Cast & Crew
Sir Cedric Hardwicke
In 1100 B.C., Paris, son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba, rulers of the wealthy city of Troy, desires peace, despite his reputation as a skilled warrior. Believing Troy must reconcile with the war-loving Greeks, Paris proposes to serve as ambassador to the various Greek kingdoms. Despite the prophecies of his sister Cassandra, who is haunted by visions of disaster, Paris sets sail to his first destination, Sparta, the war-mongering nation that invaded Troy years before. During the voyage, a violent storm erupts, causing Paris to fall overboard. Believed drowned by his companions, Paris washes ashore on a Spartan beach and is found by Helen, wife of brutish Spartan king Menelaus. To Paris, Helen seems like the embodiment of his favorite goddess Aphrodite, and he becomes enamored of her. Helen returns his affection, although she does not, at first, reveal who she is. She hides the injured Paris and secretly arranges for his care with her former nurse. After his recovery, Paris approaches a council of bickering Greek kings, unaware they have met to discuss war against Troy. The leaders, among them Achilles, Agamemnon and Ulysses, covet Troy's treasures, but know that the walls surrounding the city, which were built after Sparta's invasion, are impregnable. When Paris introduces himself, the leaders force him to prove that he is the great warrior by defeating the warrior king Ajax in a hand-to-hand fight. Then, after pretending to listen to his proposal, they consider how to use his presence to further their war plans. When Helen learns that Menelaus plans to torture Paris, she sends her slaves, Andraste and deaf-mute Adelphous, to help the Trojan escape to a cove where a ship will take him home. At the shore, Helen says goodbye, but when soldiers arrive, Paris takes her with him when he escapes. Throughout their voyage to Troy, Helen worries about the far-reaching consequences of leaving Sparta. Meanwhile, the Greek kings are delighted to hear about Helen's "abduction," which gives them an excuse to build an enormous army and unite for war. When Paris returns to Troy, the citizens are grateful to Helen for saving his life, until they realize that she is the queen of Sparta. Their warmth then turns to anger against the lovers, and everyone prepares for a long war. Later, a thousand Greek ships approach Troy's shores. After disembarking, the Greeks approach the walls of Troy and the battle ensues. Although the Trojans win the first skirmish, their mightiest warrior, Paris' brother Polydorus, is killed and a funeral is held for him. During the following years of stalemate between the two armies, the Greeks loot and rape the surrounding villages, while the Trojans make night raids on the Greek camps. The Greek leaders bicker among themselves and Agamemnon, tired of Menelaus' debauchery and incompetence, threatens to leave with his troops. When the Trojans consider banishing Paris from Troy, Helen, wishing to stop the war and restore Paris' reputation, volunteers to return to her husband. Paris' family, without his knowledge, negotiates her return with the Greeks and takes her to their camp. However, after she is reunited with Menelaus, the Greeks, who had planned to double-cross the Trojans all along, demand treasures and a fight commences. Paris, who has learned of Helen's sacrifice, arrives in time to rescue her, and kills the Greek Patroclus as they escape. The Trojans, now realizing that the Greeks are fighting for wealth, not for Helen, forgive her. To avenge the death of Patroclus, Achilles demands a hand-to-hand combat, which Hector, another brother of Paris, accepts. Outside the Trojan gate, the combatants meet, and after a struggle, Achilles kills Hector. Disrespectfully, Achilles drags Hector's body from his chariot and then proudly parades before the mourning Trojans. Seeing his brother dishonored, Paris tries to shoot Achilles, but his arrows bounce away from the seemingly invincible Greek. Then, praying to Zeus, Paris aims again and the arrow hits his enemy's heel, causing Achilles to fall and fatally strike his head on a rock. The Greeks feel defeated, until Ulysses shares with them a plan he has devised. Later, the Greeks present a statue of a giant horse at the gates of the Trojan wall, and then pretend to sail away, secretly leaving behind an army hidden in the woods. Seeing the ships depart, the Trojans rejoice and, despite the misgivings of Cassandra, Helen and Paris, bring the statue into the city. In an ensuing celebration, the wine flows freely as tensions of war are released. Consequently, few Trojans are conscious later, when Greeks waiting patiently inside the horse quietly open its secret door and roam the city freely. They open the gates, allowing more Greeks to flood the city. Before the slumbering Trojans are fully awake, the city has been overtaken. In chaos and panic, the Trojans fight in the streets. Priam commands Paris and Helen to flee, but Menelaus finds the lovers. Before Paris can defeat Menelaus in an honorable fight, a Greek soldier fatally stabs Paris in the back. Once Troy is destroyed, the Greeks sail home with Trojan wealth, and Helen is forced to return with Menelaus to an uncertain future.
Sir Cedric Hardwicke
Giuseppi De Blasio
Charles B. Lang
N. Richard Nash
Helen of Troy (1956) - Helen of Troy
While this kind of lavish spectacle wasn't exactly standard fare for Warner Bros., a studio more noted for handsome, sturdy dramas and tough, brawny adventures than gloss and spectacular production values, they nonetheless entered the fray of widescreen epics with the Biblical tale The Silver Chalice in 1954. Helen of Troy, from the Greek legend celebrated in Homer's The Iliad, followed in 1956.
Helen of Troy retells the story of Paris, prince of Troy, and Helen, Queen of Sparta, and the love that launched the Trojan War as a grand tragedy of devotion and greed, without the gods of Homer's tale interfering in human affairs. This 1956 version offers a romantic tale with Paris as the peace-loving prince from the persecuted Troy who risks his life to pursue peace from the kings of Greece, who prove to be a scheming, greedy bunch of rulers looking for an excuse to pillage the treasures of the well-fortified Troy. Helen rescues the valiant Paris from her despotic husband and together they flee to Troy with the united armies of the Greek kingdoms following in their wake.
Shot in Cinecitta Studios in Rome and on location on the Italian coast, with a crew of Hollywood and Italian artists and technicians, Helen of Troy made spectacle its selling point, from the ship braving raging seas to bring Paris to Greece to the magnificent palaces and ancient cities recreated for modern audiences. It all culminates in the invasion of Troy, where a screen filled with war ships brings a veritable cast of thousands to storm the walls of the city with spears and swords.
With the subject and spectacle serving as the "star" of this film, Warner chose to cast unknowns (at least to American viewers) in the title roles. Rossana Podestà, a reigning Italian sex symbol, was chosen to play Helen, "the face that launched a thousand ships," as the legend goes. The role failed to launch her in Hollywood, but in the smaller role of her innocent young slave Andraste was a rising young French actress about to explode as an international sex siren: Brigitte Bardot; she plays cute and coy to Podestà's dignified beauty. Jacques Sernas, a handsome leading man in French and Italian movies, is the film's Paris. All three performers were coached in English, at times learning their lines phonetically, and the French-Lithuanian Sernas was ultimately overdubbed by an uncredited Edmund Purdom, a British actor with his own career in cinema spectacles.
A cast of respected British actors fill out the supporting roles, including Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Priam, the wise King of Troy; Niall MacGinnis as the corrupt, corpulent King Menelaus of Sparta, Helen's hateful husband and the film's villain; and the brawny Stanley Baker as the arrogant warrior hero Achilles, "the man who blows his own horn," in the words of Menelaus.
Robert Wise was handed the reins of the large-scale production. A filmmaker who worked his way to the director's chair from the editing department, he had edited Citizen Kane (1941) before learning the ropes of directing in RKO's B-movie unit, establishing his talent for visual style and ingenuity in films such as fairy tale-tinged The Curse of the Cat People (1944) and the stylish yet tough film noirs Born to Kill (1947) and The Set-Up (1949). By the time he was offered Helen of Troy, he was a veteran with almost twenty features to his credit, including the science fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), the acclaimed war drama The Desert Rats (1953) and the all-star big business drama Executive Suite (1954). He had never made a costume epic before, but he'd proved his versatility by working in practically every other genre Hollywood had to offer.
Wise looked at the project as an experiment, he explained to Sergio Leemann in his book, Robert Wise on His Films. "CinemaScope had come in and I felt that it was probably time to get myself into that mainstream of big-size picture-making." While most widescreen productions tended to fill the screen with full shots and longer takes than standard films, Wise saw no reason why he couldn't shoot and edit as he did in other films, "as long as I composed them carefully... I think I was the first one to use editing in its purest sense with CinemaScope." The film has a quicker editing tempo than other widescreen spectacles of its era, which helps drive the massive battle sequences. Wise wasn't able to give Helen of Troy much personality, but his grandly mounted production became one of the studio's top moneymakers of 1956.
Director: Robert Wise
Screenplay: John Twist, Hugh Gray (screenplay); Hugh Gray, N. Richard Nash (adaptation); Homer (epic poem, uncredited)
Cinematography: Harry Stradling
Art Direction: Edward Carrere
Music: Max Steiner
Film Editing: Thomas Reilly
Cast: Rossana Podestà (Helen), Jack Sernas (Paris), Sir Cedric Hardwicke (Priam), Stanley Baker (Achilles), Niall MacGinnis (Menelaus), Nora Swinburne (Hecuba), Robert Douglas (Agamemnon), Torin Thatcher (Ulysses), Harry Andrews (Hector), Janette Scott (Cassandra).
by Sean Axmaker
"Robert Wise On His Films," Sergio Leeman. Silman James Press, 1995.
"The Warner Bros. Story," Clive Hirschhorn. Crown Publishers, 1979.
Helen of Troy (1956) - Helen of Troy
Robert Wise (1914-2005)
Born on September 10, 1914 in Winchester, Ind., Wise was a child of the Depression who quit college to earn a living in the movie industry. He began as an assistant cutter at RKO, where he worked his way up to the position of film editor and earned an Oscar® nomination for his bravura work with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane. He also edited The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) for Welles, along with several other RKO films.
Wise became a director by default when RKO and producer Val Lewton assigned him to The Curse of the Cat People (1944) after Gunther von Fritsch failed to meet the film's production schedule. Wise turned the film into a first-rate psychological thriller, and enjoyed equal success with another Lewton horror film, The Body Snatcher (1945).
Critical praise also was showered upon Wise's Born to Kill (1947), a crime melodrama; and Blood on the Moon (1948), an unusual psychological Western starring Robert Mitchum. Even more highly regarded was The Set-Up (1949), a no-punches-pulled boxing drama that won the Critics' Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Wise moved on from RKO in the early 1950s, directing one of the movies' classic alien invasion films, The Day the Earth Stood Still, for 20th Century Fox.
At MGM he directed Executive Suite (1954), a compelling all-star boardroom drama; Somebody Up There Likes Me, a film bio of boxer Rocky Graziano that established Paul Newman as a major star; and The Haunting (1963), a chilling haunted-hause melodrama. His films for United Artists include Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), a submarine drama with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster; I Want to Live! (1958), a harrowing account of a convicted murderess on Death Row, with Susan Hayward in her Oscar-winning performance; and the crime caper Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).
Wise served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Directors Guild of America. He was awarded the Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1966, and the Directors Guild's highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award, in 1988. He remained active as a director through the 1970s. His final film, Rooftops (1989) was a musical with an urban setting that recalled West Side Story.
The films in TCM's salute to Robert Wise are Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945), Born to Kill (1947), Blood on the Moon (1948), The Set-Up (1949), Executive Suite (1954), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), B>West Side Story (1959), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) and The Haunting (1963).
by Roger Fristoe
Robert Wise (1914-2005)
Voice-over narration, heard at the beginning of the film, explains that Troy built impenetrable walls around the city after a brutal Spartan attack and became prosperous by levying taxes on ships passing through an important route to the east that was under its control. The Greek goddesses Aphrodite and Athena, representing peace and beauty, and war, respectively, are mentioned several times in the film. As noted in the Motion Picture Herald review, some of the dialogue is dubbed. The film ends with voice-over narration by Jack Sernas as "Paris," who claims that what he and Helen had is not lost.
Although not acknowledged onscreen, the story of Helen and Paris was drawn from The Iliad by Homer. A September 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Warner Bros. bought the film rights to Helen of Troy from Italian producers Carlo Ponti and Dino De Laurentiis. August 1953 Hollywood Reporter and Los Angeles Daily News news items announced that the film would be shot in the Warner SuperScope widescreen format. According to a February 1956 Los Angeles Times article, Samuel Bischoff claimed that the studio employed him as producer of the film in November 1951 and that, until June 1953, he collaborated with writers, Hugh Gray and John Twist, on a screenplay that was approved by the studio. Shortly after director Michael Curtiz was signed to the production, Bischoff claims, he was notified to discontinue the production in California and the film was then made in Italy without the participation of either Bischoff or Curtiz. The Los Angeles Times article reports that Bischoff filed $395,000 suit against Warner Bros. Pictures, charging breach of contract and claiming that the studio promised him worldwide publicity and screen credit.
A July 1957 Los Angeles Times article reported that Atalanta Productions, Inc. filed a suit charging that a literary composition titled "Atalanta" was submitted to Warner Bros. in April 1953 for possible use in a picture, but not used until production of Helen of Troy, and then without compensating the owners of the Atalanta script. According to the plaintiff, the rights to the script were assigned to Atalanta Productions by author Sir Gerald Hargreaves. Defendants in the case were Bischoff, Gray, Nash and writer John Twist, who were all identified as having participated in the preparation of the Helen of Troy script. The outcome of the two suits has not been determined.
Helen of Troy marked French star Brigitte Bardot's first film production shot outside of France. Although their appearance in the film has not been confirmed, the following actors were added to the cast by Hollywood Reporter news items: Christina Fanton, Walter Sherer, Leda Raffi, Remington Olmstead, Frank Colson, Ricardo Garroni, Robert Hage, Tessa Prendergast, Maria Zanoli, Dean Severance, Joseph Chevalier and Pete Damon. A January 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item added propmaster John "Scotty" More to the crew and a December 1953 Daily Variety news item added Frank Mattison as assistant director, but their contribution to the completed film has not been confirmed. The film was shot entirely in Rome, according to Hollywood Reporter production charts and news items.
Many problems occurred during the making of the film. An August 54 Daily Variety article reported that a fire, reportedly started by a cigarette, razed eighty percent of the eighteen-unit, two-acre Rome set and injured five workmen. According to an August 1954 Los Angeles Examiner article, several extras were injured by a runaway chariot, a stuntman was injured falling from a wall and Rossana Podestà suffered both a foot injury and an eye problem. The film marked Podestà's first American-made film. A modern source reported that three men were killed during the film's production.
The character Helen of Troy also appears in the following films: First National Picture's 1927 production of The Private Life of Helen of Troy, directed by Alexander Korda and starring Maria Corda, Ricardo Cortez and Lewis Stone (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30); the 1931 Itala Film Co. production La regina di Sparta, directed by Manfred S. Noa (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40); The Trojan Horse, a 1962 production distributed by Colorama Features and Capitol Films, and directed by Giorgio Ferroni, which featured John Drew Barrymore as "Ulysses"; and the 1968 Columbia Pictures release Doctor Faustus, produced and directed by Richard Burton, and starring Burton as Faust and Elizabeth Taylor as Helen (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70).
Released in United States on Video July 10, 2001
Released in United States Winter February 1956
Released in United States Winter February 1956
Released in United States on Video July 10, 2001