The Greeks are plotting to invade Troy to steal the treasures of the Trojans. Meanwhile Prince Paris is assigned by his wise father and King of Troy to travel to Sparta and shows the peaceful intentions of his people. Along his journey, he falls into the sea during a storm and is rescued on the shore by the Queen of Sparta, Helen. When he recovers, he believes that she is a slave and they fall in love with each other. When he arrives at the Spartan palace, he is arrested by King Menelaus but Helen helps him to escape. They travel together to Troy and give the excuse the Greeks need to start the war and put Troy under siege for years. The Greeks are unsuccessful in their intents, until they listen to the cunning Ulysses. The Greeks then withdraw their one thousand ships from the Trojan waters and offer a wooden Horse of Troy as a gift to the winners.
Classic Greek Saga given Hollywood treatment
The first thing I read about this movie was that it was terrible and that the first lady even though very gifted as far as bust is concerned was a nightmare when it comes to acting. However when I saw this film I had to disagree with those critics who tried to ruin a good movie. Even though the sets are nothing to those of "Ben-Hur", "Cleopatra" and other screen giants the sets of Cinecitta are stupendous. The colour is magnificent and the acting is quite good. It is true that the part of the heroine could have portrayed some more fragility, still Ms. Podesta' was quite satisfying. The cinematography is very good and the story never lingers. It is action-packed and is bound to marvel anyone who likes this genre.
One of the greatest epics ever made!
Basically, this movie is criticized because, being one of the very first big international co-productions, its main players were Euro celebrities who never caught on in the US, and because Jacques Sernas' and Rossana Podesta's voices were voiced-over. That is a pretty shallow approach to movie criticism. This film is well-scripted (it's based on Homer and neither substracts nor adds to his basic plot - except for the Gods, which are mentioned but never seen, which makes it a modern secular version of the Iliad), well-acted by some very impressive British actors, superbly constructed (art direction, photography, costumes, period research, choreography) and creates a lasting impression. I own it on laser disc and just had to buy a widescreen TV with home theatre sound to do it justice. I can watch this movie as often as I crave substantial food, which is very often. Robert Wise, besides being the director of The Day the Earth Stood Still, West Side Story and The Sound of Music started his career as the editor of Citizen Kane and it is his input in the editing (vibrant, energetic, kinetic, masculine) that makes this movie a real winner and actually brings life to the giant vistas of this classic and tragic fairy tale/war movie/love story. Max Steiner's beautiful score adds several other dimensions to this masterpiece and its interplay with the editing is always fascinating to watch. The general impression is a beautiful dream of the paintings on a Greek urn coming to magical, inspiring, colourful life. It is also fascinating to watch how the fight scenes were a sort of preliminary study to the ones in West Side Story, which is basically on the same subject. I had better stop while I'm ahead. One word of advice: Don't believe the nay-sayers (i.e. Leonard Maltin) until you have experienced it for yourself in all its CinemaScope, Warnercolor and Stereophonic glory.
DON'T LISTEN TO THE IGNORANT!
This is/was the first retelling of the Trojan war for screen that used the now-largely-accepted historical notion that it wasn't a war over Helen-that was the Greek rationalization-but over political power and trade dominance. Sernas and Podesta are great, but it's the supporting cast-including not only Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Stanley Baker, Niall MacGinnis, so many others, and even Brigitte Bardot in her first major screen appearance-who really ice it; there's even Desmond Llewelyn, known to future generations as the first and only true Q from James Bond! A great early Cinemascope epic: WATCH IT!
back to the fifties
This movie typically dates from an era, when the many local movie-theatres were visited regularly for their newest issues. An era when television could not compete yet, also an era when society wasn't as hectic and demanding as it is today.
So just sit back, relax, and take your time to watch 'Helen of Troy'. Fifties-movies generally are well-made and worth watching, and this one is no exception. For instance, enjoy the 'overture', a fine piece of film-music to get you in the right mood. The concert is on for about five minutes, the screen before your face not moving at all during this entire period.
Once 'Helen' is on her way, you will enjoy the quality of the (color-)shots, and that of the actors and actresses. Their heroic style of acting, completely out of fashion now, is remarkable. Further there is not much to add. The fifties show a clear trend for pompous movies lending their plot from ancient Greek or Roman history. Such as 'Ben Hur', 'Spartacus' and 'Quo Vadis'. 'Helen of Troy' also belongs to this category.
And, what about Brigitte Bardot? Her tiny role as a slave-girl in a pompous Greek-history setting does not suit her talents very well. Brigitte makes the best of it, though, occasionally succeeding in letting her famous image shine through.
Good Entertainment in Ancient Greece
If you say this film is based on characters created by Homer you would be absolutely right. Homer's characters are there but the story has little to do with his version of the Troyan war as narrated in The Iliad.
That aside, "Helen of Troy" stands as an enjoyable and entertaining ancient Greece adventure due mainly to spectacular battle scenes, wide open sceneries, lots of extras, adequate armours and costumes, carefully designed interior settings, a fine musical score and acceptable acting. You always have the feeling that producers didn't try to save money on this movie and director Robert was "Wise" enough to understand that long duration is not what makes an spectacular epic film.
The main couple, Paris (Jack Sernas)and Helen (Rossana Podesta), deliver standard performances and though both of them may have the "phisique du rol" for their characters, you come to understand why none of them quite reached stardom. Fortunately in this aspect, the rest of the cast brings a strong support to the doomed lovers.
Stanley Baker plays correctly a sort of mean and easy raging Achilles; Robert Douglas is at his best as ambitious king Agamemnon; Niall McGinnis is very convincing as the deceived husband Menelaus; Cedric Hardwicke is as good as usual as king Priam; Harry Andrews and Torin Tatcher are also good as Hector, the Troyan champion, and Ulysses the clever one. A very young Brigitte Bardot is also around in one of her first appearances on screen.
The single combat between Achilles and Hector is very well handled and a highlight in the picture.
In all, if you don't take "Helen of Troy" as a version of Homer's Iliad but just as an action/adventure/romance film in ancient times, you'll find it most enjoying and entertaining. A good one in my opinion.
a Homer ' un
It is good for the viewer to see this cinemascope spectacular from 1956 after seeing the new TROY with Brad and Eric. HELEN OF TROY as directed by craftsman Robert Wise is very pleasingly made and with excellent action and spectacle - especially in the well populated fiery siege scenes. No CGI in those days, there really was a couple of thousand dressed and armed extras running all over the huge set. Apparently Robert Wise is on record as having said he took the $6 million assignment because he hadn't yet directed a spectacular....! Told from a different perspective than the 2004 version, this 50s view is from the point of Paris as opposed to Archilles in the new one. It would be like the new one being told from Orlando Bloom's perspective rather than from Brad Pitt's. HELEN OF TROY on DVD has good extras including the TV specials made with Gig Young as a promo of the time. The huge set created in Italy was recycled into SODOM AND GOMORRAH given the orange pillars and layout. HELEN OF TROY has excellent Warnercolour and beautiful art direction. It is a good film and well worth seeing after you see TROY as a companion/chaser.
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