Tony Mastroianni Review Collection
"Horsethief" is Unpleasant Stuff
Cleveland Press September 17, 1971
"Romance of a Horsethief" is a comedy without any feel for comedy. What eventually happens is funny enough but most of the people involved are deadly serious.
What was needed was a sense of nonsense. What we get is a great amount of earnestness.
Yul Brynner is a Cossack officer (isn't he always?) billeted in a little border town for "having loved too well in St. Petersburg."
He is surrounded by peasants, Polish and Jewish, who resent many things but most of all resent having their horses requisitioned in the name of the Czar for use in the 1904 war with Japan.
Among the most resentful is Eli Wallach, a master horsethief, and his young, handsome and athletic assistant, Oliver Tobias.
It takes a long time for everything to fall into place but what with stealing horses back and forth, outwitting Brynner and fleeing to the border, the actors manage to pick up steam in the last few minutes.
Brynner speaks in that all purpose accent of his that could be Russian. Wallach is basically Wallach. Lainie Kazan as the local madame is strictly New York, and Jane Birkin as the pretty heroine sounds very English.
David Opatoshu, who also wrote the screenplay, portrays a Jewish father and at least he can shrug Jewish. It's getting so you can't tell a peasant without a program.