Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Horseman" Scenery Is Stunning

Cleveland Press December 16, 1971

"The Horseman" was filmed in Afghanistan, and the scenery is both offbeat and magnificent. The rest of the movie doesn't live up to the scenery.

Director John Frankenheimer can't be faulted for a lack of serious purpose, just for a lack of material to fit his purpose. He seems to be enamored with men who undertake dangerous callings ("Grand Prix," "The Gypsy Moths").

His heroes have a death wish. In "Gypsy Moths" skydiver Burt Lancaster exercises his wish. In other cases his protagonists are content with seeing how close they can get.

In "The Horseman" the dangerous game men play is a combination of polo and soccer on horseback with a headless calf as the item to be carried across the goal.

Once a rider has a grip on the carcass just about anything goes as the others try to take it away from him. It's pretty wild, pretty bloody and pretty grim. The movie is definitely exciting as it presents this strange sport.

But matters drag the rest of the time. Omar Sharif is the son of a clan chieftain, Jack Palance. Papa, in his time, was the best guy around at the sport of buzkashi -- that's the name of the crazy polo game.

Now there is to be a big meet, and Sharif will be allowed to ride his father's favorite horse. Sharif is well on his way to winning when he is injured, his leg broken.

Feeling he is in disgrace, he flees the hospital, knocks the cast off his leg and with horse and servant takes the long and dangerous way home. Along the way his servant and a wandering hooker (Leigh Taylor-Young) try to do him in.

Gangrene sets in and a local shepherd performs the amputation with an axe in what is the most horrendous scene of its type since Clint Eastwood had the same job done by a couple of southern belles in "The Beguiled."

There's more, mostly an extension of the father-son and loss-of-dignity motifs. Sharif plays the part with one expression, grim. He's becoming more and more a one-expression actor. Palance simply looks tired. Miss Young chews the scenery, thus making up for any lack of animation on the part of the other performers.

In addition to the buzkashi there are several animal fights.

The dialog is of the type that tries to indicate that all peasants are really terribly deep and poetic -- "The days are scorched by the heat of a thousand suns."