Like Homer's Iliad, it begins toward the end of the war and ends before the episode of the Trojan Horse; the focus is strictly on one man, Achilles, and his fate. A knowledge of the dramatis personae and the basic circumstances is presumed of the viewer, just as Homer expected his listeners to know who Paris was, or how Iphigenia died.
Unlike any other Trojan War film I've seen, this one, like Homer, includes the gods and their divine intervention in human affairs. Achilles' near-invincibility is a supernatural fact, as demonstrated in a scene when he's stabbed and the blade is destroyed as if blasted by lightning. Yet the film doesn't feel like a fantasy, as do similar films about Jason, Hercules, or Ulysses; it's a psychological drama in which the psyche of the main character is driven by his understanding of his divine destiny. An oracle has revealed that Troy cannot fall until its champion, Hector, dies; Hector cannot die until Achilles slays him; and once that happens, Achilles must die. This is the burden of greatness and doom that lies upon Achilles.
Even dubbed, Gordon Mitchell gives a powerful and convincing portrayal of the warrior who is both hero and monster. His physical presence is perfect: his physique is statuesque but his features are so rugged as to be ugly (think of Charles Bronson or Jack Palance); he is sexually alluring, physically intimidating, and frightening to look at.
The script is surprisingly, sometimes amazingly, literate, verging on the poetic. Especially memorable are Achilles' explanation of his invulnerability to the captured Briseis, which ironically reveals his vulnerability and wins her pity and affection; Patroclus' plea to Hector to kill him after he's been wounded; and Hector's farewell speech to his wife and the people of Troy before he goes out to battle Achilles. The climactic duel between the two warriors is very well-staged and utterly riveting.
I wonder if the makers of TROY saw this movie? If so, they learned nothing from it. If they had simply done a remake of this film, reproducing its insights into the tragedy of Achilles and Hector, Brad Pitt would be the possessor of an Oscar today!
Here's the rub: this movie is very hard to locate on DVD, at least in the US. The only copy I've found, on a compilation DVD called RETURN TO TROY, is from a very degraded full-screen print, hardly watchable by most viewer's standards. If this movie could be seen in a well-preserved widescreen print, it would be truly spectacular.