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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Zorba the Greek (1964)

"Why did God give us hands? To grab. Well, grab!"
- Zorba (Anthony Quinn)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: August 01, 2004

Stars: Anthony Quinn, Alan Bates, Irene Papas
Other Stars: Lila Kedrova, George Foundas
Director: Michael Cacoyannis

Manufacturer: Panasonic Disc Manufacturing Corporation
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 02h:21m:59s
Release Date: August 03, 2004
UPC: 024543115687
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BBC+ C+

DVD Review

How is it possible that Anthony Quinn is not really Greek? His performance in the title role here is iconic, and not just in movie terms—Zorba has become an emblem for all things Hellenic in many respects, the very personification of the modern Greek nation. That's quite a mantle for an actor of even Quinn's charisma to carry, and if Michael Cacoyannis's film of Nikos Kazantzakis's novel occasionally seems a little fleshy and overblown, at its heart is Quinn, in a career-defining role as a character who transcends the very movie in which he appears.

In many respects, Zorba the Greek is structured as a classic coming-of-age story, focusing on Basil, a young Englishman, a bookish sort, returning to his father's land in Crete, to set right the family business. On his journey from the mother country Basil meets up with Zorba, who lives hard and plays hard; Zorba convinces Basil to hire him on, and together they will undertake the business project of resurrecting the fallow logging business. You can probably figure out exactly where the relationship between these two is headed for the next two hours after just a couple of minutes—the buttoned-down younger man with literary aspirations and the earthy, slightly vulgar ethnic older man, close to the land, the free spirit, who will teach his protégé grand lessons about women, about work, about life. There's a certain amount of what Nabokov would summarily dismiss as poshlost, and you've got to have some tolerance for more than a little sentimentality to enjoy the movie.

But if you do, it's a fine old time, and not just because of Quinn. A young Alan Bates plays Basil, an underwritten part that's almost more type than human being; Bates invests him with a gentle soul. And let us not give short shrift to the women of the picture, either. Lila Kedrova is probably the most notable, as Madame Hortense, the patently absurd widow who has buried four husbands; she still holds out hope for love, for Zorba, and can preen a giggle like a coquette when overcome with emotion. Her clothes are ratty in a Blanche Du Bois sort of way and she's severely overrouged; it's easy to make fun of Madame Hortense, and many do. But there's something genuinely moving here, toward the end of the picture especially, and the character's last scenes may put you in mind of Falstaff, or Don Quixote, the comic figure confronting the great mystery of life.

Equally compelling, in a more understated and downright smoldering performance, is Irene Papas as the unnamed local widow, dangerously alluring to the men of the village, with a special energy between her and the young Englishman. With not many words or scenes, Papas conveys the emotional wounds of the character, in a performance in the manner of Anna Magnani. Zorba wants to school Basil in the lessons of courtship, and knows in his heart that the widow is the proper object of his student's amorous advances; no good comes of this, however, and we soon realize that we don't know very much about the ways of the village; neither does Basil; and, apparently, neither does Cacoyannis, which is a major deficiency in the filmmaking.

The man-as-force-of-nature thing is a favorite motif here (Zorba rails at the topography: "You bastard mountain!"), but it's forgivable if only for the spectacle of Zorba dancing. He's not graceful, exactly, but his dance is some sort of primal expression, combining athleticism, power, drive, sexuality, clumsiness. Zorba admits himself that there's nothing delicate about him, and there isn't much delicate about his movie, either—but when Quinn dances with ferocity, and even teaches the buttoned-down Bates some of his steps, the scenes can be transporting.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This is a beautifully shot movie, and by and large it's transferred in a pristine manner, with strong blacks and little grain. A fair number of scratches, however, detract from the overall quality of the image, pretty severely.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French, Spanishyes
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The dynamics of the soundtrack are kind of wiggy, with the dialogue much too loud in some scenes, barely discernible in others, and the balance of words to music being askew. The 2.0 is marginally better than the mono track, but neither of them are stellar.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring The 300 Spartans, All About Eve, An Affair to Remember, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Grapes of Wrath
2 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Michael Cacoyannis, Demetrios Liappas
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: On Side A, along with the feature, you'll find a commentary track, from the director and from Demetrios Liappas, a professor of Greek studies at Loyola Marymount and a Kazantzakis scholar; the professor fills us in on Kazantzakis's place in Greek literature, the place of Zorba the Greek in the writer's oeuvre, and how apparently only death could rob him of a Nobel Prize. He and the director were recorded separately, which is unfortunate; and my goodness, Cacoyannis is full of himself. He starts by informing us: "I think I'm a fairly well-known film director," and then spends lots and lots of time singing his own praises. He's moderately interesting on the production history—bringing in Kedrova to replace Simone Signoret; Quinn idling away with Pia Lindstrom, Ingrid Bergman's daughter; the director himself battling with Daryl Zanuck—but frequently the preening egotism on display here is just unbearable.

Flip over the disc, and you'll find an installment (44m:13s) from A&E's Biography devoted to Quinn, covering the biographical bases, from his Mexican childhood to international stardom, and including interviews with colleagues, family members and biographers; and two Fox Movietone newsreels, both unfortunately without sound. The first (01m:15s) shows Quinn arriving in Greece and on the set; the second (05m:12s) is from the film's Paris premiere. Also included is a jettisoned original opening (04m:06s) to the feature, in which Zorba imagines that he is God, with a long beard, talking to us from his white cloud up in the heavens, taking stock of the sweet young sirens. It's absolutely horrid and was rightly cut; it's hard even to believe that this was supposed to be part of the same movie.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Quinn's virtuoso performance is the most memorable aspect of the film, and in many respects Zorba the character is more indelible than the film that bears his name. But much of it is vital and heartfelt, and the extras are modestly informative.


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