Zorba the Greek is a 1964 film based on the novel Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. The film was directed by Cypriot Michael Cacoyannis and the title character was played by Anthony Quinn. The supporting cast includes Alan Bates, Lila Kedrova, Irene Papas, and Sotiris Moustakas.
Basil (Alan Bates) is a half-English half-Greek writer who has been raised in Britain and bears all the hallmarks of an uptight, middle-class Englishman. He is waiting at a port in mainland Greece one day when he meets a gruff, yet enthusiastic peasant and musician named Zorba (Anthony Quinn). Basil explains to Zorba that he is traveling to a rural Cretan village where his father owns some land, with the intention of opening up a lignite mine and perhaps curing his writer's block. Zorba relates his experience with mining and convinces Basil to take him along.
When they arrive at Crete, they take a car to the village where they are greeted enthusiastically by the town's impoverished peasant community. They stay with an old, French war widow named Madame Hortense (Lila Kedrova) in her self-styled "Hotel Ritz". The ever audacious Zorba tries to persuade Basil into making a move on Madame Hortense, but when he is reluctant, Zorba instead seizes the opportunity, and they form a relationship.
Over the next few days, Basil and Zorba attempt to work the old lignite mine, but find it too unsafe and shut it down. Zorba then has an idea to use the forest opposite as a kind of logging area (although his actual plan is left ambiguous), however the land is owned by the powerful monastery of the village, so Zorba goes over there and befriends the monks by getting them drunk. Afterwards, he comes home to Basil and begins to dance in a way that mesmerizes Basil.
Meanwhile, Basil and Zorba get their first introduction to "the Widow" (Irene Papas), a young, widowed woman, who is incessantly teased by the townspeople for not remarrying, especially to a young, local boy who is madly in love with her, but whom she has spurned repeatedly. One rainy afternoon, Basil offers her his umbrella, which she reluctantly takes. Zorba suggests that she is attracted to him, but Basil, ever shy, denies this and refuses to pursue the widow.
Basil hands Zorba some money, as he sends him off to the nearby town of Chania, where Zorba is to buy cable and other supplies for the implementation of his grand plan. Zorba says goodbye to Basil and Madame Hortense, who is by now madly in love with him. While in Chania, Zorba entertains himself at a cabaret and strikes up a brief romance with a much younger dancer. In a letter to Basil, he details his exploits and indicates that he has found love. Angered by Zorba's apparent irresponsibility and the squandering of his money, Basil untruthfully tells Madame Hortense that Zorba has declared his love to her and intends to marry her upon his return — to which she is ecstatic to the point of tears. Meanwhile, the Widow returns Basil's umbrella by way of Mimithos (Sotiris Moustakas), the simple-minded village idiot.
When Zorba eventually returns with supplies and gifts, he is surprised and angered to hear about Basil's lie to Madame Hortense. Nevertheless, he plays along and conjures up visions of white satin wedding dresses, lined with pearls, to keep Madame Hortense happy and not hurt her feelings. He also asks Basil concerning his whereabouts the night before. That night, Basil had finally gone to the Widow's house, made love to her and spent the night. The brief encounter comes at great cost. A villager catches sight of them, and word spreads, until the young, local boy who is in love with the Widow is taunted mercilessly about it. The next morning, the villagers find his body by the sea, where he has drowned himself out of shame.
The boy's father holds a funeral which all the villagers attend. The widow attempts to come inconspicuously, but is blocked from entering the church. She is eventually trapped in the courtyard, where she is beaten and stoned by the villagers, who hold her responsible for the young boy's suicide. Basil, meek and fearful of intervening, tells Mimithos to quickly fetch Zorba. Zorba arrives just as a villager, a friend of the boy, tries to pull a knife and kill the widow. Zorba overpowers the much younger man and disarms him. Thinking that the situation is now under control, Zorba asks the Widow to follow him and turns his back. At that moment, the dead boy's father pulls his knife and cuts the widow's throat. She dies instantly, as the villagers shuffle away apathetically, whisking the father away. Only Basil, Zorba and Mimithos show any emotion at her murder. Basil proclaims his inability to intervene whereupon Zorba laments the futility of death.
A while later, Madame Hortense who apparently has contracted pneumonia, is seen on her deathbed. Zorba stays by her side, along with Basil. Meanwhile, word gets round that "the foreigner" is dying, and that since she has no heirs, the State will take all her possessions and money. The desperately poor villagers crowd around her hotel, impatiently waiting for her demise so they can steal her belongings. Two old ladies enter her room and gaze expectantly at her, hoping to get first hands on all her belongings. Other women try to enter and raid her belongings, but Zorba can fight them off. In an instant of her death, the women re-enter Madame Hortense's bed room to steal her most valued belongings. Zorba leaves, as the hotel is ransacked and stripped bare by the villagers.
Finally, Zorba's elaborate contraption to ferry timber down the hill is complete. A festive ceremony is held, and all the villagers have turned out to see it. After a blessing from the local priests, Zorba gives the signal to start. A log comes hurtling down the zip line at a worrying pace, destroying the log itself and slightly damaging part of the contraption. Zorba remains unconcerned and gives orders for a second log. This one also speeds down and shoots straight into the sea. By now the villagers and priests have become fearful and run for cover. Zorba remains unfazed and orders a third log, which accelerates down with such violence that it dislodges the entire contraption, destroying everything the men had worked for. The villagers flee, leaving only Basil and Zorba behind. Zorba declares his sadness about Basil's now imminent return to England, whereupon Basil asks Zorba to teach him how to dance. The story ends with both men enthusiastically dancing the sirtaki on the beach.
Alexis Zorba (Αλέξης Ζορμπάς), a fictionalized version of the mine worker, George Zorbas (Γιώργης Ζορμπάς 1867–1942).
Anthony Quinn as Alexis Zorba
Alan Bates as Basil
Irene Papas as Widow
Lila Kedrova as Madame Hortense
Sotiris Moustakas as Mimithos
Anna Kyriakou as Soul
Eleni Anousaki as Lola
Yorgo Voyagis as Pavlo (as George Voyadjis)
Takis Emmanuel as Manolakas
Giorgos Fountas as Mavrandoni (as George Foundas)
Pia Lindström as Peasant Girl (scenes deleted)
George P. Cosmatos as Acne Faced Boy
Simone Signoret began filming the role of Madame Hortense; Lila Kedrova replaced her early in the production.
The film was shot on location on the Greek island of Crete. Specific places featured include the town of Chania, the Apokoronas region and the Akrotiri peninsula. The famous scene in which Quinn's character dances the Sirtaki was shot on the beach of the village of Stavros (35.593°N 24.095°E).
The film won three Academy Awards
Award. Result Winner
Best Picture Nominated Mihalis Kakogiannis
Winner was Jack Warner – My Fair Lady
Best Director Nominated Mihalis Kakogiannis
Winner was George Cukor – My Fair Lady
Best Actor Nominated Anthony Quinn
Winner was Rex Harrison – My Fair Lady
Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium Nominated Mihalis Kakogiannis
Winner was Edward Anhalt – Becket
Best Supporting Actress Won Lila Kedrova
Best Art Direction (Black-and-White) Won Vassilis Photopoulos
Best Cinematography (Black-and-White) Won Walter Lassally
The film has an 83% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
The dance at the end of the film, choreographed by Giorgos Provias, formerly known as "Zorba's dance" and later called Sirtaki, has become a popular cliché of Greek dance.
Zorba the Greek was adapted into a 1968 Broadway musical named Zorba.
The film's music by Mikis Theodorakis, especially the main song, Zorbas, is well known in popular culture. For example, the song has been used at Yankee Stadium for years to incite crowd participation during a potential rally by the home team.
A short film made in Scotland in 1999, Billy and Zorba, is about a man who believes he is Zorba the Greek.
The film has also been referenced in two of actress Nia Vardalos' films. In My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the family-owned restaurant her character works at is called Dancing Zorba's; this is also seen in the short-lived 2003 show My Big Fat Greek Life. In My Life In Ruins, Vardalos' character Georgia expresses contempt for the film because of the Greek's love of dancing and Anthony Quinn.
Zorbas, the theme song of the film by Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis
Alexis Zorbas, ballet by Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis written in 1988, and premiered in Arena di Verona in Verona, Italy
Zorba the Hutt, the antagonist of Zorba the Hutt's Revenge and father of Jabba the Hutt and brother of Ziro the Hutt, the antagonist of Star Wars: The Clone Wars
^ Thomas R. Lindlof, Hollywood under siege
^ Osborne, Robert (1994). 65 Years of the Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards. London: Abbeville Press. p. 180. ISBN 1-55859-715-8.
^ "NY Times: Zorba the Greek". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-25.
Zorba the Greek at the Internet Movie Database
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Medieval Greece / Byzantine Empire