In the late ‘60s Vladimir Posner (father of Phil Donohue’s buddy), the boss at Mosfilm Studios wanted to make a western. He gave the job to a pair of screenwriters, Valentin Yezhov and Rustem Ibragimbekov. What Posner got back was not exactly a Western, but the very first Eastern.
Yezhov and Ibragimbekov transposed the Western cliches into a distinctly Soviet setting. Instead of a cowboy, the protagonist is a Red Army soldier, instead of the War Between the States, the era is the Russian Revolution, instead of Indians or bandidos, the antagonists are basmichi, Turkmen rebels. The result is a classic adventure tale told in a distinct and refreshing style.
Sukhov (Anatoli Kusnetsov) is a Red Army soldier on his way home. In the middle of the desert he finds a man buried up to his neck. This is Sayid (played by Spartak Mishulin), who, once rescued, promptly departs vowing revenge on the outlaws that killed his pa.
No sooner does Sukhov get underway than his is diverted again. This time he must guard a group of women rescued from the harem of Abdullah (played by Kakhi Kavsadze), a basmichi chief. Sukhov’s only help comes from Petrushka, a young private and Vershchagin, a former Tsarist customs officer.
Motyl takes a light approach to White Sun of the Desert. The film is part comedy, part action movie, with as much of the feel of a Russian folk tale as of a Hollywood shoot-‘em-up. White Sun was an instant hit in the USSR (thanks to an enthusiastic review by First Secretary Brezhnev) and is the prototype of the many “Easterns” that followed. This is perhaps one of the most accessible of that genre for Western audiences. I recommend it for someone looking for a departure from the usual Hollywood fare.