Retro Review: Taras Bulba (1962)

I had never read the novel, but only 10 years old, I went to the cinema with my parents to watch the epic film based on the book. I was obviously very young. I wanted action, and got it. I wanted stars, and got them. I wanted a big screen cinema-experience epic, and got that too.

Yul Brynner, Tony Curtis, Christine Kaufmann, (She later married Curtis) Sam Wanamaker. They all lined up for this huge film from director J. Lee Thompson. When it hit the London cinemas, I was more than ready for this historical epic looking at the conflict between the Don Cossacks and their Polish masters, during the 16th century. I couldn’t have cared less if it was historically accurate. It had sieges, hundreds of extras, combat, and cavalry. Even before I got to the cinema, I was already over-excited at the prospect. For me at the time the plot was secondary to the action, and there was plenty of that.

In the late 1500s, the Turks were threatening Europe; and as far as this book and film was concerned, the empire of mighty Poland, one of the biggest players on the European stage at the time. Poland had the benefit of an alliance with the Russian Cossacks; a fierce and warlike group of men who owed allegiance to their clan leaders, as well as to Poland. But the Cossacks were also devout Christians, and feared the expansion of the Muslim Turks. So, they were happy to fight as mercenaries for the Polish empire, and answered the call to defeat the Turkish invasion.

Once they had helped the Poles defeat the Turkish army, they were betrayed. Fired upon by their Polish allies, who feared the power of the Cossacks, the tribes were scattered back to their traditional nomadic lifestyle. Living under Polish rule, Taras Bulba (Yul Brynner) decides to send his two sons to be educated by the Poles in Kiev. They are cruelly treated there, but one of them, Andriy, (Tony Curtis) falls in love with the local Polish Princess. (Kaufmann)

Meanwhile, the Poles call the Cossack army to assemble at Dubno. But Taras suspects them, and besieges the city instead. Inside, Andriy is besotted by his love for the Princess, and agrees to betray his father, by leading the Polish Army in an assault out of the city, against his fellow Cossacks.

With great set-piece battles, authentic locations, and serious performances from the cast, (though Curtis looks like a 1960s pop star) this is an old-school epic of the highest order. Brynner is just right as Taras, Sam Wanamaker is great in a supporting role, and the battles are well staged, with lots of extras. This was 1960s big-screen cinema at its best. Though it will now be showing its age, it is still stirring stuff, and worth your time for a slice of little-known history.

Here’s a great old-fashioned trailer.


‘I have a dream’

With all the thoughts and reflections about Martin Luther King going around the blogs, and on the TV news, I was reminded of my post from 2013. I was a fairly new blogger back then, and it is interesting to me that it only received nine likes, and a few comments.
But some of you who liked and commented are still around, which pleased me to see.
For all the new followers since, I think you might get something from viewing and reading this legendary speech.


Fifty years ago this week, I was eleven years old. I saw a news report on TV, about a huge march of protest, in Washington D.C., in America. Martin Luther King Jr. was addressing this huge crowd, the largest I could remember seeing, in my short life up to that time. I knew a little about the plight of black people in the USA, and had seen reports about segregation, and the KKK. I well remember being mesmerised by the speech, and by the style of the orator. Although I was not religious, even then, so discounted any of that aspect, this speech held me in rapture, and perhaps more importantly, made me believe in the honesty of Mr King, and to also wish for the realisation of his desires.

If you have never seen it, it will be worth the eighteen minutes of your life, to view the grainy…

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This is a work of fiction, a short story of 750 words.

John had finished. The grunt had told her that.

She held on to him for as long as she could, knowing he would move soon, and then talk about having to go. It hadn’t been very satisfying for her, but she had learned to live with that. For Marsha, the hardest part was at work, pretending John was just the boss, and she was his loyal assistant. She knew that there were plenty of others waiting to fill her shoes. That redhead Jane, in accounts, and the pretty plump girl Wendy, who was always finding reasons to leave her desk in transport.

John cleaned himself up with some of the tissues from the box by the bed. When he started to get dressed, Marsha suggested he might enjoy some of the lasagna she had prepared. As usual, he declined. Checking his watch, he gave her an awkward grin. “Bridget and the girls will be expecting me back by eight at the latest. Sorry.” She smiled in return. “No problem, I can always have half tomorrow.” Once he had left, she relaxed in a hot bath. Though still unsatisfied, she was pleased that he had finally popped round. It had been almost six weeks, after all. Problems with the girls. Exams for one, university choices for the other. He had to be at home to deal with that, anyone could see.

Having little appetite, she had thrown the lasagna into the kitchen bin. She wasn’t that fond of Italian food anyway, and only made it for John. Marsha had settled for another glass of Prosecco, and some cheese and crackers. She liked to keep her figure. It was important to keep John interested, she knew that. Later on, she satisfied herself under the warm bath water. Adding more hot water, she had time for reflection, with a third glass of the sparkling wine. Fourteen years. Can it really have lasted for so long?

She had been just eighteen, and John almost ten years older. She liked his close-cropped beard, and noticed the way he looked at her legs. It was less than six months before he told her how he felt about her. Naturally, she was flattered, but hardly surprised. The looks, the accidental touching, asking her to stay late for extra work, and telling her about the problems at home. Marsha was not experienced, but even she knew it was only a matter of time. When it came, it was all that she imagined. Frantic, passionate, urgent, and needy. She rode the height of John’s lust, and returned it in the same fashion.

Very soon, it was at least once a week, usually at work. There were some occasions in his car, and one memorable night against a wall in the approach to the railway station. She moved out of her parents’ house, and rented a small flat close to where he lived. They were the golden years. Both going there straight from work, and making love before he left it until the last possible moment to make his way home. They expressed their love to each other. He would leave Bridget soon, once the girls were at secondary school. That was a promise. He only wanted to be with her, and could no longer stand his demanding, nagging wife.

When they went to that school, John didn’t leave. They were unsettled, he told her. Give them a couple more years, and it would be fine. When he promoted her to Personal Assistant, tongues wagged, and heads turned. Marsha didn’t care, she had earned it. Her work was good, and her loyalty beyond question. Besides, they were a couple, in all but name. Very soon the secret would be out, and everyone would just have to keep their stupid mouths shut. John arrived one night with furrowed brows, and not wanting sex. Something was obviously wrong. Victoria, his oldest, was having problems. She had been reported for taking recreational drugs, and her boyfriend was from the wrong side of town. Bridget was beside herself with worry. He would have to stay longer, see the problem through with Victoria, and get her on track for university after all. He was devastated, Marsha could see that. She held him close, fighting back her own tears. “Poor John”, she purred.

Marsha let the water out of the bath. If she dried off quickly, she could still watch her programme, before bed. John just needed a little more time. They would be together very soon.

She was certain of that.

Camarillo Brillo

I am reblogging this post from 2013, in memory of one of my favourite albums of all-time.


In 1973, Frank Zappa released a new record album, called ‘Over-nite Sensation’. I bought this some time later, and as it was the early 1970’s, in vinyl of course, with the benefit of an amazing fold-out cover, done in a surreal art style. I had been a fan of Zappa for a while, attracted by his mixture of lyrics that were almost like pop poetry, married to a fantastic musical style, incorporating rock guitar, jazz, and massive orchestral crescendos. To me, he seemed to personify the best of rebellious America. His lyrics were amusing, often hilarious. They contained references to bodily functions, sexual deviancy, drug use, and hippy lifestyle. Many were also critical of the music industry, and the comfortable middle classes of American society.

Despite all this, his musical talent was undeniable, and the productions still sound relevant today, forty years after release. Although he played most of the…

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Since posting this long article, I have stopped smoking, and switched to vaping. The ban on smoking in public places came in, and I still haven’t had a cigarette. I am reblogging this, as it has never received a ‘Like’ or comment, and has only been viewed a handful of times. Perhaps nobody wants to read about smoking anymore?


When I was very young, everyone I knew, with perhaps three exceptions, was a smoker. My Mum smoked, as did my Dad, my Grandparents, almost all of my Uncles and Aunts, and all the family friends. Smoking was normal. In the street, on the bus or train, in shops, cinemas, theatres, everyone seemed to be smoking. The only place I had never seen anyone smoke was in a church. If you visited someone in hospital, they had an ashtray next to their bed. Cigarettes were sold everywhere; in pubs, shops, railway stations, cafes, restaurants, and even from vending machines in the street. If you are under 40 years of age, you would find it hard to believe how acceptable it was to smoke. Furniture was even sold with built in ashtrays, in recesses in the arms. Cigarette boxes were coordinated with other ornaments, and every room would have a selection…

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Black Rubbish

Unless you don’t have a computer or a TV, or perhaps you are a hermit living in a cave, then you will know that tomorrow is ‘Black Friday’. I was also told today that it is ‘Grey Thursday’, and we all know that next Monday is going to be referred to as ‘Cyber Monday’.

So what is all of this nonsense about? It is another unwanted and unnecessary import from the USA, driven by online retail companies, and later picked up by shops and stores all over the country. Lauded as the days of the best possible discount shopping all year, we are seeing advertised bargains stated to be as much as 75% less than the price of the same item yesterday.

But please don’t be fooled. Many of these ‘must-have items’ are in fact different models to the ones you may well have been thinking about buying. Last year’s model, outdated and superseded. Old stock from warehouses, goods unsold on shop floors, and unpopular items bought in to take advantage of the buying frenzy. Even most of the genuine items are not actually cheaper. Which Magazine, the consumer’s friend, has revealed that over 60% of advertised ‘Black Friday Deals’ were actually cheaper in the weeks leading up to the promotion.

People who have perfectly serviceable goods, working televisions, and recent model washing machines, will be tempted to buy new ones, based on these apparently fantastic bargains. That will leave tens of thousands of unwanted items destined for scrap or landfill, adding to the mountains of non-recyclable rubbish this country is already sinking under.

Please, please, don’t fall for it. Just keep your cards in their wallets or purses, and resist the urge to click ‘Add to basket’ online. It’s a hype, a con, a marketing ploy, and it just isn’t true. All it will succeed in doing is getting those who can least afford it into more debt, and adding a huge pile of garbage to the existing mountains of the stuff.

Remember, Black Friday = Black Rubbish. Be strong, and refuse to be fooled.


Felicity has interviewed Andy Weir, author of ‘The Martian’. She talks to him about his exiting new novel, ‘Artemis’.


Andy Weir author photo credit Aubrie Pick

I’ve just finished reading Andy Weir’s new book “Artemis”. This time Weir’s characters inhabit a colony on the moon in the late twenty-first century. Because there’s been so much talk recently about the colonization of Mars, I was interested to learn what Weir had to say on the moon becoming a colony vs. Mars.

“I think we will colonize the moon before we colonize Mars. While Mars has more raw materials, the moon is just so much closer it’s considerably easier to colonize. Also, unlike Mars, the moon could be a tourist destination due to the comparatively short travel time to get there.”

I always enjoy the detail of Weir’s settings and his scientific solutions to complicated scientific problems. This time however, besides being a human vs. nature struggle, his book presents a crime story with mysteries involved. In Weir’s own words “a plot that was harder to write but…

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