Never on Sunday

NEVER ON SUNDAY (1960)

D: Jules Dassin; with Dassin, Melina Mercouri, George Foundas, Titos Vandis, Mitsos Liguisos, Alexis Solomos. When Homer Thrace (Dassin), a frumpy little scholar from Middletown, Conn., arrives by boat in the Greek port city of Piraeus to "find the truth" -- and he means the grand, philosophical Truth -- there is a voluptuous, beckoning woman swimming toward him with about 20 men in tow. "There is the purity that was Greece," Homer says, and already the native beauty and the sun have distracted him from his mission. An earnest, grown-up Boy Scout, Homer is obsessed with ancient Greek culture, its "harmony" and supposed perfection. You must admit that ancient logic, virtue, and reason aren't nearly what they used to be, and Homer is out to engineer a real comeback for those bygone ideals. But his philosophical salvationism doesn't factor in a woman who just oozes sensuality, magnetism, and radiance everywhere she goes. Illia (Mercouri) can get any man to do whatever she wants, and she's Piraeus' most popular resident -- and not just because she's a ravishingly beautiful prostitute. She's a hooker with a heart of gold; when a British sailor hires her for the night, and can't go through with it for some reason, Illia kindly puts him at ease until he's up for the cause. (Of course, one also senses that Illia is a cunning capitalist who knows the damage caused by letting customers get away unsatisfied.) Homer simply cannot fathom that someone who has been given the gift of beauty wouldn't also strive for virtue. Illia does love ancient tragedy, though: In her version, Medea was "a very sweet woman but she sometimes had a bad temper." Homer can't stand Illia's overactive imagination -- "You're a Greek, you should be logical." he tells her -- and decides to do whatever it takes to mold her into a walking model of virtue. The local crime boss, Mr. Face (Solomos), would also like Illia to be less independent, since all of Piraeus' whores except Illia are under his control. When he meets Homer, they become unlikely partners in this classic, stylish comedy. Watching Illia defy her re-education is a delightful lesson in humanity. At one point, Illia tells Homer that she knows French, English, Greek, Italian, and "a little bit of Spanish." Homer asks her where she learned all those languages. "In bed," she says.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Screens Reviews
What If the Marx Brothers Got Around to Making That Movie With Salvador Dalí?
What If the Marx Brothers Got Around to Making That Movie With Salvador Dalí?
Josh Frank brings the legendary unproduced movie to printed life

Wayne Alan Brenner, March 22, 2019

What If <i>The Texas Chain Saw Massacre</i> Was Really About the Horrors of Modern American Society?
What If The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Was Really About the Horrors of Modern American Society?
Putting the Austin-made seminal slasher back into context

Marc Savlov, March 22, 2019

More by Clay Smith
The Insider's Outsider Guide to Texas
The Insider's Outsider Guide to Texas
Remembering Bud Shrake

May 15, 2009

SXSW Film
Barlow the Ubiquitous
Daily Reviews and Interviews

March 20, 2009

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle