Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Zorba The Greek (dir by Michael Cacoyannis)

The 1964 film, Zorba the Greek, tells the story of two very different friends.

Basil (Alan Bates) is a writer.  (“Poetry, essays,” he diffidently says when asked what he writes.)  Basil is British-Greek but, having been raised in the UK, he allows his British side to dominate.  In this film, that means that Basil is very polite and very reserved.  He’s not the type to attempt to flirt with someone who he doesn’t know.  He has never spontaneously broken into dance.  When he is offered a drink, he asks for tea and is shocked to receive rum instead.  If the film was taking place a few decades later, one gets the feeling that Basil would describe Love, Actually as being an okay movie “for people who like that sort of thing.”

And then there’s Zorba (Anthony Quinn).  Unlike the wealthy and well-educated Basil, Zorba is a peasant and he’s proud of it.  He works hard but he plays hard too and there’s nothing that Zorba loves more than the sound of good music.  Zorba not only drinks rum but makes sure that everyone else gets their fill as well.  Zorba dances whenever he feels like it.  Zorba is larger than life, an unfailingly enthusiastic man who is determined to enjoy whatever time he has left in his life.

When Zorba and Basil first meet, Basil is heading to Crete where he’ll be trying to reopoen a mine that was left to him by his father.  As for Zorba, he’s looking for work and, as he explains it, he has tons of experience working as a miner.  Though Basil is, at first, reluctant to hire someone who he’s just met, Zorba talks him into it.  As quickly becomes apparent, the exuberant Zorba can talk people into almost anything.

You can probably guess where all of this is going.  Zorba teaches Basil how to embrace life, which in this film means embracing the Greek side of his heritage.  It takes a while, of course.  Basil is an extremely reluctant protegé and a good deal of the film’s humor comes from just how uncomfortable Basil occasionally gets with his newfound friend.  That said, you don’t have to be a psychic to guess that eventually, the two of them will share a dance on the beach.  It may be predictable but that’s not to say that Zorba the Greek isn’t a good film.  It’s a very good and entertaining movie, featuring a justifiably famous soundtrack and also one of Anthony Quinn’s best and most exuberant performances.

In fact, Quinn is so perfectly cast as Zorba that he occasionally tends to overshadow Alan Bates, who is equally good but in a different way.  In fact, I would say that Bates probably had the more difficult role.  Whereas Zorba (and Quinn) spends the entire movie instigating, Basil (and Bates) spends the entire movie reacting.  It’s difficult to make passivity watchable but Bates manages to do it.

Of course, Zorba isn’t just a comedy about an unlikely friendship.  About halfway through the film, there’s a moment of shocking brutality involving a young widow played by Irene Pappas.  It took me totally by surprise and it left me a bit shaken.  (It also reminded me a bit of another European film featuring Irene Pappas, Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling.)  It’s a scene that serves as a reminder that 1) not every peasant is Zorba the Greek and 2) friendship and love cannot end darkness but it can make it all a little more bearable.

Zorba the Greek was nominated for Best Picture but it lost to My Fair Lady.

Mad Libs: Hope & Crosby on the ROAD TO MOROCCO (Paramount 1942)

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Bing Crosby and Bob Hope travel the ROAD TO MOROCCO, the third in the “Road” series and by far the funniest. The plot involves two shipwrecked Americans who wind up in an absurd Arabian Nights style adventure complete with beautiful princess Dorothy Lamour and murderous desert sheik Anthony Quinn , but you can throw all that out the window as Bing and Bob trade quips, sing, and break down the Fourth Wall to let the audience know it’s all in good fun, so sit back and enjoy the zany ride.

Bob and Bing were already established superstars when Paramount teamed them for ROAD TO SINGAPORE (1940), which was a huge box office hit and followed quickly by ROAD TO ZANZIBAR (1941). By the time they made MOROCCO, the pair had their act down pat, with Der Bingle the smooth-talking crooner who always gets the girl, and Ol’ Ski-Nose the cowardly…

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A Movie A Day #103: Mobsters (1991, directed by Michael Karbelnikoff)

The place is New York City.  The time is the prohibition era.  The rackets are controlled by powerful but out of touch gangsters like Arnold Rothstein (F. Murray Abraham), Joe Masseria (Anthony Quinn), and Salvatore Faranzano (Michael Gambon).  However, four young gangsters — Lucky Luciano (Christian Slater), Meyer Lansky (Patrick Dempsey), Frank Costello (Costas Mandylor), and Bugsy Siegel (Richard Greico) — have an ambitious plan.  They want to form a commission that will bring together all of the Mafia families as a national force.  To do it, they will have to push aside and eliminate the old-fashioned mob bosses and take over the rackets themselves.  When Masseria and Faranzano go to war over who will be the new Boss of all Bosses, Luciano and Lansky seen their opportunity to strike.

I love a good gangster movie, which is one reason that I have never cared much for Mobsters. Mobsters was made in the wake of the success of Young Guns and, like that film, it attempted to breathe new life into an old genre by casting teen heartthrobs in the lead roles.  There was nothing inherently wrong with that because Luciano, Lansky, and Seigel were all still young men, in their 20s and early 30s, when they took over the Mafia.  (Costello was 39 but Mobsters presents him as being the same age as they other three.)  The problem was that none of the four main actors were in the least bit convincing as 1920s mobsters.  Christian Slater was the least convincing Sicilian since Alex Cord in The Brotherhood.  As for the supporting cast, actors like Chris Penn and F. Murray Abraham did the best that they could with the material but Anthony Quinn’s performance in Mobsters was the worst of his long and distinguished career.

Fans of Twin Peaks will note that Lara Flynn Boyle had a small role in Mobsters.  She played Luciano’s girlfriend.  Unfortunately, other than looking pretty and dying tragically, she was not given much to do in this disappointing gangster film.

Special Veteran’s Day Edition: BACK TO BATAAN (RKO 1945)

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John Wayne  and Anthony Quinn fight World War II on the backlots of RKO (subbing for the jungles of the Philippines) in BACK TO BATAAN, a stirring exercise in propaganda ripped from headlines of the era. The film was made to stoke audience’s patriotic fires, and succeeds in it’s objective. It’s well directed and shot, has plenty of action, and superb performances by all, including a standout from 14-year-old Ducky Louie.


Wayne plays Col. Madden, assigned to train Filipino freedom fighters (try saying that three times fast!) to battle the invading Japanese.  Quinn is Capt. Bonifacio, grandson of Filipino revolutionary hero Andres Bonifacio. He’s having issues with his girlfriend Dalisay, who’s the island version of Tokyo Rose (what he doesn’t realize is she’s secretly sending coded messages to the Allies through her broadcasts). Madden and his ragtag crew are out to destroy a Japanese gas depot, but first they encounter schoolteacher…

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Not Quite Spaghetti: Guns For San Sebastian (1968, directed by Henri Verneuil)

bdssposLeon Alastray (Anthony Quinn) is an outlaw in 18th century Mexico who is given sanctuary and hidden from the Spanish authorities by a kindly priest, Father Joseph (Sam Jaffe).  In return, Leon agrees to escort the priest to a peasant village that is under siege from the Yaqui Indians.  During the journey, Joseph dies and when Leon arrives at the village, he is mistaken for the priest.  Even though Leon’s an atheist and a womanizer, he pretends to be a man of God and tries to broker a peace with the Yaqui’s bloodthirsty leader, Golden Lance (Jaime Fernandez).  Standing in the way is Teclo (Charles Bronson), a mestizo rebel who wants to keep the Spanish and the Yaqui at war.

Because it features a score by Ennio Morricone and co-stars Charles Bronson, Guns For San Sebastian is often mistakenly referred to as being a spaghetti western.  Instead, it was a big budget American-French co-production that was filmed, on location, in Mexico. (The majority of spaghettis were filmed in Spain.)  While revolution in Mexico was a popular backdrop for many spaghetti westerns, none of them were as sympathetic to the church or the government as Guns for San Sebastian.  If Guns For San Sebastian were a true spaghetti western, Teclo would be the hero.

Guns For San Sebastian is an above average western that starts out slow but gets better as it approaches the exciting final battle between the villagers and Yaqui.  Morricone provides another great and rousing score but the main reason to watch Guns For San Sebastian is to see Anthony Quinn and Charles Bronson, two legendary tough guys, acting opposite each other and competing to see who can be the most intimidating.  In the movie, Quinn may win but you can still see the determined presence that led to Bronson becoming an unlikely movie star in the 70s.


This Eagle Doesn’t Fly: FLAP (Warner Brothers 1970)

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FLAP is an attempt by director Sir Carol Reed to jump on the late 60’s/early70’s “relevance” bandwagon by depicting the modern-day mistreatment of the American Indian. It’s a seriocomic character study that struggles to find it’s identity, and as a result fails at both comedy and drama.

FLAP is Flapping Eagle, an ex-soldier living back on the reservation who’s “pissed off at everybody”. He’s a hard drinking man, as is just about all the Indians here, feeding into the stereotypical “drunken Indian” image. Flap’s had enough of the noise coming from construction workers building a highway project right next to the rez, and causes a fracas between the hardhats and the Indians, damaging a bulldozer in the process. Native Wounded Bear (who has a correspondence school law degree) points out the highway is gong through sacred burial ground, which turns out not to be the case. Everyone’s up in arms, especially local…

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Embracing the Melodrama #30: The Greek Tycoon (dir by J. Lee Thompson)

Theo and Liz: A Love Story

Theo and Liz: A Love Story

“The characters in this film are fictitious and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental”. — Completely And Totally False Disclaimer From The Greek Tycoon (1978)

In order to appreciate a film like 1978’s The Greek Tycoon, it helps to be a history nerd like me.

If you are, then you probably know that, 5 years after her husband was assassinated in Dallas, former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy remarried.  Her new husband was Aristotle Onassis, a Greek shipping magnate who was 23 years older than her and who had an unsavory reputation.  Onassis was one of the world’s richest men and was known for both his extravagant life style and for being a ruthless operator.  Depending on which books you read, Onassis is portrayed as either being either one of the world’s greatest villains (and, in fact, there’s a whole school of conspiracy theorists who believed that Onassis was somehow involved in John Kennedy’s assassination) or just a casually amoral rich man who treated his new wife like his latest trophy.  Either way, he was not the sort of person who Americans expected to become the second husband of a widowed first lady.

Of course, the Greek Tycoon is not about Aristotle and Jackie Onassis.  It’s about another Greek shipping magnate with a ruthless reputation who shocks the world by marrying the widow of a martyred President.  And, if you stick with the film all the way through the end credits, you’ll even see a disclaimer to prove it!

Anthony Quinn plays Theo Tomasis.  When we first meet him, he’s content to spend his time making crooked business deals and attending parties on a seemingly endless collection of white yachts.  He is grooming his son (Edward Albert) to take over the family business.  He loves both his wife Simi (Camilla Sparv) and his mistress (Marilu Tolo).  In fact, the only problem he has in his life is his business rival, Spyros (Raf Vallone, who played another Greek tycoon in The Other Side of Midnight).  Spyros happens to be Theo’s brother.  But other than that, Theo is content to spend all of his time dancing and breaking plates because, as the film reminds us every chance that it gets, he’s Greek.

However, things change for Theo when he meets Liz Cassidy (Jacqueline Bisset), the wife of young and charismatic Senator James Cassidy (James Franciscus).  Within minutes of meeting her, Theo is hitting on her but Liz loves her husband.  However, Sen. Cassidy soon becomes President Cassidy and this, of course, leads to Cassidy being assassinated while he and Liz are strolling down the beach.

Liz is soon married to the freshly divorced Theo and proving herself to be far more strong-willed than anyone realized.  Despite the anger and efforts of both Theo’s son and the dead President’s brother (Robin Clarke), Liz and Theo’s love endures and soon, they are such a glamorous and famous couple that its surprising that nobody ever suggests making a movie about them.

The Greek Tycoon is a big mess of a movie but it’s enjoyable if you know what inspired it.  (Of course, if you’re not into history and you don’t know anything about Aristotle and Jackie then you’ll probably find The Greek Tycoon to be one of the most boring movies ever made.)  To be honest, the story is never important in a film like this.  Instead, you watch for the clothes and the sets and they’re all properly glamorous in a 1970s sort of way.  Finally, you can watch this movie for Anthony Qunn’s unapologetically over-the-top performance as Theo.  I don’t know if you could necessarily say that Quinn gave a good performance here but, watching the film, it certainly does look like he was having fun.