peteg's blog - noise - movies - 2023 09 15 ZorbaTheGreek

Zorba the Greek (1964)

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A jag from The Last Temptation of Christ: Nikos Kazantzakis wrote the raw material for both. In black-and-white. It looks unappetising on the tin — a constipated Englishman paired with a Greek high on life — but Anthony Quinn makes it work with a robust performance. Oscar noms all round and some won but not him. Produced/directed/adapted by Michael Cacoyannis.

We begin with Alan Bates, the English writer, trying to get to Crete to reclaim his Greek father's property there. Almost immediately Zorba zeroes in on him and we wonder if Bates is a mark and a homosexual. The movie eventually answers no to both of those, though others must labour mightily to make those revelations. The property turns out to be a lignite mine that has stopped running due to the absence of the landlord, impoverishing the nearby village which holds fast to tradition. Zorba gets off many a good line that leaven some of the heaviness of those traditions and does all the heavy lifting in the bromance. The sentiments are essentially Epicurean so it's mostly in Quinn's delivery.

This was Quinn's next movie after Lawrence of Arabia (1962), or perhaps it was the equally delicious The Visit. The mining scenes got a bit The Wages of Fear, but most of it put me in mind of Ava Gardner's contemporaneous beach activities in The Night of the Iguana: an unguarded joy de vivre. One of these days I'll get around to Karzan's America America.

Vincent Canby.