Never on Sunday
Rated: Not Rated
Film Length: 93 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 Widescreen (Non-Anamorphic)
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
Audio: Mono (English/Greek, Spanish)
I know this review is well after street date, but I ran into some obstacles getting screeners, so much of what I received is already out. Nevertheless, I felt this movie in particular warranted a review. Please enjoy!!!
In her long and eventful life, Melina Mercouri was very many things, among them a beautiful Greek woman with a passion for promoting her culture, a star of both stage and the silver screen, and a rather successful politician. During her foray into politics, Mercouri served in the Greek parliament, and later as the Minister of Culture and Sciences. In this latter capacity, she won national renown when she lobbied to have the Elgin Marbles (sculptures from the Parthenon) returned to Greece by a British museum. Shortly before her death in 1993, Mercouri even made a run at the office of Mayor Athens, her hometown, but was defeated.
In terms of her motion picture career, although Mercouri starred in several films, it can be argued that she is best remembered for her spectacular turn as Illia, a jovial, strong-willed prostitute, in Never on Sunday. This dynamic little film is pretty tame by today’s standards, but raised eyebrows in 1960 by portraying prostitution as a normal, natural profession. Controversy aside, Melina Mercouri is phenomenal in this film, injecting confidence, pizzazz, charm, and toughness into her character. The supporting cast is also very good, especially Titos Vandis and Jules Dassin, who also wrote and directed.
The story of Mr. Dassin is a very interesting one, so forgive me if I take a brief pause from outlining the movie to discuss him. Jules Dassin, as it turns out, was a very liberal-minded person who spoke out against the American system of justice and the practices of American industry in his early films. For daring to be different during the McCarthy era, Dassin was blacklisted in Hollywood, so he settled in Europe. During his travels through Europe, Dassin eventually landed in Greece, where he met the radiant Mercouri, who became both his greatest love (the two married in 1966) and greatest collaborator, working on nine of his films. While in Europe, Dassin also realized great success with Rififi, which allowed him the financial resources and artistic freedom to make films that really mattered to him, such as Never on Sunday.
As Never on Sunday begins, we meet Illia (Mercouri), who wastes no time displaying her powerful effect on men, by getting the “slaves” working in a shipyard to take a break from their duties and join her in her daily swim. Soon, it is revealed that she is the most beautiful, and busiest, prostitute in the city of Piraeus, with a long list of willing customers, whom she strangely sees as friends instead of mere clients. We also learn that the free-spirited Illia is completely comfortable with her profession, and her life. As such, she continually resists the efforts of a local shipbuilder named Tonio (George Foundas), the closest thing she has to a true boyfriend, to get her out of the business.
Early on, we also meet Homer Thrace (Dassin), an American writer who has come to Greece. Fascinated with the rise and fall of Greece, which he believes was once the greatest country in the world, he journeys to the birthplace of philosophy, in the pursuit of real truth. Once he meets Illia though, his plans change. He perceives her immoral behavior as a symbol of Greece’s decline, and is convinced that if he can reform her, he can redeem the wrongdoings of the whole of Greek society. As such, Homer dedicates himself to offering Illia a different kind of life, one of refinement and knowledge.
Meanwhile, a local landlord (known as No-Face) who owns all of the buildings inhabited by prostitutes is also trying to get Illia to change her “career”, but for a more self-serving reason. It seems that he does not like Illia because she is an independent contractor, and might give the other girls ideas. This would be troublesome for him because he is able to charge all of the prostitutes except Illia exorbitant rents.
Despite all the pressure placed on Illia to quit, she keeps right on living her life in her own way, much to the disappointment of her would-be lover, the vile landlord, and her American friend, Homer. Since Illia is too popular in Piraeus to make a move on, the landlord approaches Homer, and offers him the money to buy Illia’s time for two weeks, so that he can show her how wonderful her life could be without selling her body. At first, Homer resists this offer, but after he realizes that the money can help him achieve his own plans for Illia’s future, he conspires with her greatest enemy.
This very funny and well-acted film speeds headlong to its conclusion from there, but takes an unexpected turn at the end. As you may have gathered from my previous reviews, I do not like spoilers very much, so I do not want to give away too many more details. However, I will say that I was a bit surprised by the ending, especially considering the era the film was released in, but I cannot imagine it any other way. If you like what you have read so far, then do yourself a favor and take the journey to Jules Dassin’s Piraeus and find out how the events in the character’s lives unfold. I do not expect you will be disappointed
So, How Does It Look?
Never on Sunday is presented on DVD by MGM Home Video in black-and-white, non-anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1). Overall, this is a very good transfer, with minimal dirt, scratches, or other distractions. In fact, I only noticed one scene that appeared a little grainy (the first time Illia is on the boat with Tonio). The stock footage of battleships shown when Illia looks through her binoculars looks a little rough as well, but I really don’t think that has anything to do with this transfer. Summing it up, the image does not show its age, which is perhaps the best compliment I can pay. Of course, an anamorphic transfer would be better, but while this transfer is not reference quality, it is very nice all the same.
What Is That Noise?
The original Greek/English monaural soundtrack is what we get, and while it is not terrible, it seems to me that it lacks spaciousness and depth. In addition, there are instances (particularly during the scenes in the club) where the sound becomes muffled and distorted to a degree. However, dialogue, and Manos Hadjidakis’ awesome score, comes through clearly for the most part. All things considered, the quality of the uplifting music, heavily reliant upon the bouzouki, more than makes up for whatever deficiencies there are in the way of presentation.
Note: If you do not understand the Greek language, you may want to view the film with subtitles on so that no dialogue is missed. I did not watch the film with this feature on, and discovered that although most of the scenes where the characters speak Greek are subtitled, some of the dialogue is not. However, I checked the subtitles in all languages to make sure they were there after viewing the film, and found them to be as advertised. I am sure that all of the main points are driven home just fine without the subtitles, but I thought I would bring it up anyway.
The original theatrical trailer for the film (in widescreen) is the only extra attached to this release. I thought it was an interesting, nostalgic look at what audiences considered shocking material during 1960.
The Score Card
The Last Word
Never on Sunday is a very good film, but it is taken to another level by Melina Mercouri’s saucy, commanding performance and Manos Hadjidakis’ wonderful music. Jules Dassin is also very good as Homer, playing him in a lively, animated fashion, but always being careful not to stand in the way of Mercouri’s spotlight. Running at just over 90 minutes, the story is also moved along briskly by Dassin, so there is always something interesting happening.
Very simply, there are a lot of things to like about this movie, and I am sure I am not the only one who feels this way, as it garnered five Academy Award nominations. The nominations were for Best Actress, Director, Screenplay, Costume Design, and Original Song. The title song Never on Sunday was selected as the Best Original Song for 1960. This film was also adapted for Broadway, running as Illya Darling, which received several Tony Award nominations during the late 1960s. This classic film would make a fine addition to any movie fan’s library, and as such, I highly recommend picking this one up!!
July 1, 2003