Helen of Troy Film Details
Overview: The Iliad’s story of the Trojan war, told from the Trojan viewpoint.
Tagline: Its towering wonders span the age of titans!
Review: Paramount and Cecil B. DeMille kick-started the 1949-66 wave of ancient world epics with the biblical tale Samson and Delilah, while MGM and Fox made their mark with gospel spin-off stories Quo Vadis and The Robe respectively. Warner Brothers were a bit slower to jump on the bandwagon, and when they did the fables they chose were refreshingly pagan. In 1954 they produced the delightfully silly Land of the Pharaohs, and followed it up with this, one of the best-known and most enduring myths of ancient Greece. Pictures like this have a reputation for being somewhat corny and insincere. And Helen of Troy is a shameless part of that tradition. It is admittedly a neat and fast-moving retelling of the legend, but its dialogue ranges from laughable to banal. Characters make wooden statements that were obviously someone’s idea of ancient wisdom. Slaves talk back to their masters without so much as a telling off. What is particularly inept is the way the writers obviously felt they had to get in famous lines like “The face that launched a thousand ships” and “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”, so we have to listen to them bending the dialogue towards these clichés, to the point where they sound utterly trite – “Hmm, that’s a lot of ships out there, at least a few hundred no I’d say a thousand. And what launched them, eh?” Other than poor writing, another thing that tended to make these epics lacking in intimacy was poor use of the new Cinemascope aspect ratio. This was a big problem in The Robe, which was the earliest release in that format, but Helen of Troy’s director Robert Wise handles the wider image with care. While he takes full advantage of the extra space for crowds and spectacles, for the more intimate scenes he brings the performers closer to the camera, and mutes the backgrounds so as not to overwhelm the moment. He also makes great use of tiny bits of light or movement, especially the recurring fire motif, to draw our attention to certain bits of the screen, defying the tendency for individuals to get lost in a big screen. One of the best examples of Wise’s control here is the first scene at the Spartan palace where Paris and Ajax have their knuckleduster dual. It’s pretty clear that Jack Sernas and Maxwell Reed fight like, well, like a couple of bad actors, but Wise instead focuses us on the fervour of the crowd to give us a more savage impression of the brawl. He then moves in to close-ups of Niall MacGinnis and Rossana Podesta against plainer backgrounds, but still with a little movement in the frame to match their emotions. But all this sensitive direction cannot save us from some appalling acting performances. I can see why Sernas and Podesta were cast in the lead roles. They are both young and beautiful, and their unfamiliar faces give them a freshness and innocence. But they can’t act, and the dubbing doesn’t help. It’s not all bad though. Niall MacGinnis gives a tremendous performance. He boils the character of Menelaus down to nothing more than a jealous husband, and his intense manner dominates the screen. Stanley Baker is also really good, radiating thoughtless aggression with his every move. As for the rest, no-one really stands out or satisfies, even such worthy names as Cedric Hardwicke and Nora Swinburne. The Warner Brothers epics of the 50s were really little more than B-picture with A-budgets. Like the equivalent productions at rival studios, they featured gargantuan sets, hordes of extras and breathtaking spectacles, but they also suffered from weak scripts and dull casts. Still, some of Robert Wise’s best efforts up to this point were actual B-pictures that he had treated with credibility and managed to eke some depth and sentiment out of. It is his intelligent handling of the elements in the frame plus the handful of classy performances that raise this one just a little above a mediocrity. As a kind of postscript to this comment, here are a few miscellaneous points of interest. Max Steiner’s score has his usual habit of commenting hysterically on every line or movement, but there are some nice little musical touches to the scene of the Greeks marching on Troy that are worth listening for. Later on, have a look at those siege towers. Isn’t it convenient that the trapdoors fit exactly between the battlements of the Trojan walls? They must have got someone to go round with a tape measure before they built them. And finally, listen out for an early use of the Wilhelm scream sound effect, decades before it became hip and ironic.
Country: United States
Duration: 118 min
Genre: Adventure, Drama, History
Also known as: Szép Heléna,Elena de Troya,トロイのヘレン,Die schöne Helena,Sköna Helena av Troja,Güzel Helen – Truva muharebeleri,Helena de Tróia,Der Untergang von Troja,Paris a Helena,Den skønne Helena af Troja,O Troikos polemos,Helena van Troje,Елена Троянская,Helen of Troy,Jelena Trojanska,Elena din Troia,Helena de Troya,Troijan Helena,Елена от Троя,Telen of Hoy,Helena Trojańska,Ο Τρωικός Πόλεμος,Hélène de Troie,Helene av Troja,Elena di Troia