Cast & Crew
Basil, an introverted English writer, comes to Greece to work on a lignite mine he has inherited from his Greek father. He meets an exuberant Greek peasant, Zorba, who persuades Basil to hire him to help work on the mine. They arrive on Crete and take up lodging in a hotel owned by Madame Hortense, an old French courtesan. Zorba courts Madame Hortense and persuades Basil to court another woman, a beautiful widow. Zorba goes to the city for a spree and leaves Basil to take care of Madame Hortense. Basil's shyness is overcome, and he visits the widow again. This time he makes love to her, and when her suitor, Pavlo, hears a rumor of this, he commits suicide. The townspeople turn against the widow and brutally murder her. Madame Hortense becomes ill; and while she is dying, the peasants of the village strip her of all her belongings. Work on the mine is finally completed, but a crucial cable line is destroyed as the operation begins. Basil is upset by his bad fortune, but Zorba teaches him to dance and be joyful in accepting what life has to offer.
Best Art Direction
Best Supporting Actress
Best Writing, Screenplay
Zorba the Greek
The story finds a blocked English writer named Basil (Alan Bates) arriving on Crete to check on a lignite mine he has inherited, but he is really on a journey of self-discovery. He is befriended by Zorba, a larger-than-life, big-hearted Greek laborer who shows Basil the ways of the world. Basil is drawn to a beautiful widow (Irene Papas) who has made herself unapproachable to the other men in the village, while Zorba kindles a romance with Mme. Hortense (Lila Kedrova), an aging French courtesan who runs a small hotel and is the ex-mistress of four admirals.
Zorba the Greek was to be a low-budget, independent production financed by United Artists and directed, written and produced by Michael Cacoyannis. Agreeing to only a modest living allowance during production, Quinn took a one-third interest in the picture, with Cacoyannis and United Artists splitting the rest. This kept the budget down to $400,000. A five-week shooting schedule was planned in Crete. One big problem, however, was casting the role of Mme. Hortense. UA insisted on a star, and Cacoyannis and Quinn thought of Simone Signoret, the great French actress. They went to Paris and pitched her the part. Initially hesitant, Signoret finally agreed, and a few weeks later she was in Crete shooting her first scene. It went disastrously.
As Quinn later wrote in his memoir One Man Tango, the scene called for "Madame Hortense...to prattle on in an expository way about the great admirals who used to be her lovers, but Simone was not ridiculous enough, not pathetic enough in her portrayal. Michael kept after her, trying to get it right. We started shooting at eight o'clock in the evening, and by midnight, when we broke for lunch, the scene had not moved anywhere. As the night wore on, Simone became even more unsure of herself, and for the first time I became concerned...I did not think to worry for the picture itself - Simone would be fine, eventually - but we could not afford to waste a whole night's shooting.
"Then, during a pause between takes, I looked over and saw Simone, on the floor, crying. 'Forgive me,' Simone said, up from her weeping, 'but I can't. I can't do this part. I should never have taken it.'" When pressed why, Signoret finally explained it was because "Hortense is an old woman, and I've got a young husband. I cannot let him see me like this."
Signoret was on a flight back to Paris the next day. Quinn started calling every possible actress he could think of for the part, including Barbara Stanwyck, Ann Southern and Tallulah Bankhead. All loved the script but could not be ready in Crete quickly enough. (The production was losing money every day of the delay.) Finally Cacoyannis thought of an actress named Lila Kedrova, whom he claimed would be perfect. Trouble was, no one else had ever heard of her and United Artists was totally uninterested. As Quinn wrote, "we traded one problem for another." Quinn put in a call to Darryl F. Zanuck at Twentieth Century-Fox, hoping to convince him to take over the budget - which now totaled $750,000. The outcome was one of those only-in-old-Hollywood stories which would never happen in the business today. After listening to Quinn explain the situation, Zanuck asked, "'You believe in it, Tony?'
"'I think it could be the best picture I've ever done. It's a story about life, and how to live.'
"'I don't know why,' Zanuck said, 'but I believe you. When do you want the money?'
"'It'll be there.'
"And it was," Quinn wrote. "He never even asked to see a script. He just sent his son-law over with the money, and we were back in business.'"
The rest was history. Kedrova was indeed perfect and wound up winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Zorba the Greek also won for Black-and-White Cinematography and Black-and-White Art Direction and garnered nominations for Picture, Actor, Director, and Adapted Screenplay - not bad for a little black-and-white movie in an era of widescreen color films. It was Quinn's second Best Actor nomination (he had previously won twice in the Supporting category), but this was the year of My Fair Lady, which swept the Oscars including Rex Harrison's win for Best Actor. "To his credit," Quinn later wrote, "Harrison came up to me at the gala reception following the awards ceremony and placed the statue on the table in front of me. 'We made a $20 million picture,' he said. 'You made a $750,000 picture. You should have won.'" Zorba the Greek was originally released in art houses by Fox's International Classics division, but with all the critical and Academy attention, the main studio took over for a wider release, which was very successful.
In his memoir, Quinn related an amusing story about Zorba the Greek's most famous image - the ending, in which Zorba teaches Basil a little dance on a beach. The scene was set for the last day of shooting. The day before, however, Quinn broke his foot. When filming resumed after several days, the foot had been wrapped in tape which could be removed for the shots, but Quinn could not jump or hop around as the scene required. Cacoyannis was worried, but Quinn reassured him. "And I danced. I could not lift my foot and set it down - the pain was unendurable - but I found that I could drag it along without too much discomfort, so I invented a dance with an unusual sliding-dragging step. I held out my arms, in a traditional Greek stance, and shuffled along the sands. Soon, Alan Bates picked up on the move, and the two of us were lifted by the music and the sea, taken arm in arm to a spiritual place, out of the ordinary and far away. We were born-again Greeks, joyously celebrating life. We had no idea what we were doing, but it felt right, and good." Afterwards, Cacoyannis asked him what that dance was called. Quinn replied, "It's a Sirtaki. It's traditional. One of the villagers taught it to me." He drew the name from thin air.
Quinn cast Pia Lindstrom, Ingrid Bergman's daughter, in the role of Zorba's first wife, and the two had an affair even as Quinn was going through a divorce and carrying on with a mistress whom he later married. Lindstrom's part was cut entirely from the final film. Quinn revisited Zorba two decades later on Broadway, in a 1983 revival of the 1968 musical Zorba. Lila Kedrova also reprised her character in that production, which ran for nearly a year.
Producer: Michael Cacoyannis, Anthony Quinn
Director: Michael Cacoyannis
Screenplay: Michael Cacoyannis, Nikos Kazantzakis (novel)
Cinematography: Walter Lassally
Film Editing: Michael Cacoyannis
Art Direction: Vassilis Photopoulos
Music: Mikis Theodorakis
Cast: Anthony Quinn (Alexis Zorba), Alan Bates (Basil), Irene Papas (Widow), Lila Kedrova (Madame Hortense), Sotiris Moustakas (Mimithos), Anna Kyriakou (Soul).
by Jeremy Arnold
Zorba the Greek
Zorba the Greek on DVD
Basil (Alan Bates) comes to Crete to restart his family lignite mine. His new foreman Alexis Zorba (Anthony Quinn) becomes his steady companion. They are greeted warmly by the locals but resentments against strangers lie close beneath the surface. Foreigner Madame Hortense (Lila Kedrova) is French and may do she pleases; she and Zorba begin a warm relationship. But the town's attractive Widow (Irene Papas) is shunned because she refuses to take one of the many unattached local men as a lover. When Basil finally becomes interested in her, it's bad news for everyone.
Michael Cacoyannis established himself as Greece's number one filmmaker in 1956's Stella, a film that shot the beautiful Melina Mercouri to stardom. For Zorba the Greek he secured Nikos Kazantzakis' best-selling novel and formed a producing partnership with the perfect actor for the role, Anthony Quinn. The actor had graduated from ethnic villain parts into major star status through Federico Fellini's La Strada, and from then on was the master of larger-than-life ethnic heroes in The Guns of Navarone and Lawrence of Arabia. The exuberant, life-affirming Zorba is the defining role of Quinn's career.
Shot on location with real peasants, Zorba is the story of a friendship between an inhibited English bookworm and a lusty Greek who lives to philosophize, drink, make love and express his affinity with nature. The two of them try to get an old mine back in operation, which seems a hopeless cause. Zorba obtains mineshaft timber from the local monks by fooling then into thinking water has changed into wine. But he's much more interested in amusing himself with the slightly unhinged Madame Hortense, or spending Basil's remaining money down in the fleshpots of the port city.
Cacoyannis creates fascinating characters for Zorba and Madame Hortense but leaves Basil frustratingly undeveloped. Expectations are raised that he'll find happiness with Irene Pappas' local widow, yet the Englishman doesn't act on the widow's signals of encouragement. Zorba helpfully advises Basil that "If a woman sleeps alone it puts a shame on all men."
Although the screenplay advances some hints, we're totally unprepared for the dark events in the movie's second act. Basil unaccountably lies to Hortense, telling the aged courtesan that Zorba intends to marry her. Basil and the widow do finally get together, but the villagers become enraged that she has chosen an outsider instead of one of their own, a heartsick young local. Their reaction is primitive and brutal. Basil is incapable of coming to the widow's aid, and although Zorba initially intercedes, he too abandons her to a horrible fate. Zorba shrugs his shoulders and Basil seems to have no reaction at all. Instead of accepting rural vigilante injustice as a regrettable fact of life, the heart goes out of the picture. Zorba and Basil can dance and spout philosophy all they want, but they no longer have our sympathy.
The film then proceeds to the bedside of the sickly Madame Hortense. The villagers we already hate now gather like scavengers, looting her house before she's even stopped breathing. Zorba comforts the dying lady and Basil asks whether she'll be buried properly, which is more concern than he had for Pappas' unlucky widow. What in Kazantzakis' book was probably an ethnographic revelation here comes off as a further outrage.
Zorba the Greek won three Academy Awards and was nominated for four others. Lila Kedrova has the showy part but Irene Papas' haunted beauty now makes the greatest impact. Visuals of Anthony Quinn soulfully dancing on the beach have stayed with us, but I have the feeling that the Tijuana Brass's radio version of the title tune was Zorba's biggest cultural contribution. Newspaper clippings mention that theatrical bookings were extended after the song hit the top ten.
Fox Home Enertainment's DVD of Zorba the Greek is a great-looking enhanced encoding of the Greek-American hit. The B&W feature is on one side of a flipper disk accompanied by a Michael Cacoyannis commentary. He's a proud retired filmmaker who frequently comes up with amusing claims like being the first to use a hand-held camera. He also provides lots of fascinating information, such as mentioning a scene that had to be cut out. It was a Russian flashback that featured Ingrid Bergman's daughter Pia Lindstrom. A brief appearance by the young George P. Cosmatos, the director of 1993's Tombstone was left intact. He plays a pimply-faced letter writer.
The flip side of the disc holds some newsreels, trailers and a rather good Biography TV show on the life of Anthony Quinn. It makes frequent use of the words "troubled artist" when dealing with the star's various broken marriages. The best extra is the film's charming original opening scene, in which Zorba narrates his idea of Heaven. God is pictured as a bearded old man in Zorba's image, lounging in the clouds and benevolently admitting all sinners to heaven.
To order Zorba the Greek, go to TCM Shopping.
By Glenn Erickson
Zorba the Greek on DVD
Sir Alan Bates (1934-2003)
Born Alan Arthur Bates on February 17th, 1934 in Derbyshire, England, Bates was the son of amateur musicians who wanted their son to become a concert pianist, but the young man had other ambitions, bluntly declaring to his parents that he had his sights set on an acting career when he was still in secondary school. He eventually earned a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, but had his career briefly interrupted with a two-year stint in the Royal Air Force. Soon after his discharge, Bates immediately joined the new English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre and by 1955 he had found steady stage work in London's West End theatre district.
The following year, Bates made a notable mark in English theatre circles when he starred as Cliff Lewis in John Osborne's charging drama about a disaffected, working-class British youth in Look Back in Anger. Bates' enormous stage presence along with his brooding good looks and youthfulness (he was only 22 at the time of the play's run) made him a star and promised great things for his future.
Four years later, Bates made a solid film debut in Tony Richardson's The Entertainer (1960) as the son of a failing seaside entertainer, played by Sir Laurence Olivier. Yet it would be his next two films that would leave an indelible impression in '60s British cinema; Bryan Forbes' Whistle Down the Wind (1961) and John Schlesinger's A Kind of Loving (1962). Bates' performances as a murderer on the lam who finds solace at a farm house in the company of children in the former, and a young working-class husband who struggles with his identity in a loveless marriage in the latter, were such finely nuanced portrayals of loners coping with an oppressive social order that he struck a chord with both audiences and critics alike. Soon, Bates was considered a key actor in the "angry young men" movement of the decade that included Albert Finney and Tom Courtney.
For the next ten years, Bates simply moved from strength to strength as he chose film roles that both highlighted his range and raised his stock as an international celebrity: reprising his stage role as the brutish thug Mick in the film adaptation of Harold Pinter's The Caretaker (1963); starring alongside Anthony Quinn as the impressionable young writer Basil in Zorba the Greek (1964); the raffish charmer Jos who falls in love with Lynn Redgrave in the mod comedy Georgy Girl; the bemused young soldier who falls in love with a young mental patient (a radiantly young Genevieve Bujold) in the subdued anti-was satire King of Hearts (both 1966); reuniting with director Schlesinger again in the effective period drama Far from the Madding Crowd (1967); a Russian Jew falsely accused of murder in John Frankenheimer's The Fixer (1968, remarkably, his only Oscar nomination); as Rupert, the freethinking fellow who craves love and understanding in Ken Russell's superb Women in Love (1969); playing Vershinin in Sir Laurence Olivier's underrated The Three Sisters (1970); opposite Julie Christie in Joseph Losey's tale of forbidden love The Go-Between (1971); and his moving, near-tragic performance as Bri, a father who struggles daily to maintain his sanity while raising a mentally disabled daughter in the snarking black comedy A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (1972).
Bates would slow down his film work, concentrating on the stage for the next few years, including a Tony award winning turn on Broadway for his role in Butley (1972), but he reemerged strongly in the late '70s in three good films: a conniving womanizer in The Shout; Jill Clayburgh's love interest in Paul Mazursky's hit An Unmarried Woman (1978); and as Rudge, Bette Midler's overbearing manager in The Rose (1979).
By the '80s, Bates filled out somewhat physically, but his now burly presence looked just right in some quality roles: as the notorious spy, Guy Burgess, in John Schlesinger's acclaimed mini-series An Englishman Abroad (1983); a lonely homosexual who cares for his incarcerated lovers' dog in the charming comedy We think the World of You (1988); and a superb Claudius in Franco Zeffirelli's Hamlet (1990).
Tragically, Bates lost his son Tristan to an asthma attack in 1990; and lost his wife, actress Victoria Ward, in 1992. This led to too few film roles for the next several years, although he remained quite active on stage and television. However, just recently, Bates has had some choice moments on the silver screen, most notably as the butler Mr. Jennings in Robert Altman's murder mystery Gosford Park (2001); and scored a great comic coup as a gun-toting, flag-waving Hollywood has-been in a very broad satire about the Canadian movie industry Hollywood North (2003). Also, theatre fans had a treat when Bates appeared on Broadway last year to critical acclaim (and won a second Tony award) for his portrayal of an impoverished 19th century Russian nobleman in Fortune's Fool (2002). Most deservedly, he was knighted earlier this year for his fine contributions as an actor in all major mediums. Sir Alan Bates is survived by two brothers Martin and Jon, son Benedick and a granddaughter.
by Michael T. Toole
Sir Alan Bates (1934-2003)
If a woman sleeps alone, it puts a shame on all men.- Alexis Zorba
Damn it boss, I like you too much not to say it. You've got everthing except one thing: madness! A man needs a little madness, or else...- Alexis Zorba
Or else?- Basil
...he never dares cut the rope and be free.- Alexis Zorba
What kind of man are you, don't you even like dolphins?- Alexis Zorba
I too fought breasts to breasts.- Madame Hortense
I don't want any trouble.- Basil
Life is trouble. Only death is not. To be alive is to undo your belt and *look* for trouble.- Alexis Zorba
Anthony Quinn had a broken foot during filming, and thus couldn't perform the dance on the beach as scripted, which called for much leaping around. Instead, he did a slow shuffle. Director Michael Cacoyannis asked Quinn what the dance was, and Quinn made up a name and claimed it was traditional.
the disgruntled boy who writes down the illiterate Zorba's thoughts for him.
Filmed in Crete. Greek title: Zormba.
Voted Best Actor (Anthony Quinn) by the 1964 National Board of Review.
Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1964 New York Times Film Critics.
Released in United States Winter December 17, 1964
Released in United States Winter December 17, 1964