Helen of Troy (1956)

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Released 19-Oct-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-The Look of Troy
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Interviewing Helen
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Sounds Of Homeric Troy
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1956
Running Time 115:56
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (39:04) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Robert Wise

Warner Home Video
Starring Rossana Podestà
Jacques Sernas
Sir Cedric Hardwicke
Stanley Baker
Harry Andrews
Torin Thatcher
Robert Douglas
Niall MacGinnis
Janette Scott
Brigitte Bardot
Marc Lawrence
Ronald Lewis
Nora Swinburne
Case ?
RPI $14.95 Music Max Steiner

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Not having read the Iliad, I am not sure how faithful this storyline is to Homer's epic poem, but reports suggest that it is quite close to the original, though in this version the gods do not appear. Paris, Prince of Troy, travels to Sparta to sue for peace between his nation and Greece. On the way he is swept overboard during a storm and ends up on a beach where his first sight is of a beautiful young woman. She tells him that she is a slave girl in the palace (though we know that she is in fact Helen, Queen of Sparta) and they fall in love with each other.

    Later, Paris ventures into the palace of the Spartan king Menelaus. Paris fights with Ajax to prove his identity, and Menelaus realises that Helen knows Paris and has a thing for him. Both Paris and Helen manage to avoid giving the game away, but Menelaus locks Paris in his room as a prisoner. Helen helps Paris escape to the harbour where a ship is waiting, but when Spartan warriors suddenly arrive, Paris jumps from the cliff with Helen in his arms into the sea. They are picked up by the ship and are taken to Troy.

    This galvanises the warring Greek nations to join together and send a thousand ships with warriors to "rescue" Helen. Of course, the real motive for the Greeks is to plunder the rich city. So Menelaus, Agamemnon, Ulysses, Achilles and their cohorts lay siege to the city.

    This epic film from nearly fifty years ago does not have the digital wizardry of the recent Troy, and although I have yet to see the latter film, the many reviews of it indicate that it is much better than this 1955 effort. The scale of the film cannot be faulted, with large armies of real people, giant sets, lots of back-projection, matte shots and painted backdrops. The problem is that the film is ponderous, with pedestrian direction by Robert Wise (though I must admit he composes sequences for the wide screen very well) and a banal script full of pompous and sometimes unintentionally funny dialogue. The action sequences are better, though this could be due to the second-unit direction by legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt. The set design is okay, but the famous wooden horse looks a bit ropey and less impressive than it should have been.

    It doesn't help that several of the characters are played by actors too old for their parts. Harry Andrews is a middle-aged Hector, Torin Thatcher an aged Ulysses and Sir Cedric Hardwicke a dignified but septuagenarian King Priam. The main roles are better cast in terms of looks, but not in terms of ability. Helen is played by Italian actress Rossana Podestà, who is handsome enough but does not display much in the acting department. The director and costume designer are aware of her, umm, obvious charms, and make an effort to show them off in every shot. Exactly the same can be said of Lithuanian-born French actor Jacques (billed here as 'Jack') Sernas as Paris, except that you can substitute "pecs" for what you were thinking about regarding Miss Podestà. Stanley Baker is a perennially annoyed-looking Achilles and Robert Douglas has little to do as Agamemnon, except to scowl a lot and turn up to the set to collect his pay cheque. Much better is Niall MacGinnis as Menelaus, who gives the only rounded performance in the film. To complete the cast of British and European actors we have Nora Swinburne as the Queen of Troy, Ronald Lewis as Paris's brother Aeneas, Janette Scott as Cassandra, Esmond Knight as a sage, Eduardo Ciannelli as a fisherman and the young Brigitte Bardot as Helen's handmaiden. The sole American presence is the character actor Marc Lawrence.

    Devotees of spear-and-sandal films may get a kick out of this, and I can't say that I was completely bored by it, but if you are interested in seeing the story of the face that launched the proverbial thousand ships I suggest you try the recent version first.

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Transfer Quality


    The film is presented in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

    The film gets a pretty good transfer, much better than the similar Alexander the Great from the following year. The video image is reasonably sharp and clear, apart from a couple of process shots and one instance of a shot being zoomed in the lab. Contrast is good, and shadow detail (and detail generally) is satisfactory.

    Colour is also reasonable, though perhaps not as bright and vibrant as it may have been in the cinema. Colours tend to be solid and clean without being rich.

    Transfer quality is good, with little in the way of obvious problems. There is some edge enhancement visible in some shots, but most of the time it is not noticeable. Grain is sometimes a little too prominent, but again most of the time it is under control. There is some telecine wobble throughout the film, a noticeable example being at 39:50.

    The only film artefacts of note are some flecks and coloured spots, but generally the print material is quite clean.

    Optional English subtitles are pretty close to the mark, not verbatim but giving a good sense of the dialogue. These are presented in a white font that is clear and easily read.

    This is an RSDL-formatted disc with the layer change placed at 39:04. On viewing the film, I did not notice the change which occurs at a cut during the scene where Paris escapes from the clutches of Menelaus.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The original stereo soundtrack is not provided, but instead we get a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix.

    The audio is actually quite good, despite the dialogue having a limited range and with some slight distortion at times. The music comes over very well. The bulk of the audio is across the front channels, with the rears being very faint, even when music is playing. Low frequency effects result in some subwoofer activity, and it is well done in that the subwoofer emphasises the bass sounds in the music without drawing attention to itself.

    Audio sync is not perfect, given that several of the actors are dubbed. Both Podestà and Sernas are dubbed with American voices, and I think Bardot may also be dubbed, but with a more idiomatic voice.

    The music score is by Max Steiner, and is one of those old-fashioned lush orchestral scores for which he was famous. Most of the time it is very good, though sometimes he overdoes the underlining of dramatic events. This transfer includes the Overture music, which runs for about five minutes. While the overture is playing a still frame of the image that was projected during the overture is shown.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    A small selection of extras with a little bit more than just the usual trailer. It may have been possible to film some new material, given that director Wise is still alive and continues to do interviews, and also still with us at the time of writing are actors Podestà, Sernas, Scott and Lawrence (still on screen in his nineties). Bardot is also still living but apparently a recluse.

Main Menu Audio

    Some of the score is played over the static main menu.

Theatrical Trailer (4:02)

    Her name was burned into the pages of history - in letters of fire. I think you get the picture. Not a bad trailer, though the hyperbole is a bit over the top. This is in the same aspect ratio as the feature and is 16x9 enhanced.

Featurette-Behind The Scenes-The Look of Troy (6:08)

    The three featurettes included on this disc appear to be from 1955 and constitute pre-publicity for the film. It looks like the material was intended to be shown after the screening of Warner Bros. movies on television. All are in black and white and in 1.33:1, with optional subtitles, and they are hosted by actor Gig Young. In this first featurette the interest for me was the opening segment where the original Vitaphone equipment is demonstrated. This equipment was used with early sound films and is a lot like DTS in execution, with the sound on a separate disc synchronised with the film. In this case it is a large grooved record instead of a compact disc. The short film excerpt shown is from the first feature film with synchronised sound, Don Juan (1926), and features part of the duel between John Barrymore and Montagu Love.

    Also shown are a few scenes from Helen of Troy and some simplistic assertions about how the film was designed.

Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Interviewing Helen (6:05)

    This featurette features Young on the ramparts of a studio Troy interviewing Rossana Podestà in character, and she still has the same dubbed voice and is spouting the same inane dialogue.

Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Sounds Of Homeric Troy (6:05)

    This last featurette goes into a little detail about how the sounds of ancient Troy were created, and the use of re-recording to make a single arrow shot sound like hundreds. It also shows how the sound engineers created the noise of the battering ram hitting the Trojan gates, by dropping a huge metal plate onto another huge metal plate.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Judging by the specifications and the reviews, the US Region 1 and UK Region 2 releases are the same as the Region 4, so there is no reason not to shop locally.


    An impressive-looking but dramatically stagnant epic. Not terrible by any means, just disappointing.

    The video quality is good.

    The audio quality is good, though a track representing the original presentation is not provided.

    A nice but small package of extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Monday, October 25, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

Other Reviews NONE
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