After playing every ethnicity under the sun (and largely getting away with it in spite of a fairly mundane Irish-Mexican heritage), Anthony Quinn found his signature role playing an aging iconic Greek life-force who attaches himself as major-domo to Englishman-abroad Alan Bates. The over-familiar theme may be ‘Life’s a banquet, and most poor bastards are starving to death,’ but writer/director Michael Cacoyannis (Mihalis Kakogiannis) avoids turning out a macho AUNTIE MAME by emphasizing the savagery & strangeness found in Crete’s land, people & rituals.* And if he can’t quite avoid the ethnological clichés of Family of Man portraiture, he certainly isn’t afraid of overstatement or of getting his hands dramatically dirty. Against so many larger-than-life characters, Bates is the real miracle in the film, finding size & scope inside his quieter character. The story sets him up as needing to shake up a mundane literary life, yet he’s really the most daring fellow in the pic, hiring Zorba to pilot his future on little more than a whim. The dramatic climaxes are mostly back-loaded, which gives you plenty of time to appreciate Walter Lassally’s gorgeous b&w cinematography. And if the big set pieces don’t always convince, those terrifying harpies who swoop in after a death are likely to haunt your dreams, along with one of the great cinematic friendship epiphanies waiting to take your breath away at the very end along with that famous music cue.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *ZORBA did indeed get domesticated for B’way consumption as a musical. And was successfully revived as a cutey-pie act for the tone-deaf Quinn.