Monday, June 7, 2010

Ulisse (Ulysses) (1954)
ITALY --- fantasy/Greek Myth

Dir: Mario Camerini/ (uncredited Mario Bava)

Based on Homer's epic poem, "The Odyssey", this Italian production from legendary Dino De Laurentis is one of the better sword & sandal films of its time. The Italian film industry was still a few years away from their spaghetti western influx. There were plenty of classic myth tales to adapt, most starring Steve Reeves as Hercules.

This one, as mentioned, is the cream that rises slightly above the rest. It seems that performance and story is more paramount than that of production value and loin cloth. In a similar situation to Russell Crowe's Gladiator turn that ended up making him action material from then on, thespian turned beefcake, Kirk Douglas stars as Ulysses, king of Ithaca. His wife Penelope (Played by Silvana Mangano who pulls in a dual role in the film) is introduced to tell the tale of her husband's fateful voyage, as her many suitiors surround her door and mock her and her son for waiting for the king to return.

The film uses flashbacks as a device to frame the story of Ulysses' long strange trip and wanderlust. We go from his victory from the battle in Troy, challenging the power of Poseidon (Neptune in this film) and causing him and his crew to become shipwrecked. Finding him struck with amnesia and in the arms of a princess Nausicaa to which she makes him heir of the kingdom. Soon, however, he comes to his wits and regains his memory, and he's off again to the open sea bound for home, but not before a few more stops. This includes, of course, an encounter with the Cyclops, being tricked by the goddess Circe (also Silvano Mangano), and his men being seduced by the mellifluous-voiced Sirens.

Anthony Quinn also puts in a excellent performance as vain suitor of Penelope, Antinoos, who unlike others, wants the kingdom with an entitled unquenchable thirst and will take it by force if need be. Once Ithaca's prodigal king returns in secret, he must prove his identity by a test of archery designed so that only he can be the victor. As it goes, Penelope offers the suitors each a chance to wield Ulyssess magic bow, that is until its true bearer decides to take a turn at the contest.

The Odyssey is a classic of early literature, and this film version done in the setting of its creation, and as mentioned performed by stellar actors of the time, is a landmark adaptation. It will come to pave the way for Pal and Harryhausen epics to come in the following decade. Surely just another paycheck for Douglas who (knowing his method background) would likely put his experience here to good use in the Kubrick masterpiece Spartacus a few years later.