Lotna (1959)



Director:     Andrzej Wajda.   

Starring:     Jerzy Pichelski (Cavalry Captain Chodakiewicz),  Adam Pawlikowski (Lieutenant Witek Wodnicki),  Jerzy Moes (Cadet Grabowski),  Mieczyslaw Loza (Sergeant Major Laton),  Bozena Kurowska (Ewa),  Bronislaw Dardzinski (Lotna's Owner). 

 Polish cavalry up against German tanks in the German invasion of Poland


Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.

A lone horse gallops across the field as artillery shells explode. The Polish cavalry watch as the horse runs magnificently.

The men go into a mansion. The ladies are not there to greet them. They must have gotten the news about the Germans before they did. Someone left the water running in the bathtub. The men hear a horse walking around. They take a look around the place. They open a door and find the horse named Lotna eating from the hand of its master who is in bed.

The men introduce themselves: Captain Chodakiewicz, Lieutenant Wodnicki and Cadet Grabowski. They explain to the old man that the Germans broke the front line. They will be here soon and he must hide the horse from them.

The captain gets a dispatch. He tells the two other men: "Gentlemen! To horse!" They leave the room. The captain tells the old man he should leave the palace for at least a few days. The old man doesnít think anything will happen to him. He rings a bell and a woman comes in to take the horse Lotna out. The old man offers the horse to the captain. The captain says: "God bless you!" The captain gives the order to saddle up the white horse with his saddle from his horse Wrona.

The Polish roads are all jammed up with trucks, horses, wagon, civilians and soldiers, all fleeing from the Germans. The Polish cavalry rides by the people on the road. Artillery pieces are stuck in the mud. German airplanes start bombing the roads and the people scurry off the roads to seek cover.

Away from the roads the white horse is brought to the captain. He gets on and the unit continues to move. At night Wodnicki and Grabowski talk about the white horse. Outside there is a huge convoy of German soldiers and supply trucks.

The captain explains that they are surrounded. They must bust out of the encirclement for they will be needed yet. He says their only chance is to break through with sabers. The men are worried about when will the tanks arrive.

The lady of the house is informed that the men are leaving without breakfast. She goes to the captain to see if anything has happened. The captain tells her: "If you harness the horses to the coach and stand by the woods, you will see a nice uhlans charge."

It is still dark when the men leave. The men start galloping with their sabers in their hands. The bugler blows the horn and the men shout. They saber a number of German soldiers and break through the line and cross over the river. They keep on galloping. But on the ridge they see German tanks. The men charge, but start losing man after man and horse after horse. The tanks roll right over some of the horses and men.

Quite a few of the men survive. The white horse returns with the captainís body hanging to the side. They retrieve the body. They take the body inside a farm house and lay it on a table. The cadet now takes Lotna. A priest comes to conduct a service for the dead man.

The cadet gets the white horse. The sergeant resents this because he thinks because he saw the horse first it belongs to him. The cadet is criticized for not sitting properly on the horse when he rides. The priests gets on the horse and shows the men the proper way to ride a horse. He obviously has ridden a lot.

The cadet pays a visit to a pretty school teacher in her empty school room. He tells her that he knew her in school but was too shy to ever talk to her. As they talk the sound of German planes is heard overhead. The house is strafed by machine gun fire. The cadet runs to the teacher to hold her. After the immediate danger is over she cries.

Lieutenant Wodnicki arrives to tell Cadet Jerzy that they have received new orders. The Germans are breaking through everywhere. They have to stay and cover the retreat of the Polish soldiers. Their orders are to stay until the evening. The cadet, thinking of the pretty teacher, says thatís great. The lieutenant is shocked at his reacion and asks him: "Are you mad?" The Germans are surrounding them again.

The cadet goes to comfort the teacher who is still crying. Lotna comes into the school house and the teacher says they donít need a horse in the school room. The cadet takes her out. The lieutenant sees the teacher and says good afternoon. He is obviously very taken by her beauty. When the cadet returns and sees the lieutenant he introduces the teacher as his fiancee.

Later the lieutenant comes looking for the cadet, so the cadet and the teacher go up into the attic to avoid him. Up there he tries to kiss her, but she tells him to sit still. She gradually warms up to the cadet and they laugh together.

Surprise! The priest marries Cadet Jerzy to Ewa the school teacher. The men brew up some home made liquor for the wedding reception. A band is brought in. The Polish infantry retreats passing through the village. Fresh honey is brought in.

The cadet takes a break to look at Lotna. Ewa comes in and the cadet puts her on top of the horse. She is not too crazy about the horse, but Jerzy tells her that she should like the horse because Lotna could one day very well save his life.

Ewa goes to change out of her wedding gown but screams when she sees a dead man laying on her bed. So Ewa and Jerzy go to the barn to be alone. They laugh and roll around in the hay.

The Germans are approaching. The cavalry troop moves out. Jerzy gets on his horse. Refugees stream through the village. The men sing while riding. Ewa tags along in the wagon. She asks the lieutenant to watch out for her cadet. And she asks him to take Lotna away from Jerzy because the horse will bring bad luck. The lieutenant tells her that she is jealous of the horse.

The lieutenant and some men split off to see whatís going on. A corporal comes running and tells the lieutenant that the Germans are very close. Ewa sets up a dinner for her husband. German planes fly overhead. The men are told to take cover. Lotna breaks loose and runs across the field. Jerzy goes after her and Ewa screans for him to come back.

The lieutenant returns to the main troop. He finds the aftermath of a bomb explosion among the soldiers. There are dead horses and men. And the supper Ewa made still sits uneaten. The rest of the troop has gone elsewhere for shelter. A number of the men are badly wounded and some die. Jerzy is dead. Ewa stares at his face.

When the lieutenant catches up with the main troop he sees Ewa looking at the face of her dead husband. He comes over and says to her: "You must understand. Itís not my fault." They bury the cadet. Ewa cries by the grave.

Ewa goes to the barn to shoot Lotna, but the lieutenant stops her. The lieutenant tries to kiss her but Ewa draws her head away from him.

The lieutenant gets on Lotna and leads whatís left of the unit out to fight the Germans. They lose more men and are now left with just a few. The lieutenant tells the sergeant to go ahead. He will follow on Lotna and says he will break through.

The sergeant gets through and now asks the men where is the lieutenant. They donít know. So the sergeants asks where is the front. By the windmill is the answer. At the windmill the lieutenant still rides on Lotna. Getting a drink of water the lieutenant falls asleep. The sergeant arrives and takes Lotna. He rides away on him. The lieutenant awakens and tells the sergeant to stop. The sergeant stops, but only because the horse has broken its ankle by catching it in the spokes of a detached wheel. The sergeant threatens to shoot the lieutenant if he touches the horse. He says the lieutenant stole it from him. The sergeant says: "You wasted the horse and now you want the widow!"

The lieutenant is shocked by the sergeantís remarks. He calls the man to attention and the sergeant comes back to reality. He takes the pistol from the sergeant and goes to shoot the horse, but hesitates. The sergeant tells the lieutenant to give him the pistol. He covers Lotnaís eyes and shoots the horse. The two men cover the horse with tree branches.


Short movie, but a good one.  Lotna is the name of the horse given to the Polish cavalry, which, in the days of tanks, still uses horses. The end, of course, is inevitable, but it happens not in one massive blowout but gradually in a number of skirmishes.  There is a love story that is charming, but a little fast developing.  But considering the situation, time was of the essence. What is interesting is that there was no talk of the futility of the battle between man on horse and man in  tank.  In a seemingly impossible situation, the men performed extremely bravely with few or no defeatist comments.  The acting was good and , in addition, Bozena Kurowska as Ewa is very pretty.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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