Bondarchuk's War and Peace

Literary Classic to Soviet Cinematic Epic

Denise J. Youngblood

Sergei Bondarchuks War and Peace, one of the worlds greatest film epics, originated as a consequence of the Cold War. Conceived as a response to King Vidors War and Peace, Bondarchuks surpassed that film in every way, giving the USSR one small victory in the cultural Cold War for hearts and minds. This book, taking up Bondarchuks masterpiece as a Cold War film, an epic, a literary adaptation, a historical drama, and a rival to Vidors Hollywood version, recovers—and expands—a lost chapter in the cultural and political history of the twentieth century.

Like many great works of literature, Tolstoys epic tale proved a major challenge to filmmakers. After several early efforts to capture the storys grandeur, it was not until 1956 that King Vidor dared to bring War and Peace to the big screen. American critics were lukewarm about the film, but it was shown in the Soviet Union to popular acclaim. This book tells the story of how the Soviet government, military, and culture ministry—all eager to reclaim this Russian masterpiece from their Cold War enemies—pulled together to make Bondarchuks War and Peace possible. Bondarchuk, an actor who had directed only one film, was an unlikely choice for director, and yet he produced one of the great works of Soviet cinema, a worthy homage to Tolstoys masterpiece—an achievement only sweetened when Russias Cold War adversary recognized it with the Academy Awards Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of 1968.

“Youngblood shows how a careful, scholarly comprehensive treatment of a film subject can be presented in a short, accessible format.


“Anyone interested in war film will certainly find this of great value.

—New York Military Affairs Symposium
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Denise Youngblood examines the film as an epic (and at seven hours long, released in four parts, at a cost of nearly $700,000,000 in todays dollars, it was certainly that), a literary adaptation, a complex reflection on history, and a significant artifact of the cultural Cold War between the US and the USSR. From its various angles, the book shows us Bondarchuks extraordinary film in its many dimensions—aesthetic, political, and historical—even as it reveals what the film tells us about how Soviet patriotism and historical memory were constructed during the Cold War.

About the Author

Denise J. Youngblood is professor of history at the University of Vermont. Her many books include Russian War Films: On the Cinema Front, 1914-2005, and, with Tony Shaw, Cinematic Cold War: The American and Soviet Struggle for Hearts and Minds, both published by Kansas.