Ulysses (1954)

Ulysses (1954)

“There’s part of me that’s always homesick for the unknown.”

In Ancient Greece, Queen Penelope of Ithaca (Silvana Mangano) is besieged by suitors — including persistent Antinoos (Anthony Quinn) — while awaiting the return home of her long-lost husband, Ulysses (Kirk Douglas). Meanwhile, amnesiac Ulysses prepares to marry a new wife (Rossana Podesta) while flashing back on memories of the Trojan War and being lured by the goddess Circe (also Mangano).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Amnesia
  • Ancient Greece and Rome
  • Anthony Quinn Films
  • Kirk Douglas Films
  • Royalty and Nobility

Perhaps best known for sparking the “swords and sandals” peplum subgenre of Italian-American movies — beginning with the enormously popular Hercules (1958) a few years later — this adaptation of Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey will likely appeal to those who recall reading and studying this classic work in high school (my hand is raised). Douglas is well cast as adventurous Ulysses:

… and gorgeous Italian actress Mangano effectively toggles between two key roles (Penelope and Circe), easily convincing us she’s different women yet eerily similar in Ulysses’s mind.

Ulysses’s ongoing state of amnesiac confusion is nicely handled through the use of flashbacks; we understand that his entire journey back from the Trojan war has been somewhat of a blur, punctuated by moments of drama. (Those unfamiliar with the story may feel, appropriately so, like things are bouncing around a lot.) Scenes of note include Ulysses and his men outwitting the cyclops Polyphemus:

… Ulysses foolishly asking to be tied to the mast of his ship in order to hear the song of the sirens:

… Circe turning Ulysses’s men into swine:

… and Ulysses’s stealthy return home in the guise of a beggar:

The sets and cinematography (some by Mario Bava) are fine throughout. Fans of classic adaptations will likely want to check this one out.

Note: Quinn’s role as Antinoos is minor and doesn’t have much impact:

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Kirk Douglas as Ulysses
  • Fine cinematography and sets

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended and well worth a look.


One thought on “Ulysses (1954)

  1. First viewing. Not must-see.

    Somewhat-plodding, uneven (7 writers!) drama which, in a number of ways, doesn’t feel all that different in tone from the sword-and-sandal flicks that glutted the market in the ’60s.

    The most effective scenes are the ones between Ulysses and Circe – but too much of the rest of it is hampered by awkward-sounding dialogue. The film’s long resolution – Ulysses’ return home – is particularly sluggish.

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