Ulysses (1954) - mini-review

I watched ULYSSES (1954) this weekend and it was great with a couple of issues. The great thing about this film is the production values. If every PEPLUM film looked like this it would be amazing. But alas, the careful details to the sets, costumes and effects seen here were mostly skimmed over in future PEPLUM productions. Not with this film. The cast is amazing; the locations are a triumph and the effects are great. There's no point of summarizing this often told story but even so that where some of the problems are. At 100 minutes, the story is extremely abbreviated. It looks/feels more like a Reader's Digest version of the classic story than anything else. I expected more.

The cast is great and having Silvana Mangano play the duel role of Penelope and Circe was a stroke of genius. It adds so much to the film's quality & mystique. Rossana Podestà is absolutely drop dead gorgeous and see why she was touted as the next big thing, even though that never materialized. The rest of the cast is serviceable. Now comes the second major problem: Anthony Quinn and Kirk Douglas. Both actors are famous for their scenery chewing thespian skills and ULYSSES is no exception. Though the two rarely share screen time, the sometimes overacting from both main male actors was a tad much. Physically, Kirk is also problematic: his upper body is fine and looks healthy but his legs are thin and scrawny and with his barely there tunic, makes some scenes difficult to watch. This is just a pet peeve of mine and anyone who saw SATURN 3 will know what I mean by that (I can't erase that shot from my memory bank). Kirk's chicken legs belie the fact that Ulysses is supposed to be this well worn traveler and adventurer.

I always wondered why ULYSSES is forgotten or barely mentioned anywhere. When I saw the ending, I sorta knew why. The ending is violent and sorta downbeat, not heroic and glorious. Ulysses comes across as looking like a psycho of sorts and the bloody ending is a bit hard to take certainly if you enjoy lighter hearted films like HERCULES. As in SPARTACUS, Kirk seems to confuse earnestness and passion with psychosis and brutality. His approach is not unlike Mel Gibson's approach to any of his ultra-macho films. In the end, it was difficult for me to feel anything for Ulysses. As a PEPLUM film, it's a must see just because of its amazing near magical qualities but the dour aspects of the story/storytelling left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

One of the best peplum movies ever made. I saw this for the first time when I was about 9 yrs. old in 1958 at a matinee. The ending in my opinion is as THE ODYSSEY ends. The ending is no where near as violent as the tv miniseries version. You must remember that in ancient times it was a very violent era and he was defending his throne and his PENELOPE. CARLO PONTI films were always well produced and directed.

PEPLUM cinema said...

I'm sure it's faithful to the story but the ending was a letdown because the men Ulysses killed were hardly a threat. Freeloaders? Yeah but not a threat. Some of them appeared defenceless and even goofy while Ulysses looked demented. Even Penelope was shocked by his violent massacre. It is one of the best PEPLUMS ever made. Some parts of it are quasi-magical. I just wished the ending wasn't so blunt.