Ulysses (Kirk Douglas) is the King of Ithaca. Leaving his wife Penelope (Silvana Mangano) and young son Telemachus (Franco Interlenghi) he heads off to fight against the city of Troy. Twenty years later he has still not returned. His house has been overrun with suitors who believe the king is dead and are now vying for the hand of Penelope and taking over Ithaca as king. Penelope is not interested in marrying anyone but is forced to promise to pick a husband from her many suitors. She first wants to finish weaving her tapestry before she decides. She weaves all day but at night she unravels her weaving to postpone the day she must make a decision.
Meanwhile, on the island of Phaeacia, a man is washed ashore. The princess Nausicaa (Rossana Podesta) finds the half dead man. The stranger is Ulysses but he has lost his memory. Nausicaa takes him to her parents King Alcinous (Jacques Dumensil) and Queen Arete (Ludmilla Dudarova). Ulysses and Nausicaa fall in love but the day they are to marry Ulysses begins to regain his memory. Staring out into the open sea he remembers.
Ulysses had desecrated a temple dedicated to Neptune during a battle in Troy. As a consequence he has gained the ire of Neptune. Returning from Troy his ship is blown off course by a raging storm. He lands on an unfamiliar island. He and his crew go ashore to forage for food. They run into the Cyclops Polyphemus. The Cyclops threatens to eat Ulysses and his men. Ulysses tricks the giant and blinds him. They escape the blind Polyphemus and head back out to sea.
They find themselves near the rocks of the sirens. To pass the rocks without harm Ulysses has the crew fill their ears with wax so they can’t hear the sirens song. He orders his men to lash him to the mast so he can hear their song. He hears Penelope and Telemachus call to him. Tied to the mast he can do nothing but listen.
Out in the sea again, even though there is no current and the wind is blowing a different way, they end up pulled to another unknown island. It is the island inhabited by Circe the witch (Silvana Mangano). Circe beguiles him and casts a spell on him. At the cost of his men and his ship Ulysses stays with Circe until the spirit of his dead mother (Evi Maltagliati) reminds him that he is needed home.
When his memory returns Ulysses asks the King Alcinous for a ship to take him to Ithaca. But there are men at home who would like him to remain among the missing and the life of his son Telemachus is in danger.
“Ulysses” was released in 1954 and was directed by Mario Camerini and an un-credited Mario Bava. It is a sword and sandal adventure film based on Homer’s epic poem “Odyssey”. Mario Bava and Harold Rosson were the cinematographers. “Ulysses” was a joint Italian, French and U.S. production by Lux Film, Paramount Pictures, Produzione Ponti-De Laurentiis and Zenith Films.
It is believed that the success of “Ulysses” led to the filming of “Hercules” 1958. “Hercules” is credited as being the beginning of the main Italian sword and sandal movie phenomenon.
The film was released in both Italian and English language versions. Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn dubbed their own voices for the English language version.
The Cyclops is a combination man and mechanical devise. The limbs for the 35-foot Cyclops were operated by wires and bellows. Museums in Rome, Naples and Athens loaned armor and weapons to the producers for the film.
Since the budget for the film was larger than the normal sword and sandal for the period the special effects and the monsters are much better. The film itself is fun and a favorite with many. Myself included. As usual it takes a few liberties with not only the story but reality as well. It may be true that you can’t make wine just by jumping on grapes but the scene does add whimsy to the tale. The movie is a good addition to the genre.