When Principles Are Not Enough – The Tartars (1961)

The Tartars, a peplum-action film released in 1961 is much like the rest in the genre yet is elevated just a little due to its cast which would feature Victor Mature in the lead as the Viking chief and Orson Welles as the main baddie and a Khan of the Tatars.

The story itself would feature a man standing up for his principles, that being Mature as Oleg, a man who refuses to betray those he calls friend in order to maintain a peace between himself and the Mongols. Doing that means he can no longer be considered a friend and realizing that Oleg kidnaps the chieftain’s daughter Samia as played by Bella Cortez after killing him in order that they escape safely. Revenge is quickly taken as newly minted Kahn Burundai has his men attack a Viking longship, thereby taking Oleg’s wife captive and a deal is soon worked out between the two to exchange prisoners. Tragedy strikes as Oleg’s wife is raped and she soon dies thereafter at the exchange after an accident sees her plunge off of the castle walls. She succumbs to her injuries, a sub-plot involving Oleg’s brother and Samia comes to a conclusion and Oleg and his men battle the Tatars to the bitter end where both leaders fail to survive the fight. The battle scenes within would be very entertaining though nothing exceptional with the action moving things along at a decent pace. It would have been nice to see Mature and Welles go about it for a bit longer, the spotlight focused upon them just a bit more but at the end of the day, the film would accomplish what it needed to and not be any poorer for it.

While Mature was his usual heroic self, it would be Welles as the villain that would truly command in the movie, his on-screen presence larger-than-life and making his character both vile and frightening because of it. Seeing Welles in a sword and sandal film is definitely a little strange but it goes to prove that the man was versatile and could handle anything that would head his way. Liana Orfei would play the doomed Helga, wife of Oleg and give a solid performance of her own while Luciano Marin and Cortez would help to move things along as the young lovers brought together by chance. Given the two stories that were running along side-by-side, seeing Eric and Samia perhaps getting a little more involved with what was going on might have made for a better picture, yet taking anything away from Mature or Welles would itself be criminal considering they did such a good job heading it all up.

Betrayal and vengeance are strong motivators that can make a man do crazy things if he is not careful and yet, most find themselves ruled by them as shown within. Though The Tartars ended up being standard fare where peplums are concerned and Mature not exactly looking as a Viking should, the film is still worth a glance simply due to the fact that he and Welles appear.

2.5 out of 5

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