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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Horsemen (1970)

"I would slit your throat like a sheep to gain such a horse. When will you slit mine?"
- Uraz, son of Tursen (Omar Sharif)

Review By: Jesse Shanks   
Published: January 14, 2004

Stars: Omar Sharif, Leigh Taylor-Young, Jack Palance
Other Stars: David De Keyser, Peter Jeffrey, Mohammad Shamsi
Director: John Frankenheimer

MPAA Rating: PG for (adult themes, violence)
Run Time: 01h:49m:28s
Release Date: December 02, 2003
UPC: 043396065482
Genre: historical adventure

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B-A-B+ D

DVD Review

The Horsemen is a tale of "modern" Afghanistan. Although the film's calendar is in the 20th century, the tribes seem locked in their timeless continuing past that echoes another era when Afghanistan was the most exotic place on Earth, rather than the home of terrorism. The focus of the film is the legendary game of Buzkashi, in which horsemen battle for possession of the corpse of a goat and anything goes. In this Afghanistan, a Royal Buzkashi is organized to determine the greatest Chapandaz, the participant in a Buzkashi who must grab the goat and carry it over and around a specified course.

Director John Frankenheimer was one of the directors in the sixties that came to feature film via the new world of television entertainment. Early in that decade, he enjoyed a remarkable run that included Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candiate, Seven Days in May and, in colloboration with Arthur Penn, The Train. His films of the late 1960s and '70s did not seem to meaure up to the promise of those early efforts. Later in his career, Fankenheimer returned to TV and directed such films as Andersonville, George Wallace, and the highly regarded Path to War in 2002.

Omar Sharif is a bonafide acting legend and has been making films for over 50 years. The Horsemen ranks as one of his grittiest period performances in a career that includes such epics as Lawrence of Arabia, Genghis Khan, Dr. Zhivago and The Tamarind Seed. Here he is Uraz, the troubled son of "the greatest Chapandaz in the three provinces." This legendary father, Tursen, is portrayed by Jack Palance during an era when he found it difficult to get work in Hollywood. After zooming to fame as the villain in 1953's Shane, Palance had roles in a mulitude of B movies and foreign films until he capped his career with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 1991's City Slickers.

Tursen has raised a magnificent stallion that is the fifth generation of his bloodline named Jahil. He tells Uraz that the horse will be his if he rides Jahil to victory in the upcoming Buzhashi. The Horsemen is a tale of the battle of men over the love of a horse as well. It is this aspect of the story that is nearly as exotic as the camel and goat fights of Afghanistan. Uraz and Tursen use the possession of Jahil as a club with which to beat each other and Mukhi (David de Keyser), Uraz's servant, also yields to the fever of owning such a fine animal when Uraz designates him as the inheritor of the horse upon his own death. They love the horse more than the untouchable woman, played by a terribly miscast Leigh Taylor-Young, whom they meet along the way.

Dalton Trumbo wrote screenplays for over 50 years in Hollywood and endured the worst of the McCarthyism of the 1950s, being forced to submit scripts using a front. In 1960, Kirk Douglas gave Trumbo the script credit for Spartacus and helped to break the blacklist and restore to employability those who would not "name names." The Horsemen is not his best script by any stretch, but there is a literate quality to the dialogue and plot that raises the level of dramatic intercourse slightly above the average horse opera.

Frankenheimer creates an almost documentary feel for his dramas with majestic vistas and actual locations, using non-actors. The exciting footage of the Buzkashi is followed by the tragedy of the injury that Uraz suffers. Not only does he lose face in the site of his fellows but he loses the respect of his father. Despite its exotic setting in Afghanistan, the film has much in common with American westerns. There are themes of fathers and sons, old versus new, and the love of a man for his horse. However, there is a consistent theme of animal cruelty in the film that would not stand up to scrutiny in today's mainstream film marketplace.

However, ultimately the film is exotic, interesting, and unique in both its storyline and locale. Between Palance's stolid Tursen and Sharif's tortured Uraz, there is legitimate drama of a type that is rarely found in films about men. Nobility is a term that is often misused when referring to men who cannot change with the times and, in this film, very little is truly done with integrity to rate referring to a "nobility" of the characters, although they aspire to that. But it is this unnoble quality, that makes the redemption found in the conclusion all the more compelling in its triumph over the lesser things that make us human.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen video transfer is really quite excellent and brings forth the best feature of this film, which is the dramatic countryside of Afghanistan. The vistas of the opening credits, the Buzkashi match, the journey of Uraz, and the desert steppes are all stunning scenery. Details are excellent and the color palette is rich in earth tones. Good workout for the widescreen TV for an older film.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The Horsemen possesses a very good Dolby stereo audio transfer that performs well in both the action sequences as well as the more intimate moments. Unfortunately the dialogue is oddly recorded and stilted in delivery, which makes the whole thing seem like it has been poorly dubbed. But the sounds the horses make, the jingling of the saddles and clops of their hooves are crisply recorded. There must have been some kind of stylization of the dialogue in the post-production that just did not work and hurts the film overall.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Lawrence of Arabia, The Guns of Navarone
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Too bad there are no extras to be had, although it's okay if you can find this film at a cheaper price. However, with the people and places of this film, there would be interest in some material about Frankenheimer or some commentary by Sharif and Palance, who are both still alive.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

One must have a taste for historical epics of this type to truly enjoy The Horseman. But with stunning visuals, exotic locales, and featuring a potent, angst-filled Omar Sharif performance, the film can definitely provide an evening's entertainment. Also great for its chance to see Jack Palance at his toughest.


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