Like a Trojan
Thanks to some idle time earlier this summer and the inspiration of the blog Peplum, I've been catching up on old sword-and-sandal movies I missed in my youth. The Trojan Horse (1961) stars Steve Reeves as Aeneas of Troy a couple of years after making a splash as Hercules. As I expected, it takes some liberties with the ancient accounts I'm familiar with, but arguably no more than we find in 2004's Troy.
One embellishment not to be found in Homer or Virgil is a "friendly" contest between Aeneas and the Greek warrior Ajax (played by Mimmo Palmara) at the funeral games for Achilles' friend Patroclus in the film's first thirty minutes. Knocked off his horse in the equestrian event, Aeneas wipes the blood off his lip and hops right back on to finish the race. Then in a sandy circle, he and Ajax compete in hand-to-hand combat. Steve survives a bearhug, a claw hold, and a bodyscissors, to reverse and straddle Ajax in a schoolboy pin before raising him in a gorilla press and tossing him out of the arena. Victorious, Aeneas laments discovering that among his enemies are men more honorable than some of his fellow citizens (namely a particularly slippery Prince Paris).
Wrestling, of course, gets a mention in Virgil's account of Aeneas' post-war adventures, namely in the "Blissful Groves," the paradise reserved for heroes in the afterlife. There the great warriors, poets, and inventors of the ancient world live in eternal woman-free happiness, spending their hours in manly pursuits:
Some are at exercise
On the grassy wrestling ground, some contend
On the yellow sand, others tread a dance
And chant a choral song. (Aeneid Book 6, translation Stanley Lombardo)
I would have gladly traded all the CGE embellishments of Troy for an uncanonical wrestling match between Eric Bana and Brad Pitt (or Eric Bana and anybody). This early film, made for a tiny fraction of Troy's $175 million, is "not too abysmal," but in the capture shots above we're pretty much looking at all the footage we get of Steve's torso. (Damn those cuirasses!)