Basil is a half English - half Greek writer, an uptight English man, on his way to Crete. He meets Zorba, a typical peasant to whom he says he wants to take care of an unused mine in his father's land. Zorba is confident of doing anything that is possible with his hands and legs and has some experience with mines too. He joins Basil on his way to Crete. They are welcome by the villagers and they spend their night at a hotel owned by a French war widow Madame Hortense. With his charming and kind nature Zorba gets into a relationship with her soon. They also come across another young war widow who seems to be the centre of attraction of the whole village and because of her reluctance to entertain any man, she is looked at with both desire and contempt at the same time. A young man is really after her, but she doesnt respond to him at all. They also start working on their mine. There are some obstacles, like the availability of good wood, which is actually available high up on the mountain and brining it down to the mine region is quite a job. Zorba seems to have some vague plans for this. Zorba push Basil to go for the young widow who seems to have a liking for him, but Basil is too uptight to make any such moves. Zorba has to go to the nearby town to buy some materials for their project. He enjoys his time during these days too. Madame Hortense is very sad so Basil nearly convinces her that Zorba will come back to her and marry her. When Zorba is back he is not happy about what Basil promised to Hortense. Basil, finally took some courage and went to the young widow in a night. The young man who was desperate for the widow kills himself knowing about this. The village is so angry with the young widow and inspite of the efforts of Zorba and Basil, kills her. Madame Hortense also gets really sick and she dies and the villagers steal all her belongings. Zorba's plans for moving the forest wood to the mine is ready but it doesnt stand. Luckily there is no mis haps but the villagers flee the mine site. Basil is so disappointed and Zorba teaches him how to make his special dance. Zorba has changed the uptight British man to live and enjoy life and take the failures in its stride.
This movie, based on a novel, I would say is all about life. Zorba is a beautiful character who believes life is there to enjoy and one should never take any hesitation in enjoying anything that come across. Zorba is charming, clever, kind, adorable, strong and has a great flair for dancing too. He is excellent in making friends with anybody, even more so with women who will instantly fall for his sweet and kind demeanor. Zorba tells Basil, if a woman sleeps alone, that is the mistake of the men around. Zorba is a great character and it is brilliantly played by Anthony Quinn. What a performance from this amazing character. His enthusiasm is so much that it can spill across the screen to us viewers. Brilliant. Young Alan Bates as Basil has well under performed his role, which actually even increases the contrast between these two characters.
From the moment Zorba meets Basil, until they go into a dance, they both take us through many beautiful moments in this film. Madame Hortense is also a very interesting character, living on the thoughts of her past partners.
I have heard a lot about Crete and have a friend who actually owns a house there. They are supposed to be great people. However in this movie the villagers are quite horrible. The way they treat the young widow and kills her, was horrible. And the whole story continues as if nothing happened was quite beyond my sensibilities . The same when madame Hortense is sick. The old woman sneaking in, waiting for her death, so that they can take her belongings, was beautifully shot, but that picturises the Cretans in a very bad way and I cannot understand that.
Watch this movie for a brilliant performance from Anthony Quinn. What a great actor. He is also a wonderful dancer.