A film of several different large-scale effects in the epic manner, governed by the disposition of the roles.
The Greek stylization of Nausicaa and her island city are one (carried over into the gowns worn by Penelope and Circe), the bright Úlan of Ulysses against Polyphemus, the wanderer’s anguish at the Sirens’ song (with Penelope’s voice), and the great Circe sequence.
Ulysses’ bath in her green pool is pure Fellini (tracking right on two veiled attendants well before Satyricon). A storm wrecks the ship that has departed without him, Circe offers immortality and raises the great dead as well as the dead crew to rebuke Ulysses’ self-sufficiency, his mother appears unbidden to urge him home.
This is the great theme, worked out by the Italian screenwriters and brought to witty points in English (Ben Hecht and Irwin Shaw are credited), that to live and die as a man is better than to be a god.
The gods neither speak nor appear, only a statue of Poseidon at Troy and an image of Athena in Ulysses’ home on Ithaca, and there are no interior monologues.
Kirk Douglas gives as fine a performance as any of his others, part Van Gogh and part Spartacus with a dash of Ned Land in 20000 Leagues Under the Sea.
Anthony Quinn balances the structure as first among the suitors.
Silvana Mangano, a great hieratic presence, plays both Penelope and Circe.