Russian director Sergei Bondarchuk's epic version of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace (Voyna i Mir) was the most expensive European film ever made for many years. It certainly had one of the longest gestation periods, with Bondarchuk spending seven years filming the project (the actors noticeably age from scene to scene). In relating Tolstoy's complex tale of Napoleon's invasion of Russia, Bondarchuk helmed some of the most graphic battle scenes ever seen, one of which runs nearly 45 minutes. So many horses were killed in these sequences that the film was loudly boycotted in some American cities by the ASPCA. While Bondarchuk is slavish to the source material, he does make a few Hollywood-like concessions to popular appeal; his leading lady Lyudmila Savelyeva looks exactly like Audrey Hepburn, the star of King Vidor's 1956 filmization of the Tolstoy novel. Originally clocking in at 507 minutes, War and Peace was pared down to 373 minutes for American consumption. It became a surprise theatrical hit, and a ratings bonanza when it was telecast on the ABC network in four parts from August 12 through 15, 1972. A big film, to be sure -- but few modern critics consider Bondarchuk's War and Peace a great film, citing its many deadly dull passages and its sappy, operatic finale. The dubbed American version is narrated by Norman Rose. The full Russian-language version with English subtitles is now available on video.
by Hal Erickson synopsis