-Exupery, Malraux, Pierre Mac Orlan, and Hemingway, an adventurer, journalist, globetrotter, and great writer, a man who tried to make the novel "the privileged expression" of the "lived" adventure.
The movie, filmed for six months in Afghanistan, and then in Spain, in 1969-1970, was directed by John Frankenheimer. The picture cost $4.5 millions. Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo recognized there was no need to embellish Kessel's fantastic adventure, and faithfully followed the book's story line.
The action takes place on the vast plains around Maimana in the northwest of the country, across the forbidding Hindu Kush, and in Kabul. Although the scenery and characters are timeless, the sight of a high-flying jet during a scene subtly establishes the movie's time period. The drama revolves around the "mad horse," Jahil, with its almost human presence. Uraz (Omar Sharif), son of the great "chapendaz" Tursen (Jack Palance) is to ride Jahil, Tursen's latest prized white stallion, in the great "buzkashi" of the King, in Kabul.
The Afghan national game of "buzkashi" dates back to the time of Ghengis Khan. In this fierce competition, played on the northern steppes by expert horsemen, everything goes. Hundreds of "chapendaz" horsemen independently compete to grab and carry the carcass of a goat or a small calf to the circle of justice, outlined on the field.
If Uraz wins, Jahil is his to keep. How can he not win? "If you cannot win on Jahil, you cannot win on any horse," says Tursen. Uraz, like his father before him, is now the most famous "chapendaz" in the "three (northern) provinces." Nevertheless, his quest for glory seems endless, as an inner demon keeps driving him to surpass both his father and himself. An old lady in the bazaar says of him, "If you wager him for glory, you will lose. If for money, you will win."
At the "buzkashi" in Kabul, Uraz will know defeat. He not only loses the game, but his leg is fractured. His life lesson about pain and hate begins as he returns to Maimana, vanquished, prouder, more resolute, and crazier than ever.
Uraz has the choice of two roads to return to Maimana: the relatively easy road across the terrible Hindu Kush Range, through the Salang Pass, the World's highest pass at 10,000 feet, or the dreadful "old road," running through the Unai and Hajikak passes, both also near 10,000 feet, Bamiyan, followed by more high passes, before finally arriving on the northern steppes. Of course, Uraz chooses the "old road," challenging himself to the limit, in order to redeem himself in his own eyes, and also those of his father. For all his toughness, his father had never traveled that road.
As if the "old road" was not challenge enough, Uraz, whose fractured leg is fast becoming gangrenous, tempts his sais with a pact that involves ownership of the magnificent Jahil.
Following his master, his good "sais" (groom), Mokkhi (David de Keyser), meets with love in the arms of the beautiful "untouchable," Zareh (Leigh Taylor-Young), but also experiences greed, a taste for murder, and a pitiful downfall. Zareh, as beautiful as she is devious, inspires Mokkhi to murder and destruction. She is herself tormented by "the horse": "Do you know, great Prince, what brought me to you that first night?...it was the horse." Along this endless "old road," the trio each confronts the worst in themselves, and arrive at their destination perverted and lost. There is also the mysterious and likable character, Hayatal (Peter Jeffrey) with whom Uraz will eventually continue wandering the steppes.
The stunning cinematography is the result of the collaboration of the disinguished French cinematographer Claude Renoir (of the artistic lineage,) Andre Domage, and James Wong Howe. They give an accurate taste of the beauty of the rugged Afghan country and of its people. In particular, the remarkable sequences of the "buzkashi" of the King, in Kabul, and the flashback of Tursen's "buzkashi" through the great open steppes of the north, are worth the price of the admission by themselves. There are also actual scenes of organized fights between camels, rams, and partridges (the Afghans are big gamblers).
The casting of westerners as principles may seem strange at first, until one remembers that there were neither TV nor movies in Afghanistan, in 1970, and therefore no Afghan actors. Frankenheimer wanted Yves Montand or James Garner for the lead, but learning that he was an expert rider, chose Omar Sarif instead. The "buzkashi" scenes required 25 days of shooting. Of course, Sharif had to appear in some of these scenes, but the "chapandaz," impressed by his superior riding, unobtrusively "chaperoned" him through the most dangerous moments. Omar Sharif gives one of his best, if not the best, performances ever. On the other hand, Jack Palance was not skillful enough to ride in the mayhem of the game, and required an Afghan rider stand-in for these sequences. However, with his both feet on the ground, Palance's presence on the screen is overwhelming. As I traveled through the northern provinces of the country, I must have met two or three Palances, and as many Sharifs. By some extraordinary coincidence, Leigh Taylor-Young also bears a strong resemblance to the now famous "Afghan girl," who appeared on the front cover of the National Geographic Magazine, in 1984. Physically at least, the choices for the leading characters were fortunate.
The renowned French composer Georges Delerue (more than 47 film scores) wrote the music, remarkable in its lyricism and romanticism, which integrates itself perfectly in the film.
"The Horsemen" is a stunning film, inspired by epic adventure and timeless conflicts which, given the present condition in Afghanistan, I am afraid can only now be experienced in an armchair."
Great movie about dealing with the hand fate deals you
Lynn H. Hall | Trenton, ME United States | 01/30/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Saw this movie just once when first released and have been searching for it ever since. I believe it is Omar Shariff's best role. More on a par with Lawrence of Arabia than the fluff he did in Funny Girl or Dr. Zhivago. This movie contains the best scenary of afganistan you will ever see. And the footage of the Bushkazi match is unforgettable"
True to the book
Robert Potter | Sandy Bay, Tasmania Australia | 01/25/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I have been to Afghanistan three times (before the Russians invaded) and watched a number of games of buzkashi. The scenes depicted were very accurate. Also, the movie stays true to Joseph Kessel's book. This is one of only three movies I know of that are set in Afghanistan - the others being 'Caravans' (from James Michener's novel) and 'The Beast' (or "The Beast of War') about a Russian tank crew during their occupation.
'The Horsemen' is by far the best movie."
Lynn H. Hall | 10/21/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I saw this movie in VHS form while living in Singapore. It is truly an amazing and unique story regarding the strong character and will of a father (Jack Palance) and son (Omar Shariff). It is a must for those who study the character and nearly limitless possibilities of man. I put this item on my DVD wish list earlier this year. Finally it is available. I look forward to adding this DVD to my library and being able to enjoy it with friends and family."
'What a one-horned ram can do, a one-legged chapandaz can do
Roberto Frangie | Leon, Gto. Mexico | 01/02/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Set in Afghanistan, John Frankenheimer's 'The Horsemen' is the story of a tribesman determined to rival his father at horsemanship... Uraz is sent by his father Tursen to win the traditional Royal Buzkashi on the field of Bagrami in the capital city of Kabul...
Uraz on Jahil has to battle for control of a headless calf, carry it around a blue flag, and deposit it back in the 'Circle of Justice'... thus signifying that he wins the king's pennant... and remains as the master chapandaz of all Afghanistan... During the tournament, opposing horsemen use their whips to urge on their horses and to hit the rider for the chance to snatch the heavy carcass...
The motion picture turns around five well drawn characters: an angered son eaten up with vanity; a brave father who knew something worse than danger; a nomad woman whose touch defiles; a once loyal servant lusted for an 'unclean woman;' and a wager from the high passes of the East where 'men know how to forge fine weapons and use them well'...
Uraz (Omar Sharif) deliberately chose to bribe his devoted servant with the magnificent white stallion in order to increase the already terrible dangers which he hopes to conquer...
Zareh (Leigh-Taylor Young) urges her man to kill his high blood master to secure for herself his horse and his money...
Tursen (Jack Palance) know nothing but evil legends about an impossible road taken by his embittered son... His pain, remorse, and blood wept for a son lost through his fault...
Mukhi (David de Keyser) forgets his humble and faithful world in the arms of the 'untouchable' woman who pushes him to murder the great prince...
Hayatal (Peter Jeffrey) takes the challenge against 'the Prince Ram of the Valley' declaring openly to Uraz: 'What a one-horned ram can do, a one-legged chapandaz can do better!'
To understand 'The Horsemen' you must understand the rage, the beauty, and the tradition of a mountainous and landlocked country, isolated and left outside the mainstream of civilization...
Written by Academy Award winner Dalton Trumbo (The Brave One, Best Original Screenplay, 1956) 'The Horsemen' is a passionate film for men only... The film is a search that marks out the true concepts of honesty, integrity, loyalty, and trust...