Only Old Men Are Going to Battle / V bii idut tilky stari




Ukrainian SSR


Oleksandr Dovzhenko Film Studio


92 min


Leonid Bykov


Leonid Bykov, Oleksandr Satskyi, Yevhen Onopriienko


Volodymyr Voitenko


Leonid Bykov, Volodymyr Talashko, Aleksei Smirnov, Serhii Ivanov, Yevgeniia Simonova, Olha Mateshko, Aleksei Smirnov, Rustam Sagdullaev, Volodymyr Talashko, Viktor Miroshnychenko, Hryhorii Hladii

It is World War II. Captain Tytarenko always picked pilots for his squadron who were not only flying aces but also good singers. His “old” and experienced men were no older than twenty, while the newbies were even younger — straight from flight school with an accelerated graduation program. Tytarenko tried to save the “newbies” from dangerous missions, but when the enemy stepped on Ukrainian land, he could not protect them anymore. And now, hearing the order “only old men go to battle,” the newbies head to their planes anyway. They, too, will feel the taste of battle and the bitterness of loss.

One of the secrets behind the success of Only Old Men Go to Battle is the masterful combination of three vital elements: a cheerful story about young soldiers who discover life and love while singing in a choir, a poignant tale about their fate and the painful tribulations brought by the war, and the collection of vivid characters played by wonderful actors led by Bykov himself. Many of the actors’ careers started with this film.

Bykov, in his youth, dreamed of becoming a pilot but, due to his young age and small stature, was not admitted into flight school. It is quite symbolic that his first film upon his return to Kyiv was a story about pilots. It is also telling that while the film was well-received by Ukrainian cinematographers and veteran pilots who were invited to the first screening, it was categorically disliked by representatives of the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture. They pulled the film from screening until the military command demanded to re-release it. Moreover, Bykov’s film won two first prizes at the 7th All-Soviet Union Movie Festival: for Best Film and Best Male Actor. It also received a special prize from the Soviet Ministry of Defense, which helped the movie avoid further censorship.

Only Old Men Go to Battle was released on August 12th, 1974. By the end of the year, the film was seen by over 44 million people.