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Film / Say a Word for Poor Hussar

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Say a Word for the Poor Hussar is a Soviet movie from 1980. It was directed by Eldar Ryazanov and featured an all-star cast, including Evgeniy Leonov, Oleg Basilashvili, Valentin Gaft, Georgiy Burkov, and many others.

Set in the middle of XIX century, the movie starts with an investigator of a very high rank arriving in a small town, following a report that a few hussars from the regiment currently stationed there were badmouthing the king. He invents a perfect — as he thinks — test that would show their true allegiance. However, the commander of that regiment, despite being only aware of certain parts of this plan, considers it a great dishonor for his men and devises a plan of his own. Things get complicated as neither plan works exactly as intended.

Caught in a crossfire are two actors from the local theater, a father and a daughter.

The film premiered on Soviet television on January 1, 1981, and wasn't shown again for several years due to Soviet censorship understanding it correctly.

Tropes in Say a Word for the Poor Hussar:

  • Agent Provocateur: Merzlyayev originally plans to turn Artyuhov and, later, Bubentsov into one, more or less. He resorts to a version on Unwitting Pawn when that fails.
  • Band of Brothers: Hussars, Pletnyov and four of his friends in particular. On of the main things that motivate Pletnyov to commit treason is that it would save his friends from dishonor.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: An edge case. Bubentsov has no desire to die, but doesn't want hussars to be forced to be his executioners, and shoots himself because of that.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Protagonists manage to thwart Merzlyayev's evil plans, but at a great cost: one of them is dead, the other is demoted and sent into exile.
  • Bookends: In the beginning of the movie, save for a short prologue, a hussar regiment enters the town. In the end, the same regiment is leaving the town.
    • In the beginning, one of the hussars rides his horse into a house and emerges with a girl. In the end he rides into the same house with a girl, and comes back alone.
    • Both times a black cat crosses the hussars' path. First time the colonel decides to proceed, ignoring a bad omen; second time, however, he turns to a different route.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: At the end, all main characters except for the one who is dead take turns looking directly at the camera and explaining what happens with them later. Several even describe their deaths.

  • Creator Cameo Ryazanov himself appears in a small role of a pastry chef.
    • While Ryazanov did have a habit of playing small parts in his own movies (not all of them, but a significant part), he, according to his autobiography, did not indend to appear in this one. But the actor who was supposed to play this part came in very drunk, barely able to stand upright. Ryazanov decided to save the day by playing it himself.

  • Chivalrous Pervert: Pletnyov. He has troubles understanding why some ladies might not want him, and won't stop pursuing them just because of that, but he would always wait for an explicit "yes".
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: When colonel Pokrovsky mentions that his hussars do not read books or newspapers and don't have any "ideas", both him and count Merzlyayev consider this a good thing.
  • Duel to the Death: Pletnyov challenges Merzlyayev to one. The latter treats this like a baby tantrum.
  • A Father to His Men: Colonel Pokrovsky. His whole world revolves around the hussars in his regiment. He goes as far as committing treason for their sake.
    • The hussars, in their turn, have a lot of respect to him, and he is well aware of that. Near the end of the movie, gendarmes are going to use force on him; he calmly remarks that they would fail, and is immediately proven to be correct, as his men move to defend him even without his order.
  • False Confession: Bubentsov makes one, for a variety of reasons: he wants to keep Pletnyov's respect, he doesn't want Merzlyayev to win, and it's difficult for him to break his act.
  • Faux Action Girl: In-Universe. Nastya briefly pretends to be one, attempting to shift the blame from Pletnyov and her father to herself. Merzlyayev sees right through it.
  • Gambit Pileup: The whole plot. First count Merzlyayev invents a seemingly perfect plan. Colonel Pokrovsky tries to counteract with a plan of his own. Neither plan works; Bubentsov, caught in crossfire, tries a couple of plans of his own, also not quite successfully. At some point, Merzlyayev asks "Can somebody explain how we got here?"
  • Gender Reveal: A rather humorous example. When gendarmes interrupt a dress rehearsal, they are very confused by a female actress playing Cicero and a male actor playing an unnamed woman.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Twice by the same guy, in rapid succession, both times failing. But then he dies anyway.
  • Hidden Depths: Bubentsov and Pletnyov. Both start as careless guys, happily oblivious to evils of the world they live in. Both make right choices at a great personal cost.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Zhuzhu aka Zina. She helps Nastya wake up very drunk Pletnyov; later, she visits him in a hospital and brings him some treats.
  • Ladykiller in Love: Pletnyov eventually does develop deep feelings for Nastya.
  • Left the Background Music On: Inadvertently inverted. Most of times when there is music in the movie, it's either something the charaters do not hear at all, or something with a very clear source — for example, when Pletnyov is playing a guitar. However, there is one scene near the very end, where we clearly see a drum-major directing an regiment's orchestra, but there is no music.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Pletnyov gets mauled by a bear. He enjoys some rest in a hospital, but seems to be doing fine, not even losing his appetite.
  • Military Salute: Hussar regiment salutes Pletnyov at the end of the movie, clearly recognizing his demotion as unfair. Pletnyov returns the salute with a tear in his eye.
  • Mood Whiplash: Second part of the movie is much darker than the first. What started as a lighthearted comedy, ends with one of the hero's death.
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong: Averted, despite the movie being set in Russia. Hussars in general and Pletnyov in particular are not badasses because of harsh Russian conditions; they are army elite.
  • One-Man Army: Guys in the regiment say one Pletnyov is worth ten ordinary soldiers. It's probably true.
  • Polly Wants a Microphone: One of the subplots involves a bird seller, who, by mistake, bought a parrot, who kept screaming "King is a fool!" Before long, all his parrots were repeating the same thing, and one even took it further, screaming things like "Down with the king!" Authorities are not pleased.
  • Robotic Torture Device: A humorous example. At some point the Torture Technician suggests using a certain "English machine" on a prisoner. First, it turns out the device doesn't work, probably because he never read the instruction manual (as it doesn't have a Russian version). Later he succeeds in making it work... on himself.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Pokrovsky's counterplan is very illegal and can get him and Pletnyov in big trouble. Neither of them cares much, especially since this plan, successful or not, should save other hussars from dishonor, which all of them consider as Fate Worse than Death.
  • Staged Shooting: Merzlyayev's original plan.
  • Title Drop: The name of a movie is also a line in a song Pletnyov sings near the middle of the movie. This song, however, is not directly related to the events of the movie.
  • Vodka Drunkenski: Artyuhov isn't shown as drunk, but is implied to be a heavy drinker. His Breaking the Fourth Wall segment at the end reveals that drinking caused him to freeze to death.
  • What Could Have Been: In-Universe. At a certain point, closer to the end of the movie, Bubentsov muses that if it wasn't for a small misstep he made in the beginning, all the craziness won't happen. He is wrong: there is a very high chance that he would still get in prison and all the events would play out pretty much as they did, with the exception that some other hussar would take Pletnyov's place. But Pletnyov isn't much different from other hussars, so, it won't be a big difference.
  • Wicked Cultured: Merzlyayev. He is very polite, has a good taste in music, quotes poetry, at the same time ruining lives with his manipulations.