The Cossacks (1928 film)

The Cossacks is a 1928 American silent drama film produced and distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) and directed by George Hill and Clarence Brown. The film stars John Gilbert and Renée Adorée and is based on the 1863 novel The Cossacks by Leo Tolstoy.[2][3]

The Cossacks
The Cossacks 1928 lobbycard.jpg
Directed byGeorge W. Hill
Clarence Brown
Written byFrances Marion (adaptation)
John Colton (intertitles)
Screenplay byFrances Marion
Based onThe Cossacks
1864 novel
by Leo Tolstoy
StarringJohn Gilbert
Renée Adorée
CinematographyPercy Hilburn (*French)
Edited byBlanche Sewell
Music byWilliam Axt
Paul Lamkoff
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • June 23, 1928 (1928-06-23)
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageSilent (English intertitles)
Box office$1.3 million (worldwide rentals)[1]

Plot summaryEdit



The Cossacks was beset with problems due to MGM executives requesting various script changes during filming. Frances Marion, who wrote the screenplay, became frustrated by the numerous requests and later said she "lost track of what the story was really about and the material seemed frayed on all edges." The film's stars, John Gilbert and Renée Adorée, complained about the numerous rewrites and felt their roles were "not worthy".[4]

Before filming completed, George W. Hill requested that he be removed as director as he did not like the film's subject matter and had tired of Gilbert and Adorée's complaints. Clarence Brown was then hired to reshoot several scenes and ultimately completed the film.[4]

Among the many extras used in The Cossacks were members of a "Dijigit Troupe" of over 100 genuine Russian Cossacks, who in 1926 came to the United States from Europe after performing equestrian exhibitions and traditional Cossack musical and dance shows in various cities in France and England.[5][6] Once the troupe arrived in the United States, MGM contracted some of its horsemen to perform as trick riders and as doubles in several of the studio's films in 1927 and 1928, including The Gaucho and The Cossacks.[5] In its review of The Cossacks in June 1928, the American entertainment trade publication Variety notes the use of these Russian extras and their contributions to enhancing the authentic "look" of the film. Variety also comments about the equestrian exhibition, "the fiasco", that the Cossack troupe had presented in New York at Madison Square Garden before some of its performers continued to California, where MGM crews had constructed elaborate location sets for the Cossacks in Laurel Canyon:[6]

The Cossack village [built by MGM] is a faithful reproduction of the real thing. Superb horsemanship. The riders are mostly real Russians who came to this country to work in this picture and stopped en route to Hollywood to pull the most gigantic flop that Madison Square Garden has yet housed. The survivors of the fiasco finally reached the coast and are present in this film.[7]


The Cossacks received mixed reviews from critics upon its release in 1928. Variety gave generally high marks to the actors' performances and to the film's overall production values:

The flaps, who want to see John Gilbert mauling some dame in hot love scenes may not fancy this M-G-M as much as some of his former releases, but picture lovers and adults will find plenty of entertainment in the beautiful photography, production and story...[Gilbert] gives a splendid performance as does Ernest Torrence who shaved his dome for this one. Mary Alden as the mother also rings the bell. Miss Adoree is winsome and sweet as the little reason for it all and Neil Neely ought to boost the tourist travel of school teachers into the land of the Soviet.[7]

Mordaunt Hall, the influential film critic for The New York Times in 1928, viewed Gilbert's performance quite differently. Hall disparaged the actor's interpretation of Lukashka, both in his portrayal of the character's temperament and physical appearance:

Mr. Gilbert is much too gay for the character. His laughter is hollow. He is stirred to merriment by actions that would hardly provoke a smile, and in more serious moments he appears to be self-conscious. He never appeals to one as the son of a Cossack chieftain, despite the fact that at the outset this Lukashka is looked upon by the Cossacks and their women as a "woman man." He does not like the smell of blood, preferring peace and meditation on his handsome appearance. He is brought to another line of thought after men and women of the Cossack community have dressed him in a woman's apron and thrown grapes in his face...This picture is not particularly stirring, not nearly so much as it might have been. Had Mr. Gilbert's acting been equal to that of Ernest Torrence [or] René Adorée this film would have gained considerable power. Mr. Gilbert might also have permitted a day or two of beard to grow during some emergencies.[8]

The film earned rentals of $747,000 in the United States and Canada and foreign rentals of $588,000 for a total of $1,335,000.[1]


  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles, California: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. ^ White Munden, Kenneth, ed. (1997). The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States: Feature Films, 1921–1930. University of California Press. p. 146. ISBN 0-520-20969-9.
  3. ^ Progressive Silent Film List: The Cossacks at
  4. ^ a b Beauchamp, Cari (1998). Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood. University of California Press. pp. 219–220. ISBN 0-520-92138-0.
  5. ^ a b Anikouchine, William Alexander (1999)."Cossack Timeline", 1925-1928, Foundation for East European Family History Studies, Payson, Utah; retrieved December 15, 2017.
  6. ^ a b Axmaker, Sean. "The Cossacks (1928)", article, Turner Classic Movies (TCM), Turner Broadcasting System, a subsidiary of Time Warner, New York, N.Y.; retrieved December 13, 2017.
  7. ^ a b "Con" (1928). "THE COSSACKS", film reviews, Variety, New York, N.Y., June 27, 1928, p. 31. Internet Archive, San Francisco, California; retrieved December 12, 2017.
  8. ^ Hall, Mordaunt (1928). "THE SCREEN; Scintillating Fun", movie review, The New York Times, June 25, 1928; retrieved December 13, 2017.

External linksEdit