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America America Movie Review

kazan elia topouzoglou stavros

1963 – Elia Kazan –

Writer/director Elia Kazan's personal favorite among his films, this movie is probably best described as an acquired taste (or perhaps a taste that is worth acquiring). Beautifully photographed in black and white by Haskell Wexler, the film features some fascinating moments but suffers from a meandering structure.

The plot, set in 1896 and based on the experiences of Kazan's uncle, concerns the struggles of Stavros Topouzoglou (Stathis Giallelis) to escape the deprivations Greeks and Armenians endure at the hands of the Turks. He longs to travel to America and to earn money so the rest of his family can join him. One great segment is the collection of scenes in Constantinople, in which Stavros is betrothed to Thomna (Linda Marsh, who is excellent). Paul Mann, as Stavros' future father-in-law, sits contentedly on his sofa with the women of his house tending to him and in one great speech unfolds what he sees to be their future: “Watch the years go by … Pretty soon your eldest will come to you and say, ‘Father, I've met a girl, I'd like to get married,’ and you'll say … what dowry will she bring? … You'll get heavier … and we'll drink and we'll eat and we'll unbutton the tops of our trousers.” Kazan cast nonprofessionals in many of the roles (including the main character), but none of them is as good as Mann and Marsh.

The cinematography in interior scenes uses little pools of light set against a mostly dark background to direct the eye; it is a striking effect. Although animosity was growing between Kazan and Wexler, Kazan recognized the excellence of Wexler's work, especially in the shots done with a hand-held camera. The strong contrast between the deglamorized, almost documentary style and the exhilarating hopes of Stavros and his family for a life in America is always touching. In his autobiography Kazan said that one of the main reasons for filming in Istanbul was to get the shot of the hamals, or the human beasts of burden, loading the dockside cargo on the American merchant ship. Though it won some awards, the film lost so much money that Kazan incorrectly feared he would never direct again.

Cast: Lou Antonio (Abdul), Katharine Balfour (Sophia Kebabian), Harry Davis (Isaac Topouzoglou), Joanna Frank (Vartuhi), Stathis Giallelis (Stavros Topouzoglou), Estelle Hemsley (Grandmother), Elena Karam (Vasso Topouzoglou), Salem Ludwig (Odysseus Topouzoglou), Paul Mann (Aleko Sinnikoglou), John Marley (Garabet), Linda Marsh (Thomna Sinnikoglou), Gregory Rozakis (Hohannes Gardashian), Frank Wolff (Vartan Damadian), Robert H. Harris Screenwriter: Elia Kazan Cinematographer: Haskell Wexler Composer: Manos Hadjidakis Producer: Elia Kazan for Warner Bros. Running Time: 174 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1964: Art Direction/Set Decoration; Nominations: Director (Elia Kazan), Picture, Screenplay; Golden Globe Awards, 1964: Director (Elia Kazan).

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