Now Lukashka is hell-bent for war, and his new passion alienates him from his girl Maryana (Renee Adoree), who sort of liked him the way he was despite finally cracking and joining in the grape pelting. It's time to fight the Turks again, so Lukashka joins his dad and the other warriors riding off on horseback. The Cossacks was a reunion of the romantic leads of The Big Parade, and just as Adoree allowed herself in the prior picture to be dragged by an automobile in her determination to cling to Gilbert, so here she hangs on to Gilbert's horse until he kicks her to the ground. Such is love in Cossack-land, but now comes a serpent to tempt our Eve: an emissary from Moscow (Nils "General Yen" Asther) with a message from the Little Father instructing the Cossacks not to fight the Turks, with whom Little Father has signed a treaty. Cossacks apparently don't know what to do with themselves in peacetime -- their oft-repeated rule is, "Men fight, women work, and above all is God" -- so the ataman sets about dictating a provocative letter to the Sultan while the emissary seduces Maryana, who's willing to listen to alternatives after seeing Lukashka dance passionately with a gypsy woman. War does resume despite the emissary's best efforts; the Turks reward him with a sword in the back. Lukashka, his father and Maryana are captured and without further ado it's time for the Torture. Cossacks laugh at flogging -- they do worse to each other from the evidence we've seen -- but it's tougher to maintain a brave front when your shins are being crushed by slowly tightening cords. Our father and son are still a little too funny for Turkish tastes, so each gets a hot coal in an open palm before the ataman is blinded with a slash of a sword. Just before Luksashka gets the same the cavalry arrives, despite an attempt to drop the side of a mountain on them. That's actually an impressive special effect for the time, but the best shot in the picture --directed either by George Hill or an uncredited Clarence Brown in relief -- is a tracking shot of Adoree crawling through a crowd while the men are at prayer before going into battle. It illustrates her obsessive devotion better than the Bolshoi Parade bit with the horse a little later.
The film as a whole is a pulp romp with plenty of action, and the dance with Gilbert and the gypsy, shot from a low angle, has some erotic energy that helps explain the doomed actor's great appeal before his voice and his addiction betrayed him. Speaking of doomed, Gilbert at least outlived his principal co-stars, both of whom died in 1933, Torrence of gallstones and Adoree of TB. Less than a decade after The Cossacks was released they were all gone. If silent films seemed so distant so soon, it was partly because so many of their stars were as obsolete as their medium: dead, defeated or disappeared. Seeing them in their glory while knowing their fates is often more tragic than the stories they tell. When Gilbert weeps over Torrence's corpse at the end you can't help but think, "You'll be joining him soon." Audiences spared the burden of that foreknowledge may miss some unintended pathos, but those that can stand the lack of spoken words might still have fun with this picture as its makers intended.