To one who has not read Nikos Kazantzakis’ widely praised novel it appears that producer-director-scenarist Michael Cacoyannis may have tried to be too faithful to the original.
Zorba the Greek is a paean to life in all its diverse aspects, ranging from the farcical to the tragic, and as epitomized by the lusty title character. This Zorba, beautifully played by Anthony Quinn, is a wise and aging peasant, a free soul who is totally committed to life no matter what it holds.
To dramatize this theme, Cacoyannis has written a screenplay which is so packed with incidents of varying moods that some of the more important ones cannot be developed fully. The story takes place in a remote section of the island of Crete where Zorba has come as the self-appointed aide-de-camp to a young, inhibited Englishman of Greek parentage, played by Alan Bates. Latter, who describes himself as a writer who hasn’t written anything in a long, long time, intends to reopen an old lignite mine he has inherited. Their subsequent adventures – rather loosely connected and wherein Bates finally learns to live a la Zorba – comprise the body of the film.
Quinn is excellent, and Bates, in a less flamboyant role, is equally good. Irene Papas is strikingly effective as a doomed widow, a role without dialog. Lila Kedrova plays the aging courtesan with all stops out, always halfway between laughter and tears.
1964: Best Supp. Actress (Lila Kedrova), B&W Cinematography, B&W Art Direction.
Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Anthony Quinn), Adapted Screenplay