Cast & Crew
Stavros Topouzoglou, a young Greek, decides to emigrate to America when one of his closest friends is murdered for standing up to Turkish oppression in 1896. As a preliminary step, he journeys to Constantinople in order to join his cousin Odysseus' rug business. His parents, Isaac and Vasso, planning to join their son later, entrust him with the Topouzoglou valuables; but Stavros is robbed on the way by Abdul, a dishonest Turk who previously befriended him. He later avenges the theft by killing Abdul but reaches his cousin's home penniless and disgraced. Odysseus advises Stavros to capitalize on his good looks by marrying a wealthy woman, but Stavros refuses to jeopardize his trip to America. Instead, he joins a group of revolutionaries and is seriously wounded during a raid. After a short affair with Vartuhi, one of the conspirator's daughters, Stavros reconsiders his cousin's suggestion and becomes engaged to Thomna Sinnikoglou, the homely daughter of a rug dealer. He finds that he cannot go through with the marriage, however, and accepts only a fraction of the large dowry offered by Thomna's father--just enough money for a boat trip to America. A day before the ship's departure, Stavros meets Sophia, the wife of American rug buyer Aratoon Kebabian. They have an affair aboard ship, but the romance is quickly aborted when the furious Aratoon discovers them and promises to have the young Greek deported to Turkey. Stavros hides from the authorities but realizes that the most important dream of his life will probably be shattered. His despair over the certain deportation has driven him near the point of nervous collapse when he meets Hohanness Gardashian, a young Armenian who is one of eight indentured shoeshine boys on his way to New York. Just as Stavros' chances for escape seem more remote than ever, Hohanness, who is dying of tuberculosis, jumps over the side of the ship and drowns himself, thereby permitting Stavros to use his name and take over the shoeshine job. The young Greek reaches America at last and begins saving money to bring his family to join him.
Robert H. Harris
Anna Hill Johnstone
Charles H. Maguire
Best Art Direction
Best Writing, Screenplay
It has the feel of a family legend distilled and burnished during many telling and retellings, filtered through Kazan's autobiographical novel of the same name. Kazan, who produced, directed and co-wrote the screenplay for America, America, came to it at the top of his powers, a colossus bestriding Broadway and Hollywood. No director was more influential in mid-century America. A founding member of the pioneering, socially conscious Group Theater and The Actors Studio, he staged premieres of plays by Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, William Inge and Archibald MacLeish, winning Tony Awards for his direction of Miller's All My Sons (1947) and Death of a Salesman (1949) and MacLeish's J.B. (1958). He directed several Williams plays, including the stage and screen versions of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). He won two directing Oscars®, for Gentleman's Agreement (1947) and On the Waterfront (1954). Of the 21 Oscar®-nominated actors he directed, nine took home the award -- James Dunn, Celeste Holm, Karl Malden, Vivien Leigh, Kim Hunter, Anthony Quinn, Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint and Jo Van Fleet.
With America, America, Kazan didn't so much turn his back on Hollywood as redirect his gaze to his own origins. Using authentic locales in Greece, as he did, was the right artistic decision. So was his casting of an actor unknown in America, and thus free of the associative baggage that would have accompanied Hollywood casting. Although he had all the right Hollywood names in his Rolodex, Kazan chose Stathis Giallelis to play the young uncle who led the family's way to America. Apart from ethnic authenticity, Giallelis is able to convey a keen survivor's intelligence at work behind his pale eyes as he moves from innocence to experience, or perhaps one should say through experience as he survives being lied to, stolen from, tricked, disappointed, assaulted and left for dead, all the while wising up, learning how to turn from exploited to exploiter, and keeping his eye on the prize - not Constantinople, as his family had conceived, but America, where they could get out from under Turkish rule.
What Kazan took back to Greece with him was a wise decision to stay with the black and white imagery that sustained him throughout virtually his entire filmmaking career. At many points, the imagery takes on the bite of an engraved line. In its grays, it suggests a Goya lithograph when Turkish military reprisals lead to burning, pillaging and mass murder of unarmed civilians. Kazan and his cinematographer, Haskell Wexler (thanked by Kazan in a spoken epilogue), knew the impact of a stark close-up against a distant backdrop, as when Stavros, seeking money for his journey, is rebuffed by his stern grandmother (Estelle Hemsley); this is staged against the rugged bleakness of an Anatolian mountain -- a stand-in for the many mountains, actual and metaphorical, Stavros will have to cross on his journey as he acts out his own Greek epic journey of Odysseus in reverse. He's a traveler seeking not to return home, as Odysseus did, but rather to journey far away from home -- forever.
While Kazan's gamble on Giallelis was the big one, he also chose other young American unknowns, bolstering them with a sturdy company of stage veterans. The latter included Salem Ludwig, an old Actor's Studio colleague of Kazan's, in the role of Stavros's small-time rug merchant uncle in Constantinople. Grizzled vet John Marley adds red-bloodedness as a stevedore who leads Stavros into back-breaking employment, macho ritual and near death as a fiery labor organizer. One of the new faces was that of co-screenwriter Frank Wolff, who plays Stavros's Armenian pal, an iceman who comes to a bad end in their village, but not before going out dancing in a world where women sit home and men dance only with one another - when they aren't running strings of worry beads through their hands, having, as they do, a lot to worry about. Bookending Stavros's journey are two other actors who went on to busy stage careers - Lou Antonio, as an Ali Baba-like Judas figure, stripping Stavros of anything he could pawn or sell while ostensibly guiding him to Constantinople, and Gregory Rozakis, as an ethereal Christ figure, whose noble gesture makes it possible for Stavros to clear his last hurdle and make it past U.S. Immigration.
I have saved for last the pair of performances that come close to stealing the film, although their characters both end up disappointed by Stavros. After the young man survives a nearly fatal stab at independence in Constantinople, he lets his uncle introduce him to Constantinople's richest Greek rug merchant, who has four marriageable daughters. This corpulent king of the weave and the weft, Aleko Sinnikoglou, is played with regal expansiveness by Paul Mann (a Canadian who enjoyed a stage career in New York and founded his own Actor's Workshop there). His eldest daughter, Thomna (Linda Marsh, who went on to a long career, mostly in TV), is as timid and sensitive as her father is steamrollingly extroverted. America, America's funniest scene comes when Stavros is invited to Sunday lunch with Aleko and his four equally fat brothers. The women serve, the men eat. And eat. And eat.
At the end of the meal, they retire to a sitting room as overstuffed with furniture as they are with food. Gasping for breath like beached whales, unbuttoning the top buttons of their trousers, they try not to go comatose under their fezzes. We can sense Stavros's blood run cold at this version of Making It. We can feel him suffocating in this cloying, overpoweringly plenteous atmosphere. He's rescued by Marsh as the daughter who wants only to be as obedient to her husband-to-be as she is to her father. She senses that bountiful as the arranged marriage may be on the surface, it is making Stavros uncomfortable, and that life as a satellite in the orbit of her kingly father, would grow intolerable to the restless Stavros. And so with a restrained anguish that makes you love her, she relinquishes him during one of the rare conversations they're allowed to have alone.
Kazan often said he was drawn to stories about oppressed people and social problems. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) confronted alcoholism. Gentleman's Agreement took on anti-Semitism. In Pinky (1949), the target was racism. On the Waterfront is more complicated. While no one disputes its stature, it's also seen as Kazan's not so thinly-veiled justification for his 1952 decision to name names from his Communist Party involvement in the 1930s under pressure from the blacklist-fostering House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Accused of betraying colleagues and helping stall or destroy their careers, Kazan was in some quarters regarded with a bitterness that lasted all his life. Kazan claimed that if there was any betrayal, it was Communism's betrayal of the idealists who flocked to it, and that Kazan surrogate Marlon Brando's lonely whistle-blower was a stand-in for Kazan's attack on institutionalized corruption, whether by the Communist Party or, in the film, the dockworkers' union.
The oppressed minority in America, America is obvious enough. Had the film come 10 years later, its depiction of women's inferior status would have been seen as a blow struck against sexism. It's embodied throughout, climaxing in the sad trophy wife (a not-to-be-forgotten Katharine Balfour) of a gloatingly rich Greek-American (Robert H. Harris plays him with such smugness you want to hit him). Drained by a lifetime of subjugation in her gilded cage, she proves to be the last rung in the ladder Stavros must climb before reaching the Promised Land. What fuels the film above all is its sense of seeming a labor not just of love, but of necessity, simultaneously mythic in its reach and vividly intimate in its detailing, paying a debt Kazan felt he owed his family. And in doing so, reminding us that most of us who call ourselves Americans are here because we had an ancestor who made a heroic effort.
Producer/Director: Elia Kazan
Screenplay: Elia Kazan
Cinematography: Haskell Wexler
Art Direction: Vassilis Photopoulos
Production Design: Gene Callahan
Music: Manos Hatzidakis
Film Editing: Dede Allen
Cast: Stathis Giallelis (Stavros Topouzoglou), Frank Wolff (Vartan Damadian), Elena Karam (Vasso Topouzoglou), Lou Antonio (Abdul), John Marley (Garabet), Estelle Hemsley (Grandmother Topouzoglou), Katharine Balfour (Sophia Kebabian).
by Jay Carr
America America - Elia Kazan's AMERICA AMERICA on DVD
Elia Kazan signed a long list of superior movies, but his masterpiece as a writer-director is America America, a fascinating and wholly naturalistic account of the escape from Turkish oppression by Kazan's Uncle Joe at the beginning of the 20th century. Unlike some late-career works by other directing giants, one needn't watch America America out of a sense of duty -- it's absorbing, entertaining and enlightening. Forget Francis Coppola's immigration sequence in The Godfather; America America is three times more potent. Kazan's associates loved his screenplay but advised him to drop a scene in which a grateful new American, alighting from a boat, drops to his knees to kiss the ground of his new country. What could be more corny? Kazan knew better. Immigrants coming off the boat did exactly that, overcome by emotion and gratitude.
Warner Bros. took over America America's production funding when producer Ray Stark backed out at the last minute, after Kazan and company were already in Greece and filming. Kazan filmed only four days in Istanbul, where Turkish censors bugged his hotel room and forbade him to shoot anything but palaces and Mosques. Most of the filming was accomplished in Greece, and Kazan brought only a handful of actors from New York. Local actors and unknowns filled a number of key roles, including the all-important lead. Kazan turned his superior directing skills to helping the non-pros portray fully fleshed characters.
ElIa Kazan's film began as a short story that was then expanded into a novel. Most of the events actually happened to Kazan's uncle. Just before the turn of the 20th century, the Turkish persecution of its ethnic Armenian population takes a big upswing. Young Greek Stavros Topouzoglou (Stathis Giallelis) witnesses the massacre of some Armenians in a church, including his friend Vartan (Frank Wolff). Fearing that the Turkish army will also attack the minority Greek population, Stavros' family loads a donkey with all of their valuables and sends the boy to a relative in Constantinople. The idea is that Stavros will go into business with the rug seller, and earn enough money to bring the rest of the family to the safety of the big city. But Stavros has a bigger dream: to reach the fabled shores of America.
Thus begins an odyssey of pain and discovery, as Stavros is robbed on the road, humiliated in the city and robbed again when he tries to earn money working as a dock laborer. He focuses all his energy on gaining the $110 dollars needed for passage to America, where his "sins will be washed clean." Stavros' only friend is an anarchist named Garabet (John Marley), who lectures that one cannot amass money by working, only by stealing it or marrying it. Stavros offers himself as a prospective husband for the daughter of a prosperous rug trader, with the intention of betraying both of them as soon as he has the passage money. He's troubled to learn that his bride-to-be is a decent girl undeserving of the pain he will bring her. But nothing will to keep Stavros from boarding the big ship to New York City, even if he lacks the paperwork to clear the immigration authorities.
Although it mostly takes place in a foreign country, ElIa Kazan's America America is a great American epic, an odyssey that becomes a tribute to the human spirit. Stavros' loving family is so desperate that they entrust all their worldly possessions to a boy who can't be relied upon to run a simple errand. Stavros predictably becomes easy prey for a Turkish thief (Lou Antonio), who ingratiates his way into a friendship and then takes everything Stavros has. In the capitol Stavros must labor like an animal and humiliate himself to save pennies. When his fellow laborers ask why he's such a shameless toady, Stavros replies, "I keep my honor safe inside me." It's an unforgettable portrait of the idealistic poor: although Stavros is in a near-hopeless situation, he writes his family assuring them that everything will be okay.
When Stavros decides to swindle the rug dealer he becomes a handsome young man in a dark suit and fez, quietly negotiating the marriage while trying to avoid hurting the sweet Thomna (Linda Marsh), who only fears that she won't be a good wife for him. Stavros steps into an even darker moral dilemma when becomes a gigolo for an unhappy Turkish-American woman (Katherine Balfour). That gets him onto the New York ship, but not into a group of eight "legal" orphans being taken to America to toil as shoeshine boys. The husband of Stavros' lover is on to his wife's game, and is determined to see the boy's hopes dashed. How will Stavros avoid being sent back to Turkey?
Kazan shows the reality of the coming Armenian holocaust in no uncertain terms. Stavros learns the hard way that to survive he must be ruthless and look out only for himself. The serious Vartan identifies strongly with his Armenian heritage, and is wiped out. The church offers Vartan's people little or no protection. The radical Garabet joins a revolutionary movement that is easily crushed by the Turkish authorities. Stavros eventually spills his soul to Thomna but also makes her understand that he's been humiliated, cheated, robbed, beaten and shot, and nothing will stop him from taking that boat to a new life. There's a difference between being a criminal, and simply doing what must be done to survive. No other movie communicates the immigrant experience as honestly - standard immigration stories usually portray Ellis Island arrivals as happy peasants in clean ethnic costumes. Many aspiring Americans had to claw their way here, just as they do now.
By using mostly unfamiliar faces, Kazan invests the film with an exciting unpredictability. Elena Karam and Harry Davis are Stavros' parents, and Estelle Hemsley his outspoken grandmother. Paul Mann is a standout as the prospective father-in-law, an enormous man complaining that his wife feeds him too much, while he and his brothers must unbutton their trousers after every meal. Katharine Balfour's desperate housewife foolishly thinks she's hiding her dalliance with Stavros from her pompous husband Robert H. Harris. Gregory Rozakis is heartbreaking as Stavros' closest friend, a good soul simply too weak to endure the voyage to the New World.
Kazan's creative collaborators, like production designer Gene Callahan, soon became top names in their specialties. Cameraman Haskell Wexler began working in experimental documentaries like The Savage Eye. He gives the film a semi-docu look completely unlike any Hollywood filmmaking style of the time. Dede Allen's editing makes particularly adept use of jump cuts within scenes: in one amusing instance the rug-seller jumps from praising Stavros to throwing a fit of anger, because Allen simply cut out the obvious moment where Stavros admits that he's lost all of the family's money. Where filmic conventions dictate a fade or dissolve to denote the passage of time, editor Allen simply leapfrogs forward, giving the film a wholly modern feel. Although much of the dialogue is post-dubbed by vocal talent familiar from other European imports, the movie doesn't suffer. Kazan apparently directed the dubbing sessions with the same skill he brought to the film's set.
The B&W America America mixes scenes filmed in a Greek studio with a few random shots taken in Istanbul. The highly emotional final sequence uses the actual grand hall at Ellis Island. The immigration station had closed in 1954, and the hall was abandoned and in need of repair. Kazan fills it with hundreds of confused-looking extras in period garb. The stroke of chance that gives Stavros a new name is moving beyond words: we share with Stavros the experience of being reborn as a man with new rights and a new dignity.
In critic Michel Ciment's excellent Elia Kazan interview book, the director remembers his colorful Uncle Joe, who indeed made good in Manhattan and sent money for most of his family to come to America ("It took a long time, but he did it.") The real Uncle Joe had quite a colorful life, amassing a fortune in the big city and then losing it again. America America is the most uplifting film to date about the immigrant experience -- one can't help but be more appreciative of one's citizenship.
Warner Home Video's DVD of America America offers Elia Kazan's favorite film in a fine stand-alone presentation. The enhanced widescreen transfer bests the flat videos once offered on VHS tape. The soundtrack by Manos Hadjidakis (Never on Sunday) is a big plus as well. The film's spoken language is English, but WB's English subtitles are useful to keep some of the character names straight. Historian Foster Hirsch has recorded a full audio commentary, discussing at length the production, Kazan and the film's interesting actors. The remarkable show has been a quiet legend around Hollywood for years -- after all the revivals of overlooked classics from the time, Kazan's Wild River and America America have yet to be properly rediscovered.
For more information about America America, visit Warner Video. To order America America, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Research: Michel Ciment, Kazan on Kazan. Cinema One Series, Viking Press, New York 1974.
America America - Elia Kazan's AMERICA AMERICA on DVD
ELIA KAZAN, 1909-2003
Kazan was born Elias Kazanjoglou in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) on September 7, 1909. In 1913, he immigrated with his parents to New York City, where his father sold rugs for a living. At age 17, Kazan enrolled in Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. After graduation, he went to Yale University's School of Drama, where he studied musical theater and began acting and directing plays.
In 1932, Kazan joined New York's socialist minded Group Theatre as an actor and assistant manager. At the time, the Group Theatre was the epicenter for radical thought and activity in the arts. Kazan befriended such notable theater personalities as Lee Strasberg, Harold Clurman, Stella Adler and Clifford Odets. Kazan even joined the Communist party for two years (1934-36), before resigning because of his disillusionment with its leadership.
After his stint in New York, Kazan went to Hollywood, where he found work as an actor in two Warner Brothers films: City for Conquest (1940) and Blues in the Night (1941). He made his Broadway debut in 1942, directing Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth with Tallulah Bankhead; Fredric March and Montgomery Clift. It was a huge hit. After that success, it was back to Hollywood, this time as a director for Darryl F. Zanuck at 20th Century Fox. Kazan's directorial film debut was the poignant A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945), based on Betty Smith's bestseller about tenement life. From the beginning, Kazan proved his talent for enticing natural performances from his actors; James Dunn and Peggy Ann Garner both won deserved Oscars for their work in this film.
1947 would prove to be a breakthrough year for Kazan. He notched two huge hits on Broadway: Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire and Arthur Miller's All My Sons; co-founded the Actors Studio with Lee Strasburg, a leading proponent of "Method" acting that is still widely practiced today; and two potent treatise on anti-Semitism Boomerang and Gentleman's Agreement, the latter earning Kazan his first Oscar. Kazan's next few films were not among his best, but they were well crafted and interesting: Pinky (1949), the story of a light-skinned black woman who passes for white (hampered by Jeanne Crain in the lead); and Panic in the Streets (1950), a taut thriller about efforts to contain a burgeoning epidemic which was shot entirely on the streets of New Orleans.
It wasn't until he brought Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire to the big screen that Kazan had a major impact on American cinema. Featuring an explosive Marlon Brando in the role of Stanley Kowalski, the films' raw sensuality brought a stark and galvanizing realism to cinema that simply hadn't happened before. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) not only earned Kazan another Oscar nod for Best Director, but it made a star out of Brando and earned best acting honors for the rest of the cast: Vivien Leigh, Karl Malden and Kim Hunter.
It was around this time that Kazan testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). On April 10, 1952, he informed on former associates from the Group Theater, including Clifford Odets, Lillian Hellman, John Garfield, and Lee and Paula Strasberg. Despite formal protests from many acquaintances from his past, including Odets and Arthur Miller, Kazan remained unapologetic to the end for his actions, and he would remain questioned by social critics for the remainder of his life.
Kazan continued his association with Brando in Viva Zapata! (1952), and then in the powerful On the Waterfront (1954), which took eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and a second Best Director Oscar for Kazan. Budd Schulberg's incisive drama about the corruption of longshoremen's unions was the perfect subject matter for Kazan's ever trenchant approach to social consciousness and cinematic naturalism.
Kazan's next effort, based on John Steinbeck's East of Eden (1955) featured James Dean in his first major role. Kazan's continued ability to draw such raw, vulnerable performances out of his actors (as exemplified by Dean) drew critical praise from all quarters, and the film still stands today as one of the most searing looks of a family in conflict.
After East of Eden, Kazan would never quite scale the artistic heights of his previous movies, yet he still came up with some first-rate cinema: the steamy, boldly suggestive Baby Doll (1956), with a thumb sucking Carol Baker as a provocative child bride; an early, superior look at populist demagoguery A Face in the Crowd (1957) with Andy Griffith giving the performance of his career as a corrupt media darling; the moving coming-of-age drama Splendor in the Grass (1961) starring Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty; the evocative America, America (1963), based on the experiences of Kazan's own uncle's immigration experience; and his final film The Last Tycoon (1976) an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished final novel, which starred Robert De Niro.
Kazan was in retirement for several years, but he made a notorious return to the limelight when in 1999, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' decided to give Kazan an honorary Oscar® for lifetime achievement. It was a decision met with vocal protests from aging blacklisted artists as well as younger activists. At the time of the presentation, several audience members would not stand up as a form of protest. Still, Kazan attended the ceremonies, thanked friends and family, avoided political discussion, and went home, a most dignified handling of a very controversial moment. Besides his widow, Frances Rudge, Kazan is survived by his sons, Leo, Marco, and Nicholas, a screenwriter who was nominated for an Oscar for Reversal of Fortune (1990); daughters Judy and Katharine; and several grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
ELIA KAZAN, 1909-2003
Filmed entirely in Greece.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1963 New York Times Film Critics Association
Released in United States 1996
Released in United States February 1996
Released in United States February 22, 1964
Released in United States on Video July 6, 1994
Released in United States Winter December 15, 1963
Shown at MoMA (The Martin Scorsese Collection) in New York City February 22-27, 1996.
Selected in 2001 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Released in United States 1996 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Kazan" November 22 - December 26, 1996.)
Released in United States February 22, 1964 (New York City)
Released in United States Winter December 15, 1963
Released in United States February 1996 (Shown at MoMA (The Martin Scorsese Collection) in New York City February 22-27, 1996.)
Released in United States on Video July 6, 1994