Ulisse (Ulysses) (1955)




Director:  Mario Camerini.

Cast:  Kirk Douglas (Ulysses), Silvana Mangano (Penelope/Circe), Anthony Quinn (Antinoos), Sylvie (Euriclea), Rossana Podesta (Nausicaa),  Franco Interlenghi (Telemachus).

Country:  Italian film

This is another o.k. movie, but as a kid I thought it was really great.  The story is that of Ulysses (Kirk Douglas) on his trip home to his wife Penelope following the Trojan War.   (For more background, see the write-up for the movie Odyssey.)


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

Ulysses at Troy sacked the temple of Neptune.  Neptune, Protector God of the conquered people, pursued Ulysses with his anger and kept him wandering for ten years.  Cassandra also laid a curse upon Ulysses.  Ithaca, Greece was his home.  Penelope, the wife of Ulysses, has been waiting for what seems to her to be an interminable amount of time.  When Ulysses left for Troy his son Telemachus was very young, but now he will soon be a man.

In Ithaca, Penelope is urged to take another husband since Ulysses is presumed dead.  She has many suitors.  In fact, too many for they have ensconced themselves in her house eating and drinking her food.  Telemachus and Penelope believe that Ulysses still lives.  The young son of Ulysses tells the suitors:  "There is not one of you who can compare to my father."  And Penelope tells her suitors: "Not one of you is worthy of the crown.  I say Ulysses lives and you will regret offending me."  Telemachus wants to go look for his father, but Penelope begs him not to leave her all alone. 

Ulysses is alive.  His ship has wrecked and Ulysses is the only survivor.  He made his way to an island and is found by the inhabitants.  The daughter of the king, Nausicaa, tells Ulysses that they are very close to Ithaca.  But that does not help Ulysses much because he has forgotten his past and cannot remember anything.  He doesn't even know his own name.   Ulysses is the honored guest of King Alicinous.  Ulysses accepts the challenge to wrestle the champion wrestler of the kingdom and he wins.

Penelope's suitors have gotten her to promise that she will choose a husband when she finishes weaving her grand tapestry.  But to put off the day of the selection, Penelope unravels at night what she wove during the day.  But one day a girl tells the suitors the secret of the tapestry and the suitors demand that Penelope choose.  The girl is beaten for having revealed the secret of the tapestry.

Still another suitor, the big man Antinoos, arrives and talks with Penelope.  The man is a total egotist.  He tells Penelope that he has come to end her loneliness. 

On the island, Ulysses walks alone to the sea to try to remember who he is and what were his past deeds. 

Flashback.   Ulysses and his crew land on an island where they find the foot prints of a giant man.  The men follow the footsteps to a cave where they find a lot of sheep and pigs.  They start to gather up the animals to take them back to the ship, but suddenly the giant enters the cave.  He has only one eye and it is located in the middle of his forehead.  He is obviously a Cyclops.  The Cyclops is Polyphemus, son of Neptune.  He is surprised to see the Greeks in his cave.  He grabs a huge rock to block the exit from the cave.  The men are frightened and look for a hiding place, but the giant grabs one of the men and chomps down on him.  Ulysses approaches the giant and gives the Cyclops wine to drink   The giant really enjoys the liquid and Ulysses keeps supplying the wine.  (The guys actually are supposed to be able to make the wine simply by stomping on the wild grapes gathered from the island, but let's play along with the story.)  The giant gets himself drunk and the Greeks put out his one eye with the sharpened and burned end of a huge log that served as the handle for the giant's axe.  When the giant jumps up from the pain, he starts throwing rocks in an attempt to kill the men.  Ulysses gets the giant to pick up and throw the large rock blocking the exit to the cave.  The men gather the sheep and pigs and head for their ship. 

At sea the Greek ship nears the island of the sirens.  The songs of the sirens are supposed to drive a ship's crew crazy and to cause them to crash their ship on the rocks around the island of the sirens.  All the crew, except Ulysses, put wax in their ears.  Ulysses has himself tied to the mast pole.  He tells his men that no matter what happens, they are not to untie him.  Ulysses wants to hear the voices.  He hears the voice of Penelope, his wife, welcoming him back to Ithaca.  The ship gets far enough away so that the voices are no longer heard, but now the ship is being pulled to the island.  Ulysses decides that they should land on the island and find out the nature of the voices.  On the island, Ulysses gets separated from his men.  The witch Circe appears before him as his wife Penelope and Ulysses kisses her.  He wakes up the next morning in a very nice bed.  He asks where his men are and finds out that they have been turned into pigs.  Ulysses demands that they be returned to human form and Circe obliges him.  The men tell Ulysses to leave Circe and sail with them, but he is still too entranced by Circe in the form of Penelope.  Ulysses finally joins them on ship and they set sail.  Their ship, however, is broken up and swallowed by the sea.  All the crew, except Ulysses, are drowned.  Ulysses is stranded on the beach on an unknown island.

Back to the present.  Ulysses returns to the King and his daughter to tell them that he now remembers who he is.  They give him a ship on which to return to Ithaca.  Back in Ithaca the suitors are all set for a series of competitions to see who will be Penelope's new husband.  Ulysses's son is a problem for the suitors for he opposes his mother remarrying.  Suitor Antinoos tells everyone that they will kill Telemachus to get him out of the way. 

Ulysses returns to his home dressed as a beggar.  He wants to see if Penelope still loves him and is faithful to him.  Still in disguise, he talks with Penelope.  The conversation reassures Ulysses.  Later his true identity is revealed when his old dog recognizes him.  Telemachus sees the old dog wagging his tail and figure outs that this beggar is really his father.  Ulysses swears his son to secrecy for the moment. 

It is time for the contest for the hand of Penelope.  Penelope tells her suitors that she will marry the man who can string the bow of Ulysses and shoot an arrow thru a series of holes to the center of a target.  The various suitors try to string the bow, but cannot.  One of the suitors suggests that Apollo is offended and has taken away their strength.  Suddenly, the beggar asks if he might try to string the bow.  The suitors laugh at the very idea, but the beggar insists.  Given the bow, the beggar quickly strings it.  Everyone is shocked, including Penelope.  Ulysses closes the gate to keep all the suitors inside his home and then proceeds to kill all the suitors, with the help of Telemachus and a few allies. 

Penelope is shocked at the bloodletting.  She prays to her god saying that Ulysses has returned an angry man.  Ulysses overhears her conversation and tells Penelope that his road had to be long and blood-stained, but he would make it up to her.  The two unite. 


Good fantasy-action flick.  I saw this film when I was a kid and loved it.  Many of the images stayed with me over the years and it was interesting to see the film again.  Even without our modern-day marvels of special effects, the movies does a good job with the fantasy sequences.  Kirk Douglas was great as Ulysses; Silvana Mangano was beautiful as Penelope; and Anthony Quinn was good in the role of the detestable suitor Antinoos. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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