The Horsemen
Promotional film poster
Directed byJohn Frankenheimer
Written byDalton Trumbo
Based onLes cavaliers
1967 novel
by Joseph Kessel
Produced byEdward Lewis
StarringOmar Sharif
Leigh Taylor-Young
Jack Palance
CinematographyAndré Domage
James Wong Howe
Claude Renoir
Edited byHarold F. Kress
Music byGeorges Delerue
Distributed byColumbia
Release date
  • July 24, 1971 (1971-07-24)
Running time
109 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$4.7 million[1]

The Horsemen is a 1971 American adventure film starring Omar Sharif, directed by John Frankenheimer; screenplay by Dalton Trumbo. Based on a 1967 novel by French writer Joseph Kessel, Les Cavaliers (The Horsemen) shows Afghanistan and its people the way they were before the wars that wracked the country, particularly their love for the sport of buzkashi. The film was filmed in Afghanistan and Spain.


Uraz (Omar Sharif), the son of Tursen (Jack Palance), the stable master and retired buzkashi player for a feudal lord, is a master horseman who lives by a primitive code of honor. Uraz's family honor is damaged when he breaks his leg playing the game, which is the Afghani equivalent of polo. His father, who lost a lot of money betting on his son, will barely speak to him. To regain the family honor (and wealth) he must somehow re-learn how to ride – after his injuries cost him his leg below the knee. In the face of great obstacles, and despite the derision and treachery of others, he gains the chance to play in the games given by the king of Afghanistan.[2]



The original novel was published in 1967. It was a best seller in France before being released in the US.[3] Film rights were bought by John Frankenheimer and Edward Lewis who set up the film at Columbia. Dalton Trumbo, who had just written The Fixer for Frankenheimer, was signed to do the script.[4]

The film took two and a half years to make and was shot on location in Afghanistan, and in Spain (including Caminito del Rey). According to director John Frankenheimer:

It represents for me the first time I've been able to put together the two sides of my work – the spectacle like Grand Prix or The Train and the intimate kind of picture like Birdman of Alcatraz or Seven Days in May. For me it has a very contemporary meaning, which is why I did it. It's a man looking for himself, a theme that I've done over and over on TV and in movies. I do think that Dalton Trumbo is the best screenwriter we've got... Most of my films are about putting people under extreme pressure. Because my contention in life is that how you know people is how they respond to a crisis.[1]


The film was a box office disappointment. It remained, however, a personal favorite of John Frankenheimer, who later said the film had been "dumped" by Columbia after various executives were in conflict with each other.[5]

Roger Ebert gave the film two and a half of four stars and wrote that "neither John Frankenheimer's spare, heroic direction nor Claude Renoir's spectacular photography can quite bring this horseman to life."[6] Vincent Canby of the New York Times called the film and the novel of The Horsemen "fiction designed to glorify machismo of the most ignorant, savage sort," and called the movie "a remote, choppy adventure."[7]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Frankenheimer a hothead with an up-down film record". Los Angeles Times. Jul 18, 1971. ProQuest 156831607 – via ProQuest.
  2. ^ "The Horsemen (1971) – John Frankenheimer | Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related". AllMovie.
  3. ^ B. B. (Jun 16, 1968). "Two men and a horse". New York Times. ProQuest 118269083 – via ProQuest.
  4. ^ Martin, B. (Nov 8, 1968). "MOVIE CALL SHEET". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 156158501 – via ProQuest.
  5. ^ BERNARD, W. A. (Sep 13, 1998). "Thriving on an atmosphere of no illusions". New York Times. ProQuest 109919511 – via ProQuest.
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (6 August 1971). "The Horsemen (1971)". Roger Retrieved 2022-06-29.
  7. ^ Canby, Vincent (1971-07-22). "Screen: Honor and 'The Horsemen':Afghan Tale Opens at Local Theaters Lead Roles Shared by Sharif and Palance". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-06-29.