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Elia Kazan, ethnic Greek but Turkish by birth, tells the story of the struggles of his uncle - in this account named Stavros Topouzoglou - in emigrating to America. In the 1890's, the young, kind-hearted but naive Stavros lived in Anatolia, where the Greek and Armenian minorities were repressed by the majority Turks, this repression which often led to violence. Even Stavros being friends with an Armenian was frowned upon. As such, Stavros dreamed of a better life - specifically in America - where, as a result, he could make his parents proud by his grand accomplishments. Instead, his parents, with most of their money, sent Stavros to Constantinople to help fund the carpet shop owned by his first cousin once removed. What Stavros encountered on his journey, made on foot with a small donkey, made him question life in Anatolia even further. Once in Constantinople, his resolve to earn the 110 Turkish pound third class fare to the United States became stronger than ever. But try after try,... Written by
Director Elia Kazan narrates the main portion of the closing credits, reading the words as they appear on the screen, using complete sentences such as "The cinematography was by Haskell Wexler." See more »
It takes some time for Kazan's movie to find its level and it could do with some judicious pruning, (it lasts about three hours). The faults are mostly at the beginning, (it's worth sticking with it), and the scenes of peasant oppression and revolt don't ring true. The casting of American players doesn't help or maybe Kanzan was just too close to his material. It is, after all, the story of his own family and how they came to America. He not only directs but wrote it as well and it's a subject deeply felt, and which he doesn't view objectively.
It picks up when the hero, Stavros, (an unconvincing Stathis Giallelis), gets to Constantinople and falls in with a rich merchant and his family and is promised in marriage to the merchant's daughter. It isn't that these scenes feel any 'truer' than the earlier scenes of poverty, (this is a culture that is alien to us and Kazan lays on the religious symbolism a mite too heavily), but dramatically they are very well structured and observed and the performances of both Paul Mann as the merchant and Linda Marsh as his daughter are outstanding. The rest of the acting is very uneven and Giallelis is certainly no James Dean, (his career was short-lived).
In the film's final third we follow Stavros to America and the ship-board scenes are brilliantly done. Haskell Wexler photographs them with a documentary-like realism, (his cinematography throughout is superb), and Kazan reins in the film's penchant for melodrama, (only a sacrificial act of kindness strains credulity). There are several splendid sequences spread across the film and ultimately one is inclined to forgive Kazan for the occasions where it falls flat. It isn't, of course, in any way 'commercial', which is some kind of virtue in itself. It panders to no-one but Kazan. Perhaps that makes it some kind of folly but if it is, then it's a grandiose one.
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