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Film / Hussar Ballad

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Shura (Golubkina, on the left) and Rzhevsky (Yakovlev, on the right)
Hussar Ballad (Гусарская баллада) is a Soviet musical comedy from 1962. It was directed by Eldar Ryazanov and starred Larisa Golubkina, Yuri Yakovlev, and Igor Ilyinsky.

Set in 1812, the movie follows Shura (Golubkina), a girl who just turned 17. Her uncle and legal guardian arranges a masked ball in her honor, and for that ball she dresses as a hussar cornet (second lieutenant). The uniform fits her so perfectly, that even a real hussar lieutenant Rzhevsky (Yakovlev) does not realize he is talking with a girl instead of a fellow officer. As there is an arranged marriage between her and Rzhevsky, which neither of them seems to favour, she uses this opportunity to tease Rzhevsky mercilessly, getting him to reveal everything he doesn't like in women, and then, dressed as a girl, giving him exactly that.

However, this game ends quickly as the local governor arrives at the ball announcing that the war with France started. Rzhevsky, after saying a few ardent words about protecting one's motherland, leaves for the army, still not knowing he was played with. Shura, inspired by his words and wanting to prove herself on a battlefield, leaves shortly after. She successfully gets into the army, although not as a front line fighter, as she wanted, but as a messenger. Only much later she meets Rzhevsky again, purely by chance. She also meets Field Marshal Kutuzov (Ilyinsky) who, accidentally, uncovers her secret, but the situation forces him to keep his mouth shut. Finally, she joins Colonel Vasilyev’s guerrilla squadron and gets some real action.

Hussar Ballad premiered in theaters on September 7, 1962. It received very positive reviews, and remains quite popular ever since.

Tropes in 'Hussar Ballad':

  • Action Girl: Shura. An orphan, being raised by her uncle, former military, and his batman, Shura is a skilled horseback rider and a sharpshooter. Her fencing skills, while not great initially, become much better near the end of the film.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The film is based on a play A Long Time Ago (Давным-давно) by Alexander Gladkov, and remains a mostly faithful adaptation, despite being much shorter. A few episodes were changed to better use the medium without affecting the storyline in general.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Minor. Several additional scenes were added by the director, mostly fight sequences, adding dynamics to the film and preventing it from being just a filmed theatrical performance.
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole:
    • A minor one, concerning Shura acquiring her uniform. In the play, Shura had a cousin who was an officer and died a while earlier. In the film, that cousin is implied to be alive and is said to have left his uniform while visiting. It is a little hard to believe that an officer would simply forget his entire uniform and then wouldn’t ask for its return.
    • Another minor one in the final battle scene. In the play, Rzhevsky breaks down the door to the room where Shura is locked up. In the film, Shura apparently opens the door herself and runs down to meet him, though she is completely unarmed. It makes it seem that a spy sentenced to shooting is simply brought into a room and forgotten about.
  • Adaptational Late Appearance: In the play, Shura captures Salgari when she is still an aide-de-camp. In the film, it occurs much later, after she transfers to Vasilyev's squadron.
  • Artistic License – History: Field Marshal Kutuzov was only appointed as the head of the army two months after the start of war; yet in the movie it's indicated that he leads the army from the very beginning.
  • Artistic License – Military: Rzhevsky, first meeting Shura, comments that her uniform makes her a Pavlograd hussar, while in reality she is dressed as a Sumy hussar; and Rzhevsky is a guy who would know.
  • Band of Brothers: Colonel Vasiljev's guerrilla squadron. They treat each other like family, which makes Shura very welcome in their circle, as soon as they find out she is a friend of Rzhevsky.
  • The Bet: Shura and Rzhevsky make a bet on whether he would eventually save his bride (who is Shura herself, although he doesn't know that), or not. Amusingly, Rzhevsky is the one who claims it won't happen ever, as he despises the girl, and claims he would never come at her aid.
  • Beta Couple: Pyotr Pelymov and Louise Germon, who quarrelled the previous winter but clearly still care for each other. They reconcile by the end of the film.
  • Bling of War: Uniforms are mostly correct, but originally intended for parades only; day-to-day uniforms were considerably less chic.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Despite quite a lot of people being killed in battles, barely any blood is shown.
  • Book Burning: Shura sneaks into the French lines as a spy, wearing a French uniform. She finds a French regiment bivouacked in her family's mansion, with French officers chucking her uncle's books into the fire for warmth. For extra bitter irony, the books are French classics such as Corneille and Racine (to be fair, the Frenchmen are shown to be sad about burning them, but they are just too cold).
  • …But He Sounds Handsome: Shura, in disguise, gets outraged when Rzhevsky claims his bride-to-be (her alleged cousin) is ugly to the point of repulsiveness, and interrupts him, saying that the "cousin" is pretty.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: For the most of the film, Shura wears a distinctive light grey uniform, which makes it easy to spot her in the crowd.
    • Inverted at the end of the movie, when Rzhevsky wears a black cloak over his usual blue uniform, which makes seeing him a bit of a surprise.
  • Cool Old Guy:
    • Kutuzov. Old and fat, he is also wise and witty, supposedly a great leader, treated with respect by everybody in the army, including Shura.
    • Ivan, Shura's batman, as well. He is old, but quite strong, and a formidable fighter.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle
    • Guerrilla squadron's attack on the French supply unit. Guerrillas clearly outnumber the French guards, and have generally better fighters.
    • The French marauders’ ambush of general Balmashov. He has only a few guards, who, while giving a decent fight, are quickly disposed of.
  • Cultured Warrior: Pelymov, an officer from among the guerrillas, is one of their most badass fighters but is often engrossed in a book when at rest.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Salgari, captured by Shura, but simultaneously saved by her from freezing to death, swears to be her friend forever.
  • Duel to the Death: Shura and Rzhevsky. Amusingly, over a woman, although Shura is absolutely straight.
  • Dying as Yourself: Implied to be Shura's intention. Sentenced to die, she changes from a uniform into her old dress.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Shura gets through a lot of trouble, risking her life on numerous occasions, but finally earns genuine respect from Vasilyev’s guerrillas, not to mention finding a love of her life.
  • Eek, a Mouse!!: After all her bravery in combat, after shooting French cavalrymen off their horses, Shura faints at the sight of a mouse.
  • Elective Broken Language: Shura speaks in an exaggerated French accent as a part of her joke on Rzhevsky.
  • Eyelash Fluttering: Exaggerated on purpose as part of Shura's trolling of Rzhevsky. She meets him in a Sweet Polly Oliver disguise and finds out that he believes her to be a mindless, gossipy flirt, so when they are properly introduced, she (now in a frilly dress with fake curls and heavy makeup) madly flutters her eyelashes at him with a stupid grin.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Vincento is killed when the battle is almost won, and his final words are a calm comment on how the French general holds true to his promise to shoot him. The play also has him Go Out with a Smile.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Shura grows mad with jealousy when Rzhevsky starts flirting with Louise, and she doesn't do a good job of hiding it.
  • Impersonation Gambit: Shura, dressed as a French lieutenant, infiltrates the Dusier's headquarters, giving the name of a real lieutenant, Vincento Salgari, earlier captured by her. It gets complicated when the real Salgari escapes and shows up at headquarters as well.
  • I Owe You My Life: Twice, both time with Shura as a savior and with the saved not knowing of her gender:
    • General Balmashov, saved from French marauders' ambush, later pulls rank on Kutuzov himself, forcing him to recognize Shura's heroism.
    • Vincento Salgari, to whom she gave her short coat to keep him warm; later he commits treason for her, convincing other French officers that she is his brother, carrying the same name because of an ancient family tradition.
  • Jealous Romantic Witness:
    • Louise's Old Flame Pelymov has to watch it, though Rzhevsky is aware of their past relationship and asks him if he is okay with Rzhevsky hitting on her. Pelymov, determined to forget his love for Louise after their quarrel, assures him he isn't jealous in the slightest, but his expressions say otherwise.
    • It's much harder for Rzhevsky's fiancee Shura, since she is in a Sweet Polly Oliver disguise and Rzhevsky doesn't know it's her (theirs is an Arranged Marriage, and the one time he met her as a woman she trolled him by putting on lots of powder and acting overly girly). She also has to watch the flirting and can't contain her rage, drinking heavily and crying out that she hates actresses and women in general. Things get even more complicated when Louise admires the youthful and passionate "boy" and decides to tease both Rzhevsky and Pelymov by being affectionate towards "him".
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Played mostly straight; unlike most movies set in this time period, neither Emperor Napoleon, nor the Russian Tsar appear on-screen. Kutuzov is the only real historical figure featured here, and he is not shown making any history-making moves.
  • Number Two: Rzhevsky is this to Colonel Vasilyev. He is Vasilyev’s second in command, and, while not much of a strategist, successfully leads the squadron in a fight.
  • One Size Fits All: Shura is several inches shorter than Salgari and has a different build, but somehow, when she infiltrates the French camp in his uniform, it is shown to fit her perfectly.
  • Papa Wolf: Ivan, Shura's batman and previously that of her uncle, cares about her deeply and looks after her in the fights, sometimes saving her life.
  • Politically Correct History: Mostly averted; the setting is definitely sexist and Kutuzov initially sees Shura's presence in the army as a dishonor. However, everybody who knows her as a fighter, is OK with accepting her as a soldier.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Nearly everybody, including protagonists, is eager to kill some French soldiers, and sees fighting in a war as necessary to be a man. Justified, as they are protecting their own country, not starting a war on their own.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Kutuzov is the wisest guy in the whole film, and quick to acknowledge his mistakes if he makes any. Also, Balmashov pulls his rank only for a good cause.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Every time some character learns of Shura's real gender, it causes a lot of disbelief.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: An edge case. Kutuzov is initially reluctant to give Shura an award for saving Balmashov's life; the latter, being technically on a lower level than Kutuzov, still successfully pulls rank on him, due to the fact that he is a personal messenger for the Russian Tsar. Justified, as the only reason for Kutuzov's reluctance is that Shura is a girl, which Balmashov is unaware of.
  • Snow Means Death: This time, for the French army. Russians, much better accustomed to the harsh weather, see winter as their ally.
  • Spared By Adaptation:
    • A minor case: Shura’s actual officer cousin has died in the play, but in the film she only says that he was visiting and left his uniform.
    • In a sense, Shura’s favourite doll. In the play, the French officers shoot it (For the Evulz, to pass the time), right before Shura’s eyes. The film omits the scene.
  • Spoiled Sweet: Louise Germon is a world-famous singer who is provided with means of comfortable travel even in the midst of war. She is also a genuinely kind-hearted woman, desperately trying to make peace between Rzhevsky and Shura and being among the first to rush to Shura's aid when it seems the latter is wounded. The play also mentions that it is she who nurses Azarov when the latter is sick, delirious and in captivity.
  • Sweet on Polly Oliver: Played with. Rzhevsky considers Shura, in her uniform, as a friend. After learning the truth, however, he quickly realizes he is in love with her.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Shura. She dresses as a man to help protecting her motherland and to get some fame in the process.
  • Time Skip: A clever one. On a clear sunny day, we see the French army marching jauntily down a road. There's a closeup of a sign saying "To Moscow". Then a cut to that same sign, but in the dead of winter with snow everywhere. Then we see a much less jaunty French army marching in the opposite direction.
  • Tomboyish Name: Shura, short for Alexander or Alexandra, is a gender-neutral Russian name, so she doesn't have to change her name significantly.
  • Translation Convention: When Shura infiltrates the French headquarters, she poses as a French lieutenant. The dialog on screen is in Russian, although we are supposed to assume she is speaking French while talking to enemy officers. Justified, as French was indeed very popular among Russian nobles at the time, so it's very probable that she had a good command of French; also, she poses as not a Frenchman, but a Spaniard, which might explain away any imperfections.
  • Trapped by Gambling Debts: In the beginning of the film, Rzhevsky is not at all eager to marry, but he has lost a lot of money in card games, and has been saved by his uncle who demands in return that Rzhevsky marries.
  • True Companions: The guerrillas. After learning that Shura's captured, they rush to her aid, despite being outnumbered. They succeed.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Although it was never claimed to be really based on a true story, there are some similarities between Shura's story and a real-life one of Nadezhda Durova, who, dressed as a man, joined the army and proved to be a good fighter. Key points like Shura's age, motivation, army rank, romantic interest etc. are completely different though.
  • Vodka Drunkenski: The guerrillas of Vasilyev’s squadron celebrate the victory in a battle by consuming a lot of wine; Shura, trying to blend in, becomes quite drunk, makes a fool of herself, barely avoids exposure and faints.
  • War Is Glorious: For everyone.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Shura. Her uniform starts as a costume for a masked ball, and later serves as means to get into army.


Killed at Dawn

(Spoiler for "Hussar Ballad")

Vincento, the only named character to die in the film, is tragically killed while wearing a white shirt.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (1 votes)

Example of:

Main / WhiteShirtOfDeath

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