Phaedra


1h 55m 1962
Phaedra

Brief Synopsis

A tycoon's restless wife seduces her stepson.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Foreign
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1962
Premiere Information
New York opening: 18 Oct 1962
Production Company
Jorilie Productions; Melinafilm
Distribution Company
Lopert Pictures
Country
United States
Location
France; Greece; England, United Kingdom
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Hippolytus by Euripides (428 B.C.)

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 55m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Synopsis

Phaedra, the second wife of Thanos Kyrilis, a powerful Greek shipowner, is persuaded by her husband to go to London and urge Alexis, his 24-year-old son by a previous marriage, to return to Greece for the summer. Immediately attracted to each other, the young man and the older woman become involved in a passionate love affair in Paris. When they return to Thanos' home on the Aegean island of Hydra, Alexis is racked with guilt. Thanos, delighted to have his son back, makes plans for him to enter the family business and marry the daughter of another shipbuilding tycoon with whom he is planning to merge. The jealous Phaedra, determined not to give up Alexis, confronts Thanos and tells him that she has been unfaithful with his son. In a rage, Thanos denounces his wife and mercilessly beats his son. As Alexis is about to leave, Phaedra asks him to take her with him, but he refuses and drives his car off a seacliff road. Phaedra goes to her room and swallows a lethal dose of sleeping pills, leaving Thanos to face the death of his son and his wife.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Foreign
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1962
Premiere Information
New York opening: 18 Oct 1962
Production Company
Jorilie Productions; Melinafilm
Distribution Company
Lopert Pictures
Country
United States
Location
France; Greece; England, United Kingdom
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Hippolytus by Euripides (428 B.C.)

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 55m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Award Nominations

Best Costume Design

1962
Denny Vachlioti

Articles

Phaedra


"I gave you milk and honey/In return you gave me poison."
Melina Mercouri, translating the lyrics of a Greek song, in Phaedra

As a follow-up to the international smash Never on Sunday (1960), which had put Jules Dassin back on top after years on the Blacklist and made Melina Mercouri a star, the American expatriate director turned out one of the most maddening films in his oeuvre. Phaedra, a 1962 modern-dress version of the classic Greek play Hippolytus, manages to justify Dassin's most ardent champions and his most vehement detractors, often within the same scene. Even its box office fate was a study in extremes, with the film becoming a hit in Europe and flopping dismally in the U.S.

Euripides had first treated the legend of the young man pursued by his stepmother and accused of attempted rape when he spurns her advances in a lost play titled Hippolytus Veiled. The depiction of a love-maddened Phaedra brazenly attempting to seduce her husband's son had so offended the ancient Greeks that it had failed on its initial presentation (some sources claim it was hissed off the stage). Still drawn to the material, the playwright reshaped it, focusing more on psychology and having Phaedra proposition the young man through her serving woman. The result, first performed in 428 B.C., captured first prize at the yearly festival devoted to tragic plays.

This tale of forbidden love leading to tragedy has continued to hold audiences, inspiring a version by the ancient Roman writer Seneca, 17th century French playwright Jean Racine's Phedre, an opera by Hans Werner Henze, a dance piece choreographed by Martha Grahame, a cantata by Benjamin Britten and a British version by Tony Harrison, Phaedra Brittanica, set in 19th century India. In 1924, Eugene O'Neill updated the story to a 19th century New England farm to create one of his most successful early plays, Desire Under the Elms.

With the success of Never on Sunday, Dassin could have produced just about anything as long as Mercouri took the female lead. Producers tried to convince him to make a sequel but instead, inspired by his love of his adopted country (and Mercouri, whom he would marry in 1966), he decided to adapt Euripides' story, long a test of great actresses, as a vehicle for her. With her soulful eyes and oversized mouth, Mercouri seemed a natural for tragic roles, while the contemporary story, in which Phaedra's royal husband becomes a shipping magnate, not only gave her the chance to show off a high-fashion wardrobe, but also capitalized on the headline-making romance between Aristotle Onassis and opera star Maria Callas.

Although Phaedra was shot on locations in Greece, England and France, Dassin cast most of the supporting roles with Greek actors. Mercouri's husband was played by Raf Vallone, a burly Italian leading man who was just breaking into American films with A View from the Bridge (1962). As the son who falls for Mercouri, Dassin cast Anthony Perkins, who had recently resettled in Europe. Perkins was extremely popular because of the success of Psycho (1960), but at the same time, had left the U.S. because he didn't want to be typecast as deranged killers. Ironically, he had already played a role modeled on Hippolytus in the film version of Desire Under the Elms (1958). That adaptation had not fared well with critics or at the box office, with one complaint being that Perkins and Sophia Loren had no on-screen chemistry, despite the fact that the two had become friends while shooting the film.

The same would happen when Perkins worked with Mercouri. They too became such close friends that she kept a picture of him by her bed for years afterwards. But though their rapport shows in their dramatic scenes, as romantic partners, they didn't click for the same reasons that Loren and Perkins weren't convincing as screen lovers. Pauline Kael would later claim the casting ruined his career, because "when Melina Mercouri leaves her rich, powerful bull of a husband, Raf Vallone, to run away with his skinny young son, Anthony Perkins....She scoops him up in her arms, like a toy." (Pauline Kael, 5,001 Nights at the Movies.

When Phaedra opened, it was met with mixed reviews. It fared best in Europe, where it won praise for Jacques Natteau's wide-screen black-and-white cinematography and the love scenes, particularly the stars' first sexual encounter, in which rain on the windows creates a series of erotic, out-of-focus images. But even the European critics carped about some of the updating, particularly the use of cynical peasants as a Greek chorus, who are simultaneously entranced and repelled by the family's lavish lifestyle. When the sports car in which Perkins will die is delivered to his father's estate, an old man, played by an unbilled Dassin, says, "To me it looks like big coffin." Although Variety's critic predicted the sex and star power would make it a box-office winner, Phaedra was a box office failure in the U.S., only performing well in Europe.

In later years, the film's reputation has both grown and diminished. For some critics, like David Thomson, it represents a betrayal of the promise of Dassin's early film noir pictures. In his Biographical Dictionary of Film, he describes Dassin's later work as "some of the most entertainingly bad films of the sixties and seventies: pictures that outstrip their own deficiencies and end up being riotously enjoyable as one waits to see how far pretentiousness will stretch." But the film also has a devoted following who watch for its rare television screenings and clamor for its release on DVD.

Producer-Director: Jules Dassin
Screenplay: Dassin, Margarita Liberaki
Based on a script by Liberaki and Hippolytus by Euripides
Cinematography: Jacques Natteau
Art Direction: Max Douy
Music: Mikis Theodorakis
Cast: Melina Mercouri (Phaedra), Anthony Perkins (Alexis), Raf Vallone (Thanos), Elizabeth Ercy (Ercy), Olympia Papadouka (Anna), George Sarris (Ariadne), Jules Dassin (Christo).
BW-116m. Letterboxed.

by Frank Miller
Phaedra

Phaedra

"I gave you milk and honey/In return you gave me poison." Melina Mercouri, translating the lyrics of a Greek song, in Phaedra As a follow-up to the international smash Never on Sunday (1960), which had put Jules Dassin back on top after years on the Blacklist and made Melina Mercouri a star, the American expatriate director turned out one of the most maddening films in his oeuvre. Phaedra, a 1962 modern-dress version of the classic Greek play Hippolytus, manages to justify Dassin's most ardent champions and his most vehement detractors, often within the same scene. Even its box office fate was a study in extremes, with the film becoming a hit in Europe and flopping dismally in the U.S. Euripides had first treated the legend of the young man pursued by his stepmother and accused of attempted rape when he spurns her advances in a lost play titled Hippolytus Veiled. The depiction of a love-maddened Phaedra brazenly attempting to seduce her husband's son had so offended the ancient Greeks that it had failed on its initial presentation (some sources claim it was hissed off the stage). Still drawn to the material, the playwright reshaped it, focusing more on psychology and having Phaedra proposition the young man through her serving woman. The result, first performed in 428 B.C., captured first prize at the yearly festival devoted to tragic plays. This tale of forbidden love leading to tragedy has continued to hold audiences, inspiring a version by the ancient Roman writer Seneca, 17th century French playwright Jean Racine's Phedre, an opera by Hans Werner Henze, a dance piece choreographed by Martha Grahame, a cantata by Benjamin Britten and a British version by Tony Harrison, Phaedra Brittanica, set in 19th century India. In 1924, Eugene O'Neill updated the story to a 19th century New England farm to create one of his most successful early plays, Desire Under the Elms. With the success of Never on Sunday, Dassin could have produced just about anything as long as Mercouri took the female lead. Producers tried to convince him to make a sequel but instead, inspired by his love of his adopted country (and Mercouri, whom he would marry in 1966), he decided to adapt Euripides' story, long a test of great actresses, as a vehicle for her. With her soulful eyes and oversized mouth, Mercouri seemed a natural for tragic roles, while the contemporary story, in which Phaedra's royal husband becomes a shipping magnate, not only gave her the chance to show off a high-fashion wardrobe, but also capitalized on the headline-making romance between Aristotle Onassis and opera star Maria Callas. Although Phaedra was shot on locations in Greece, England and France, Dassin cast most of the supporting roles with Greek actors. Mercouri's husband was played by Raf Vallone, a burly Italian leading man who was just breaking into American films with A View from the Bridge (1962). As the son who falls for Mercouri, Dassin cast Anthony Perkins, who had recently resettled in Europe. Perkins was extremely popular because of the success of Psycho (1960), but at the same time, had left the U.S. because he didn't want to be typecast as deranged killers. Ironically, he had already played a role modeled on Hippolytus in the film version of Desire Under the Elms (1958). That adaptation had not fared well with critics or at the box office, with one complaint being that Perkins and Sophia Loren had no on-screen chemistry, despite the fact that the two had become friends while shooting the film. The same would happen when Perkins worked with Mercouri. They too became such close friends that she kept a picture of him by her bed for years afterwards. But though their rapport shows in their dramatic scenes, as romantic partners, they didn't click for the same reasons that Loren and Perkins weren't convincing as screen lovers. Pauline Kael would later claim the casting ruined his career, because "when Melina Mercouri leaves her rich, powerful bull of a husband, Raf Vallone, to run away with his skinny young son, Anthony Perkins....She scoops him up in her arms, like a toy." (Pauline Kael, 5,001 Nights at the Movies. When Phaedra opened, it was met with mixed reviews. It fared best in Europe, where it won praise for Jacques Natteau's wide-screen black-and-white cinematography and the love scenes, particularly the stars' first sexual encounter, in which rain on the windows creates a series of erotic, out-of-focus images. But even the European critics carped about some of the updating, particularly the use of cynical peasants as a Greek chorus, who are simultaneously entranced and repelled by the family's lavish lifestyle. When the sports car in which Perkins will die is delivered to his father's estate, an old man, played by an unbilled Dassin, says, "To me it looks like big coffin." Although Variety's critic predicted the sex and star power would make it a box-office winner, Phaedra was a box office failure in the U.S., only performing well in Europe. In later years, the film's reputation has both grown and diminished. For some critics, like David Thomson, it represents a betrayal of the promise of Dassin's early film noir pictures. In his Biographical Dictionary of Film, he describes Dassin's later work as "some of the most entertainingly bad films of the sixties and seventies: pictures that outstrip their own deficiencies and end up being riotously enjoyable as one waits to see how far pretentiousness will stretch." But the film also has a devoted following who watch for its rare television screenings and clamor for its release on DVD. Producer-Director: Jules Dassin Screenplay: Dassin, Margarita Liberaki Based on a script by Liberaki and Hippolytus by Euripides Cinematography: Jacques Natteau Art Direction: Max Douy Music: Mikis Theodorakis Cast: Melina Mercouri (Phaedra), Anthony Perkins (Alexis), Raf Vallone (Thanos), Elizabeth Ercy (Ercy), Olympia Papadouka (Anna), George Sarris (Ariadne), Jules Dassin (Christo). BW-116m. Letterboxed. by Frank Miller

Jules Dassin (1911-2008) - TCM Schedule Change for Director Jules Dassin Memorial Tribute on Friday, April 20th


In Tribute to director Jules Dassin, who died Monday, March 31st, at age 96, TCM is changing its evening programming on Sunday, April 20th to honor the actor with a double-feature salute.

Sunday, April 20th
8:00 PM Naked City
9:45 PM Topkapi


TCM REMEMBERS JULES DASSIN (1911-2008)

Jules Dassin gained experience in theater and radio in New York before going to work in Hollywood in 1940, first with RKO (as assistant director) and then with MGM. Dassin hit his stride in the late 1940s with such dynamic (and still well-regarded) film noir melodramas as "Brute Force" (1947), "The Naked City" (1948), "Thieves' Highway" (1949) and "Night and the City" (1950), starring Richard Widmark who died this past Monday, March 24th.

After being blacklisted he moved to Europe, where he scored his greatest international successes with the French-produced "Rififi" (1955) and the then-scandalous "Never on Sunday" (1959), starring his second wife Melina Mercouri. For the most part, his later films--such as "Up Tight" (1968), an ill-conceived black remake of John Ford's 1935 classic "The Informer"--have been disappointing and inconclusive. Dassin, however, maintained that among his own films, his personal preference was "He Who Must Die" (1958), starring his wife Melina Mercouri. It is one of his least known films and is rarely screened today but here is a description of it: "Greece, in the 1920's, is occupied by the Turks. The country is in turmoil with entire villages uprooted. The site of the movie is a Greek village that conducts a passion play each year. The leading citizens of the town, under the auspices of the Patriarch, choose those that will play the parts in the Passion. A stuttering shepherd is chosen to play Jesus. The town butcher (who wanted to be Jesus) is chosen as Judas. The town prostitute is chosen as Mary Magdalene. The rest of the disciples are also chosen. As the movie unfolds, the Passion Play becomes a reality. A group of villagers, uprooted by the war and impoverished, arrive at the village led by their priest. The wealthier citizens of the town want nothing with these people and manipulate a massacre. In the context of the 1920's each of the characters plays out their biblical role in actuality."

Family

DAUGHTER: Julie Dassin. Actor. Mother, Beatrice Launer.
SON: Joey Dassin. Mother, Beatrice Launer.
SON: Rickey Dassin. Mother, Beatrice Launer.

Companion
WIFE: Beatrice Launer. Former concert violinist. Married in 1933; divorced in 1962.
WIFE: Melina Mercouri. Actor, politician. Born c. 1923; Greek; together from 1959; married from 1966 until her death on March 6, 1994.

Milestone

1936: First role on New York stage (Yiddish Theater)

1940: First film as assistant director Directed first stage play, "The Medicine Show 1941: Directed first short film, "The Tell-Tale Heart"

1942: Feature directing debut, "Nazi Agent/Salute to Courage"

Jules Dassin (1911-2008) - TCM Schedule Change for Director Jules Dassin Memorial Tribute on Friday, April 20th

In Tribute to director Jules Dassin, who died Monday, March 31st, at age 96, TCM is changing its evening programming on Sunday, April 20th to honor the actor with a double-feature salute. Sunday, April 20th 8:00 PM Naked City 9:45 PM Topkapi TCM REMEMBERS JULES DASSIN (1911-2008) Jules Dassin gained experience in theater and radio in New York before going to work in Hollywood in 1940, first with RKO (as assistant director) and then with MGM. Dassin hit his stride in the late 1940s with such dynamic (and still well-regarded) film noir melodramas as "Brute Force" (1947), "The Naked City" (1948), "Thieves' Highway" (1949) and "Night and the City" (1950), starring Richard Widmark who died this past Monday, March 24th. After being blacklisted he moved to Europe, where he scored his greatest international successes with the French-produced "Rififi" (1955) and the then-scandalous "Never on Sunday" (1959), starring his second wife Melina Mercouri. For the most part, his later films--such as "Up Tight" (1968), an ill-conceived black remake of John Ford's 1935 classic "The Informer"--have been disappointing and inconclusive. Dassin, however, maintained that among his own films, his personal preference was "He Who Must Die" (1958), starring his wife Melina Mercouri. It is one of his least known films and is rarely screened today but here is a description of it: "Greece, in the 1920's, is occupied by the Turks. The country is in turmoil with entire villages uprooted. The site of the movie is a Greek village that conducts a passion play each year. The leading citizens of the town, under the auspices of the Patriarch, choose those that will play the parts in the Passion. A stuttering shepherd is chosen to play Jesus. The town butcher (who wanted to be Jesus) is chosen as Judas. The town prostitute is chosen as Mary Magdalene. The rest of the disciples are also chosen. As the movie unfolds, the Passion Play becomes a reality. A group of villagers, uprooted by the war and impoverished, arrive at the village led by their priest. The wealthier citizens of the town want nothing with these people and manipulate a massacre. In the context of the 1920's each of the characters plays out their biblical role in actuality." Family DAUGHTER: Julie Dassin. Actor. Mother, Beatrice Launer. SON: Joey Dassin. Mother, Beatrice Launer. SON: Rickey Dassin. Mother, Beatrice Launer. Companion WIFE: Beatrice Launer. Former concert violinist. Married in 1933; divorced in 1962. WIFE: Melina Mercouri. Actor, politician. Born c. 1923; Greek; together from 1959; married from 1966 until her death on March 6, 1994. Milestone 1936: First role on New York stage (Yiddish Theater) 1940: First film as assistant director Directed first stage play, "The Medicine Show 1941: Directed first short film, "The Tell-Tale Heart" 1942: Feature directing debut, "Nazi Agent/Salute to Courage"

Quotes

Don't come to Greece.
- Phaedra

Trivia

Notes

Filmed in Greece, France, and Great Britain. Jorilie Productions is credited only by U. S. copyright source; French coproduction status is unconfirmed.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1962

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1962