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  Zorba the Greek Greece Is The Word
Year: 1964
Director: Michael Cacoyannis
Stars: Anthony Quinn, Alan Bates, Irene Papas, Lila Kedrova, Giorgos Foundas, Sotiris Moustakas, Anna Kyriakou, Eleni Anousaki, Yorgo Voyagis, Takis Emmanuel
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Basil (Alan Bates) sits on the docks in the pouring rain, lamenting the possible state of his book collection which he is transporting to Crete, and himself with it. He is half-Greek and half-English, though raised as the latter, and now his father has passed away he has determined to travel to the land of his parent and see if he can make a claim on the abandoned mine that he owned, even getting it back up and running. He is already beginning to regret his decision as he grows wetter and wetter, but after ascertaining the ship is running late, he opts for the waiting room. However, as he tries to read, a face appears at the window and catches his eye...

Anthony Quinn made his name with the role of Zorba the Greek, an adaptation of the popular novel by Nikos Kazantzakis from rising star of the directing world Michael Cacoyannis. That he managed to completely blow this newfound reputation by following Zorba with the disastrous anti-nuclear comedy The Day the Fish Came Out is the reason why you probably won't have heard of him, but if you have it will be down to the efforts here, which became the favourite movie of many who responded to its embrace of life in the face of all its contradictions and madness. For Quinn, he had found his metier after being in the industry since the nineteen-thirties.

Waspish actress Ruth Warrick once said of Quinn that he told her he wanted to "impregnate every woman in the world... Though I didn't realise till later how literally he meant it", and he certainly gave the impression of a man with a lust for life, and indeed a lust for lust, making him ideal for this title role. He wasn't Greek, he was Mexican, but this was close enough for Hollywood who weren't too bothered at the difference, all they knew was they had an Oscar-winner in the lead (Best Supporting Actor for, er, Lust for Life in the fifties) and that was enough to justify the production, which did catch the spirit of the early sixties and become a runaway success for all concerned.

For years after, mention of the Greeks outside Greece would inspire comedy dads to jump up, arms outstretched and start hopping from foot to foot in imitation of the Zorba dance, probably with a vocal approximation of Mikis Theodorakis' music to accompany this display, but what of the film itself, was it the good time flick of memory? The answer to that was a rather blunt "no", for there were plot points here that were decidedly not fun, and painted the Cretans as a mob of bloodthirsty, greedy lowlifes who were accountable to no one in their scapegoating, thievery, entitlement and even murder. So how on Earth did this picture become such an encouragement to the general public to embrace Greek culture and settle on its islands as a perfect tourist destination if this were the case?

Maybe it's simply down to selective memory, maybe the larger than life personality of Quinn, who you can believe was someone pretty close to the interpretation he delivered here. But setting aside the fact Zorba the Greek ground on for a good hour past its welcome, getting ever more grim as it did so, the notion that the world is full of madmen (and women) and you’d best just accept it because it was never going to change, so dance! Well, that might never go out of fashion, and there was a strong element of that resigned bemusement at a society that revels in its petty superstitions and biases when life could be so much better if they were set to one side. However, that did not prevent the film being a highly sour experience, taking its supposedly quaint little tale of an innocent Englishman abroad and turning it into a relentlessly horrible yarn of how ghastly people can be when they take a mind to it. Even Zorba wasn't exactly admirable, though he did have tragedy in his life that's meant to explain this. All told, the film doesn't look anything like as uplifting now, little dance on the beach or not.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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