Helen of Troy (1956)

 

 

 Director:  Robert Wise

Starring:    Rossana PodestB (Helen of Troy), Jacques Sernas (Paris), Cedric Hardwicke (Priam), Stanley Baker (Achilles), Niall MacGinnis (Menelaus), Nora Swinburne (Hecuba), Robert Douglas (Agamemnon), Torin Thatcher (Ulysses), Harry Andrews (Hector), Janette Scott (Cassandra), Ronald Lewis (Aeneas), Brigitte Bardot (Andraste), Eduardo Ciannelli (Andros), Marc Lawrence (Diomedes), Maxwell Reed (Ajax).

An o.k. movie.  In Greek legend Helen was the most beautiful woman of Greece and the indirect cause of the Trojan War, occurring around 1200 B.C. But was all this fuss over one woman or was it all just a mere pretext for another war?

 

 

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

Troy dominated the Dardanelles.  Troy had been burned previously by Sparta.  Lord Aeneas, nephew of King Priam of Troy, goes to a meeting of the Royal Council.  Paris, a son of Priam, argues for a Trojan fleet of trading vessels that would give Troy more economic independence.  Also there are his brothers Hector and the war-like Polydorus at the meeting.  A messenger comes into the meeting to say that Paris's ship is ready to sail to Sparta.  Paris's sister Cassandra does not want Paris to go to Sparta.  She tells him:  "Do not seek peace elsewhere without making peace with Athena", the goddess of wisdom and patroness of the horses of war. But Paris is determined to go.  Cassandra again pleads:  "Paris don't go.  Don't bring this dreadful thing upon us."  She says she can hear the screams of dying Trojan men. 

On the ship a storm comes up.  Paris climbs up the mast to fix a problem.  The mast is hit by a bolt of lightning, knocking the mast and Paris into the sea. Paris washes up on a beach.  He sees a fisherman's cabin nearby.  A blonde woman approaches him.  He thinks that she is the personification of the goddess of beauty Aphrodite.   The woman, however, is not a goddess, but Helen, the Queen of Sparta.  The fisherman and his wife come over to see the beached man.  The fisherman knows he is a Trojan.  Two soldiers approach the group.  Helen and the two others quickly cover up Paris.  The soldiers are looking for any Trojans that might have floundered onto the beach following the terrible storm at sea.  The group says that they have not seen any strangers in the area.  The two soldiers leave. 

Helen call for her slave servant Andraste:  "Help us carry this man."  The fisherman wants to turn the Trojan over to the authorities, but the slave speaks up for him.  He is Prince Paris of Troy.  Helen just pretends she too is a slave.  Paris tells them:  "I come to offer a treaty of peace to King Menelaus."  Helen tells him that he must leave at nightfall, otherwise he will be killed.  Then she tells Paris that she has to get back to the palace.  Paris tells her:  "Promise me we will meet again."  Helen and Andraste leave.  But Paris follows the two women.  Helen sees him and tries to tell him how precarious his position is in Sparta.  The kings of Greece will meet to consider war against Troy.  But Paris is more interested in telling her that he wants to make her a future Princess of Troy.  It seems very precipitous but she says:  "My heart is yours, Paris . . ."  But this moment, she says, has to be their last.  

At the palace of Sparta.  The kings and their representatives wonder if Ulysses is coming.  He shortly arrives.  Also at the meeting are Ajax (the Prince of Salamis), Nestor (King of Pylos), Diomedes (ruler of Aetolia), Achilles of Thessaly, Achilles's buddy Petroculus and Agamemnon of Mycenae, the brother of King Menelaus.   Paris shows up at the meeting and is met with great distrust.  They think he is a Trojan spy.  To prove himself Paris has to fight a big Greek fellow called Ajax.  Helen comes into the room and sees Paris fighting.   She calls out:  "Paris!"  This lets the King know that she has met Paris before and that she is fond of him.  The king follows her around, watching her reactions to Paris.  The king is not happy.  Paris wins the match. 

It is now that Paris finds out that Helen is actually the Queen of Sparta.  The king comes to see Helen.  To his demands she says:  "I married a robber."  The king says:  "You've seen this man before, admit it!"  Then he makes threats against the well-being of Paris.  

Andraste pays a visit to Paris in his quarters.  She has been sent by Helen to help him escape.  Otherwise, the king will surely torture him.  Paris gets away and goes down to the fisherman's hut.  The fishermen tells Paris that the Queen sent him to the hut and arranged for a Phoenician ship to take him back to Troy.  He asks Cora, the fisherman's wife, to"  "Tell her she'll walk in all my dreams."  Soldiers show up to patrol the coastline looking for Paris. Helen shows up.  Paris and Helen have to hide in the bushes so the soldiers do not discover them.  While there, the couple kisses a couple of time.  But Helen says she will not go with Paris to Troy.  She says it would destroy the peace.  Archers arrive and start to draw their bows.  Paris jumps off the cliff into the sea water carrying Helen with him. 

King Menelaus is furious when he finds out that Helen and Paris are heading for Troy.  He quickly urges the other kings and their representatives to gather their ships and help him in an attack on Troy to get Helen back.  Agamemnon will be the overall leader of the expedition. 

On board ship, Helen worries about what people will call Paris and her.  She wants Paris to go with her to an island called Pelagos.  After some thought Paris agrees to go.  But then Helen changes her mind and decides to accompany Paris to Troy. 

Paris and Helen arrive and are welcomed warmly.  Paris introduces his sweetheart to his family.  They want to know her name.  Cassandra says:  "Her name is death."  Aphrodite has come down to earth.  When King Priam learns that her name is Queen Helen of Sparta, he becomes angry and says that Paris has brought dishonor on them and united the Greeks against Troy.   The Queen of Troy tells Paris to send Helen back to Sparta, but Paris will not do this.  He will, however, leave Troy.  Aeneaus says that he will take the pair down to the harbor where they can catch a ship.  They are considering going to Pelagos.  But before the plan can be implemented, a huge mob of angry residents march on the palace to denounce Paris.  Now Helen certainly cannot be taken down to the harbor.  The king now says that Helen can stay.  They now have to start making preparations for war. 

The Greeks come with not less than a thousand sea vessels.  King Priam says to Helen and Paris:  "See what you have brought upon us?  The face that launched a thousand ships."  Brother Hector will be put in overall charge of the Trojan defense forces.  The Greeks land and immediately start constructing machines of war for the coming attack.  It is not long before the Greeks attack.  They have a great start and it looks like the Trojans are in real trouble.  Brother Polydorus is killed by Achilles.  But the attack is repulsed with a great many losses on the Greek side. 

Sobered by the defeat, the Greeks now prepare for years of siege against Troy.  Their soldiers engage in rape and pillage in the surrounding villages.  Achilles gets very angry at Agamemnon when the king's brother grabs for himself a woman that Achilles felt was his.  He tells the others that he will no longer fight alongside the Greeks. 

Paris calls for Helen.  His mother shows up instead.  Mom tells her son that Helen has gone to the camp of the Greeks.   Paris shouts:  "He shan't have her!"  He prepares to chase after her.  On the road between the Trojan fortress and the Greek encampments the Greek and Trojan chariot convoys meet.  Hector steps down and with Helen they walk toward the Greek chariots.  She then walks alone.  King Menelaus grabs her and puts her in his chariot.  But this will not satisfy the Greeks.  They tell Hector that the Trojans will have to pay their debt to Greece consisting of one-half the treasury of Troy up front followed by 1,000 talents every year.   Hector is flabbergasted.  And Paris, watching from the nearby tree grove, becomes angry and attacks the Greek chariots.  He leaves his own chariot and gets on the one containing Helen.  He drives off with Helen followed by the other Trojan chariots.  As the Greek chariots get closer and closer, Hector turns his chariot around and attacks the closest Greek chariot.  Both chariot drivers throw their spears at the same time, but the Greek Petroculus is killed.  Lord Aeneas brings the body of Petroculus back to the Greeks.  Achilles, a friend of Petroculus, is now back in the fight.

When King Priam learns of the Greek demands for payment he declares of the Greeks::  "They seek plunder, not justice!"  Now for the death of Petroculus, Hector will have to fight the great Achilles in personal combat.  Hector's wife is very upset by this because her father and brothers were all killed by Achilles.  Paris wants to fight for Hector, but this idea is rejected.  The two best fighters from the two camps face one another in their chariots.  Hector crashes Achilles's chariot, but in the fight with spears Achilles knocks the spear out of Hector's hands and then kills the Trojan.  He then ties a rope around Hector's legs and in Hector's own chariot pulls the dead warrior's body around in circles  in front of the Trojan fortress.  All the Trojan archers fire their arrows at Achilles but they just seem to bounce off his armor harmlessly.  Paris asks for divine help to find a weak point and fires his bow.  His arrow hits Achilles in the heel and the great Greek warrior falls from the chariot and dies. 

With Achilles dead, Ulysses comes up with the idea of using a war monument to trick the Trojans.   Apagos and his men have been building the structure in the woods.  The Greeks take some of their best soldiers and place them inside the huge wooden structure known as the "Trojan horse".  Then the Greek ships sail away.  The Trojans are ecstatic over their victory.  They light the victory torch and open the fortress gates.  They then pull the strange monument into the fortress.  Helen tells Paris:  "Beware the Greeks bearing gifts."  And Cassandra warns her father not to let the people bring the horse into the fortress.  But the horse is brought in.  Cassandra warns:  "This is not the end of unhappiness, but its beginning."  There is a huge celebration with wine, women and song.  Late at night the party ends and the Trojans go to sleep.  When all is quiet, the Greek soldiers let themselves down from the horse's belly by a rope.  They then proceed to kill all the guards at the Trojan battlements.  The gates are opened next.  The Greeks pour into the fortress and start a massacre of the inhabitants of Troy.  A Trojan trumpeter did get out a few trumpet warning calls, but the Trojan men were too drunk to respond quickly. 

Paris kills two Green soldiers.  King Priam tells Paris and Helen to use the north gate to escape.  He says:  "I command you to go."  The couple leaves just in time, for Greek soldiers enter the palace and grab the Trojan king and queen.  The soldiers want to know where is Helen. 

Paris has to fight off some Greek soldiers and Helen gets separated from him.  King Menelaus sees Helen and Paris come together.  The couple starts running but they run right into Helen's husband and his men.  The king tries to kill Paris, but Paris is able to knock him down.  Then one of the soldiers kills Paris.  Helen barely has enough time to kiss Paris good-bye before he dies.  She cries over his body.  The king grabs her and sends her with his men to his ship. 

Helen is on the ship headed for Sparta.  She says to the dead Paris:  "You shall always be with me!"  Paris responds:  "And you with me!"

 

Pretty good movie.  The background scenery (painted) was pretty bad, but this was in the days before computerization.  There were no acting performances that stood out.  Bridgette Bardot looked really young as the young slave servant to the Queen of Sparta. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

Paris was the son of King Priam of Troy (on the coast of today's Turkey) and his wife, Hecuba. As a youngster he was expelled from the family because of an evil portent.  Raised by others as a shepherd, he made an entrance back into his family's life by defeating all of his brothers in a boxing contest.  He was then received back into the family.

According to Greek legend, Zeus picked Paris to determine which of three goddesses was the most beautiful. All three of the beauties, Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite offered bribes to Paris, but he chose Aphrodite along with her bribe to help him win the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen, the wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta.  

Supposedly, Helen was daughter of Zeus, either by Leda or by Nemesis, and sister of the Dioscuri. She was also the sister of Clytemnestra, who married Agamemnon, and wife of Menelaus, Agamemnon's younger brother.

Paris seduces Helen and, during an absence of her husband Menelaus, Helen flees to Troy with Paris.  His refusal to return her led to the Trojan War.

Paris was a good warrior but inferior to his brother Hector and to the Greek leaders who he faced. Menelaus would have defeated Paris in single combat, but Aphrodite rescued him, and the war continued.  Achilles kills Hector.  Then, near the end of the war, Paris shot the arrow that, by Apollo's help, caused the death of Achilles by hitting him in his one vulnerable spot, the heel. Paris himself, soon after, received a fatal wound from an arrow shot by the archer Philoctetes.

When Paris was slain, Helen married his brother Deïphobus.  Helen then betrayed her new husband to Menelaus when Troy was subsequently captured. Menelaus and she then returned to Sparta, where they lived happily until their deaths. 

 

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