Helen of Troy (1956) – A Movie Review

No spoiler alert needed.  It’s just that bad.

I’ve read chunks of the Iliad in Homeric Greek.  Unlike some of my professors who preferred it to the Odyssey I’m more partial to that more human scale sequel.  But I profess that there are scenes in the War Poem that are evocative and stirring.

I watched a 1950’s sword and sandal “epic” called “Helen of Troy.”  They somehow roped in Sir Cedric Hardwicke to play Priam in this spectacle.  I guess his salary ate up most of the salary budget because not another name of an actor or actress was recognizable to me except a very young Brigitte Bardot who played “the slave girl Andraste” mostly with her clothes on.

The movie had a budget of $6 million and in 1956 that was a lotta dough.  And you can see where they spent it.  There was a cast of extras that must have numbered in the thousands for the battle scenes and the elaborate props like siege towers and war engines not to mention the walls of Troy and the giant horse must have cost a bunch to make and then burn which of course they did in the last scene.

And it made about $3 million at the box office so it lost a lotta dough.  And I can see why.  The acting is shockingly wooden.  The script is laughably bad and the fight scenes look as if the combatants had never seen a sword or a spear used, even in movies.  My favorite fight is the duel between Achilles and Hector.  Instead of hurling their spears at each other they use the butt ends as cudgels and only after pounding away at each other for a while does Achilles skewer Hector as if he were a pork roast.

Mercifully the gods are completely omitted from this remarkable cinematic monument.  That surely would have been too much.  But humans suffered enough here.  Some of the Trojans are portrayed sympathetically.  Unfortunately, none of the Greeks were.  Achilles, Menelaus, Agamemnon, Odysseus, Ajax and Patroclus are all presented as swine of one variety or another.

The action of the war is compressed from ten years to something like a weekend.  Hector and Achilles are finished off within five minutes of each other and before you know it the wooden horse is unloading its deadly cargo of Hellenic hoplites.  As the final credits are rolling Helen is on the trireme headed back to Sparta and she muses how even though Paris was just brutally murdered by her once and future husband Menelaus and his henchmen in the preceding scene and died the beautiful death, in a sense he would always be there with her.  Or something.

You know I like bad old genre movies.  If I’m in the mood I can watch Demetrius and the Gladiators or Quo Vadis.  They’re full of bad acting and historical inaccuracies but somehow, they manage to allow me not to suspend disbelief but rather, to revel in the conceit that I and the moviemaker both get to wink at each other and still enjoy a fake Age of Caesar or Bronze Age Greece that he’s conjured up.  But this thing is not that.  It’s too completely pointless and the characters are too unlikeable.  Pass!

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War Pig
War Pig
4 months ago

Of the Troy movies I liked Ulysses, with Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn, best. Also Jason and tha Argonauts. The hydra and skeleton fights were great for their time.

Although even then I was yelling “Run!” at Jason and company when they stupidly stood and watched the skeletons rise and attack. Heroes don’t show good commonsense in epic movies.