Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB.
USA, 1963. Athena Enterprises, Warner Bros.. Screenplay by Elia Kazan. Cinematography by Haskell Wexler. Produced by Elia Kazan. Music by Manos Hatzidakis. Production Design by Gene Callahan. Costume Design by Anna Hill Johnstone. Film Editing by Dede Allen. Actors Index: John Marley. Academy Awards 1963. Golden Globe Awards 1963.
After a decade of scintillating stage and literary adaptations, director Elia Kazan turns to more autobiographical material with a beautifully wrought film that might just be his masterpiece. Himself born to a Greek family in Istanbul, Kazan tells the tale of his uncle who, in the late nineteenth century, conceived of the dream to leave the turbulent poverty of his village and make his way to America. An ice seller living under Turkish oppression along with his Armenian neighbours, Stavros (Stathis Giallelis) eventually convinces his family to let him travel to the capital and take all their most valuable possessions with him, sending him to a relative who will help him with his plans to go further afield. Stavros loses pretty much everything thanks to his naivete, striking out on his own in the big city and nearly dying before returning to his cousin, going to work for him and courting a young Greek woman whose dowry will help furnish his dreams; his goal of reaching American shores, however, is never far from his mind. Kazan focuses with almost painstaking detail on every step of the journey, the film has a magnificent length of almost three hours, but it is never for a moment boring. Shadowy, mysterious photography mesmerizes the eye while the host of curious characters have a rich texture thanks to being performed by actors cast beyond traditional expectation (like casting African American Estelle Hemsley as Stavros’ grandmother, which works beautifully). An emotional journey into the history of American immigration, it has moments of ribald humour (Paul Mann as the gregarious future father-in-law), deep pathos (especially Gregory Rozakis as a fellow traveler) and the naked, intelligent honesty of Kazan’s best films (Linda Marsh‘s scenes as the possible fiance are stunning), which rather than clash with each other make a successful tapestry of experiences both eccentric and moving.