Kirk Douglas entered the sand and sandal genre six years before his acclaimed Spartacus with this version of Ulysses and his long voyage home from the wars of Troy. If you'll remember your classical history, and the recent movie Troy, Ulysses was the guy who finally broke the siege at Troy with that wooden horse gambit. But as the Greeks ran amuck in Troy, behaving very much like barbarians, Cassandra the high priestess of Poseidon, called on the big guy to do his very worst to Ulysses. Of course in the film Poseidon is called by his Roman name of Neptune.
As Ulysses, Kirk Douglas invests the part with his own combination of aggressiveness and charm. It ain't exactly the classics, but realize that the film was aimed at a juvenile market and it works out rather well. Even the grownups will get a good hearty laugh at how the clever Ulysses outwits the Cyclops.
Silvana Mangano does very well as the long suffering Penelope, the wife of Ulysses who's needs just aren't being met and as Circe the witch whose profession kind of scares the guys away. Anthony Quinn has a small role as one of Penelope's suitors for the hand of the presumed widow. Why he took such a small part in a film I'm not quite sure, but this would be the first of three films he did with Kirk Douglas. The next one, Lust for Life would gain Quinn a second Oscar.
Ulysses is not one of Kirk Douglas's greatest roles, but the film still holds up well today and kids and grownups will appreciate it.
I too first saw this movie when I was in my very early teens and still at school, but unlike my movie buff friend who wrote the first comment, I enjoyed this film when I saw it again many years later and still do some half a century after the first time.
Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn are excellent in their lead roles as one can imagine by their chequered careers, nevertheless I find Rossana Podesta' and Silvana Mangano very good on the eyes but rather pedestrian in their interpretations of the "forgotten women". I doubt a man like Ulysses would fall for such a verveless Circe.
Young Franco Interlenghi plays a suitable youthful Telemachus. The scenes with Polyphemus are good and the overall photography quite stunning. The final scenes when Ulysses rids his house of the unwanted suitors is very violent and gory but well performed. Unfortunately the English dialogue is dubbed and at times this is quite obvious, but after all this was an Italian production (I first saw it in the original language with my late father).
Homer's tale goes that after his brilliant idea of a huge wooden horse that decided the Greek's victory in the Troyan war, Ithaca's King Ulysses challenged the sea god Poseidon and he was punished to sail around for 10 years before he could get back to his island and his faithful wife Queen Penelope. During the hero's long absence many ambitious men have settled in his palace with the intention of marrying the supposedly widow Queen and rule Ithaca with her. The picture is about Ulysses's trip and all the tasks he has to go through before reaching home and, once there, how he deals with the men that are trying to take his place.
Though the film is sort of slow by the middle part of the story and perhaps a little exceeded in its running time, it doesn't lack adventure, action and entertainment. Ulysses faces the cyclops who wants to have him and his crew for lunch, survives the seducing singing of the mermaids, visits the kingdom of the dead and escapes the spell of sorceress Circe who plans to retain him for herself. Arrived at last in Ithaca after loosing all his mates, he faces the pretenders to his throne in a memorable action and fighting sequence.
"Ulysses" is pure entertainment and adventure in ancient Greece. The film is well done and easy to watch (its excess in duration apart)with a correct direction by Mario Camerini. It shows well chosen locations and carefully designed settings. Special effects are more than acceptable for 1955. But perhaps the main feature is a well selected main cast.
Kirk Douglas is the perfect choice for Ulysses and his performance is strong and convincing. Silvana Mangano renders a believable Penelope and Anthony Quinn is at his best playing the main pretender Antinoos ("the first in pride").
It could be true that this picture inspired the sword and sandals sub genre that started a bit later with Steve Reeves's "Hercules", but you can be sure that fortunately this one doesn't belong to that category.