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Modestly mounted but perfectly tailored to the strengths of its central performer, the largely obscure Anthony Quinn star vehicle A Dream of Kings (1969) gave its leading man a role with more than a few echoes of his exuberant, career-defining characterization in Zorba the Greek (1964), and supplemented a charismatic central effort with flavorful work from a more than able supporting cast.
The novelist Harry Mark Petrakis, who carved his literary niche with telling chronicles of life in the Greek neighborhoods of Chicago's South Side, collaborated with Ian McLellan Hunter in adapting his 1966 best-seller for the screen. The narrative revolves around the charismatic ne'er-do-well Leonidas Matsoukas (Quinn), a middle-aged one-time amateur wrestler who makes a living on the margins, occasionally from his maintenance of an all-purpose counseling office in a dingy walk-up, but largely by wagering his wad at the local bookie hall where his cronies regard him as a neighborhood legend. The pre-dawn hours find Matsoukas returning to the apartment he shares with his spouse Caliope (Irene Papas), who bears the stress of putting up with his escapades, and the three kids who idolize him.
Chief in Matsoukas' affections is his sickly seven-year-old son Stavros (Radames Pera); the doting father scoffs at the grim prognosis of the neighborhood doctor, certain that all that would be necessary for the boy's recovery is exposure to the air and sunshine of their ancestral land. Unfortunately, the price of two airfares to Greece seems out of reach, at least until Matsoukas' loyal sidekick Cicero (Sam Levene) offers up his life's savings in a burst of generosity. Unfortunately, fate has cruel plans, and Matsoukas is forced to put his good name on the line in order to make good on his promises to the youngster.
Critics of the day were effusive in their praise of Quinn's expectedly robust turn. "Quinn once again playing super-mensch, the noble ethnic, and it is one of his most powerful and convincing performances," Variety opined. Rex Reed wrote in Holiday that the project was a "tour de force by Anthony Quinn. His performance is hypnotic," while William Wolf proclaimed in Cue that "Anthony Quinn at peak talent--he is such a damned effective actor and beautiful man that his performance towers!" Effectively helmed by Daniel Mann, the film also offered a memorable tapestry of supporting performances; from Papas, in the fourth of seven collaborations with Quinn, as the wife whose sufferings are far from silent, to Levene as the hapless buddy, to a raft of welcome character veterans like Alan Reed, H.B. Haggerty and Val Avery among the gambling joint populace.
The role of Stavros offered an effective screen debut for the nine-year-old Pera, who would go on to find his place in pop culture a few short years later with his 1972-1975 stint as the young Kwai Chang Caine, AKA "Grasshopper," in the flashback sequences of TV's Kung Fu. A Dream of Kings is also noteworthy as the last big-screen appearance for Inger Stevens, offering memorable work as a pretty young widow slowly but inexorably worn down by Matsoukas' seductive attentions. Her onscreen heat with Quinn was actually a bit of art imitating life, as they had been steeped in an affair a decade prior when he had directed her in The Buccaneer (1958). Sadly, it wasn't long afterwards that the troubled Swedish beauty lost her long battle with her inner demons; she was only thirty-five when she died from a barbiturate overdose in 1970.
Producer: Jules Schermer
Director: Daniel Mann
Screenplay: Ian Hunter; Harry Mark Petrakis (novel)
Cinematography: Richard H. Kline
Art Direction: Boris Leven
Music: Alex North
Film Editing: Ray Daniels, Walter Hannemann
Cast: Anthony Quinn (Matsoukas), Irene Papas (Caliope), Inger Stevens (Anna), Sam Levene (Cicero), Val Avery (Fatsas), Tamara Daykarhanova (Mother-in-law), Peter Mamakos (Falconis), James Dobson (Doctor), Zvee Scooler (Zenoitis), Bill Walker (Kampana).
by Jay S. Steinberg