HELEN OF TROY, unleashed in 1956, is enjoyable on its own goofy terms, with reams of stilted dialogue, hammy acting and the overall obviousness of the whole enterprise. Undertaken by veteran Robert Wise as a challenge to see if he could adapt an epic story lensed in CinemaScope to the more intimate scene blocking and cutting he’d used in his standard frame successes (he was in the middle of a twenty-year winning streak).
He ended up spending many long months (and a slug of Warners money) in Italy dealing with clashing accents from his international cast, backstabbing production executives, thousands of exuberant Italian extras (“take off those sunglasses and don’t smile when you get it with the spear!”) and a large portion of the set burning down.
Max Steiner added a loud and syrupy score, one of his least memorable efforts. A lot of work went into the art direction, and the huge prop of the Trojan Horse is impressive. Ha!,–studio blurbs claimed it took thirty full-sized trees to construct and weighed eighty tons—pretty amazing since it was made chiefly of balsa wood. It looks cool, though.
Like the later Troy, this version of history’s most famous adulterers sticks to mortal human scale and leaves out the classics butt-in’s from assorted Gods. “It’s towering wonders span the age of titans” thundered the ad campaign. Bland blond leads Rossana Podesta and Jacques (Jack) Sernas had their English dubbed: little heat is generated. In a small part, Helen’s slave-girl showed someone much more likely to launch a thousand ships—a 21 year old head-spinner named Brigitte Bardot.
Chewing scenery to little Spartan pieces are Stanley Baker, Cedric Hardwicke, Niall MacGinnis, Robert Douglas, Torin Thatcher, Harry Andrews, Janette Scott, Eduardo Ciannelli and Marc Lawrence. Some of the big action scenes are eye-filling, as are the full-scale sets, the props, and matte paintings. Forgotten today, the movie did decently at the box-office, 32nd place in the US, with good grosses abroad.