I had no expectations going into Zorba the Greek (1964). I knew nothing about it other than it starred Anthony Quinn, and he danced. That's about it. I discovered a movie that doesn't seem to fit in any particular category. It's funny, it's tragic, it's romantic, it's charming, it's shocking, it's violent, it's sad, it's happy. It's got a little bit of everything thrown in there. I honestly didn't quite know what to make of it on my first viewing. It was an odd sort of movie. I had to think about it for a couple weeks. And since it didn't leave my head, and parts of it wouldn't stop playing through my mind, I watched it a second time.
And I found I'd gotten past what I thought was odd the first time through, and I really liked it on the second viewing. It's infectious. I've always liked Anthony Quinn, and he's perfect as Zorba, but really, this movie works more for me because of the other lead, Basil, played by Alan Bates, because it is from his view that we see things. And his is the character who grows and changes throughout the film because of his association with Zorba and the latter's enthusiastic lust for life.
I've only recently discovered Sir Alan Bates, and what a wonderful actor! He's been a delight in everything I've seen him in so far. I first saw him in Royal Flash (highly amusing), then watched The Go-Between (very good), and now Zorba. He's a bit of a chameleon, appearance changing dramatically for different characters, and his performances are first rate. He has a very expressive face, his character's emotions usually transparent. I like that a lot. He's also devilishly handsome.
The story is about Basil, an English writer fallen on hard times, going to Crete to try and get a mine he inherited working. Zorba presents himself as just the man to help him do that, and Basil, on a whim, takes him up on the offer. The two become partners, and there are various encounters with the locals who live in the closest town. Irene Papas plays the local widow. She is such a beautiful woman. She has almost no dialogue, but she doesn't need it. Her looks say everything she needs to say. Lila Kedrova won an Oscar for her role as Madame Hortense. Her character was so touching and sad and full of hope, just wanting to be loved, afraid of being deserted yet again.
It's still a bit of an odd movie to me, but I already want to see parts of it again. It has that power. I suspect one day, I will probably end up owning it, just to watch parts of it when it calls to me.