The Mighty Quinn: A Tribute to Anthony Quinn
- The Mighty Quinn:
- A Tribute to Anthony Quinn
From May 4 through May 21, the Gene Siskel Film Center presents “The Mighty Quinn: A Tribute to Anthony Quinn,” a six-film series devoted to one of Hollywood’s most versatile and forceful actors.
Mostly Mexican, with an Irish grandfather on his father's side, and Aztec Indian blood on his mother's, Anthony Quinn (1915-2001) was born in Chihuahua. His parents moved north as migrant workers, finally settling in Los Angeles. To help overcome a speech impediment, Quinn took up acting. His first screen credit PAROLE (1936) set a pattern for numerous early roles in which he played B-movie criminals. Another early specialty was Indians, beginning with THE PLAINSMAN (1936), directed by his future father-in-law Cecil B. DeMille.
Fed up with his lack of progress in Hollywood, Quinn headed for Broadway in 1947. He soon hooked up with Elia Kazan and the Method movement, succeeding Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The Kazan connection led to VIVA ZAPATA! (1951), for which Quinn won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Finding that his Academy Award did not significantly improve his roles, Quinn went to Italy, where he gained distinction as the brutish strongman in Fellini's LA STRADA (1954).
Returning to the U.S., Quinn picked up another Oscar for his brief but memorable turn as Paul Gauguin in LUST FOR LIFE (1956). His career peaked in the early 1960s, with attention-getting performances as a Greek guerrilla in THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961), the thief spared instead of Jesus in BARABBAS (1961), a crafty Bedouin chieftain in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962), and a washed-up boxer in REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT (1962). These achievements were topped by his Oscar-nominated turn as the irrepressible Aegean schemer in ZORBA THE GREEK (1964)--the role with which he became most closely identified.
When it comes to ethnic diversity in the movies, Quinn remains far and away the all-time champ. Greek, Italian, Eskimo, Portuguese, Arab, Native American, Polynesian, Spaniard, Irish, French, Slav, Chinese, Romanian, Filipino, Latino, Judean, Mongol, Russian, Basque, Hun, even Tennessee hillbilly--Quinn played all these and more. One wonders to what extent this diversity was a function of Hollywood stereotyping, and to what extent it reflected the complex, restless, self-conscious search for personal identity described in Quinn’s autobiographies “The Original Sin” (1972) and “One Man Tango” (1997).
Much of Quinn's restless energy was channeled into his parallel career as an artist. He began painting as a teenager and, as an aspiring architect, won a fellowship to study under Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1949 he took classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In addition to successfully exhibiting his paintings and sculptures, he became a passionate and wide-ranging art collector. Art historian Donald Kuspit suggests that Quinn sought a refuge from acting in his art--a place where, among the many masks he wore throughout his amazingly protean career, he could tackle that most challenging role: “to be truly himself.”
Special thanks to Katherine Quinn, Robert T. Cichocki, Anthony Quinn Foundation; Silvio Marchetti, Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Chicago; Paul Ginsburg, NBCUniversal; Christopher Lane, Grover Crisp, Sony Pictures Entertainment; Schawn Belston, Caitlin Robertson, 20th Century Fox; Marilee Womack, Warner Brothers Classics.
Katherine Quinn in person!
- VIVA ZAPATA!
- 1952, Elia Kazan, USA, 113 min.
- With Marlon Brando, Anthony Quinn
“Great acting exercise, Tabascoed with Brando, peppered with Quinn.”
Influenced by Eisenstein and Rossellini, Kazan created a vigorous mixture of history lesson and action movie while walking a tightrope over McCarthy-era political minefields. Brando, fresh off his triumph in A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, plays Emiliano Zapata, the mestizo peasant who became a leader, then a victim of the Mexican revolution. In his Oscar-winning role as Zapata’s brother Eufemio, Quinn’s earthy realist makes an effective counterpoint to Brando’s brooding idealist. Archival 35mm print courtesy of 20th Century Fox. (MR)
On Friday, John Farr of bestmoviesbyfarr.com will introduce the film, and Katherine Quinn, the widow of Anthony Quinn, will do a Q&A after the screening.
- LA STRADA
- (THE ROAD)
- 1954, Federico Fellini, Italy, 107 min.
- With Giulietta Masina, Anthony Quinn
“The first film that can be called entirely ‘Felliniesque.’”
—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
An Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film, LA STRADA’s simple and gentle story tells of the waif Gelsomina (Masina), sold by her mother to the brutish traveling circus strongman Zampano (Quinn) to function as his servant, sideshow assistant, and mistress. Her empathy for the impish tightrope walker called The Fool (Richard Basehart) brings tragedy when his free spirit collides with Zampano’s brute force. In Italian with English subtitles. 35mm print courtesy of Cinecittà Holding and the Instituto Italiano di Cultura, Chicago. (BS)
- ZORBA THE GREEK
- 1964, Michael Cacoyannis, Greece, 142 min.
- With Anthony Quinn, Alan Bates
“If ever the abundance of life force in man has been poured forth on the screen, it is done in the brilliant performance given by Anthony Quinn.”
—Bosley Crowther, The New York Times
Quinn’s signature role casts him as the self-appointed life coach to a British poet (Bates) who comes to Crete afflicted with writer’s block and excessive timidity. Though remembered for its high-spirited hedonism, Cacoyannis’s film (based on Nikos Kazantzakis’s worldwide bestseller) also has its tougher side, marked by drenching downpours, craggy landscapes, and some still-startling outbursts of local intolerance and cruelty. ZORBA won Oscars for cinematography, art decoration, and supporting actress (Lila Kedrova as Zorba’s overripe inamorata), but many feel that Quinn’s magnificent performance and Mikis Theodorakis’s catchy music were even more deserving. In English and Greek with English subtitles. Restored DCP video courtesy of 20th Century Fox. (MR)
- THE WORLD IN HIS ARMS
- 1952, Raoul Walsh, USA, 104 min.
- With Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn
“A revelation...overflows with movement and vitality.”
—Dave Kehr, The New York Times
Set in 1850, this sprawling, colorful adventure yarn packs in a schooner race, an ecological message against excessive seal hunting, a Cold War subtext featuring hissable Russian villains, an anachronistic jazz band, and a healthy dose of the rowdy saloon atmosphere favored by ace action director Walsh. Peck stars as a seagoing Yankee entrepreneur seeking to beat Seward to the punch by purchasing Alaska for a cool ten mill; Ann Blyth is the Russian countess-in-distress he falls for; and Quinn nearly walks off with the film as the gleefully amoral rogue, “Portugee.” 35mm. (MR)
- LUST FOR LIFE
- 1956, Vincente Minnelli, USA, 122 min.
- With Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn
“Minnelli anchors the film in a dazzlingly schizophrenic, first-person point of view. Kirk Douglas stars; his knotty, passionate self-destructiveness has seldom been put to better use.”
—Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader
This celebrated biopic vividly describes the struggle of a painter torn between artistic ecstasy and inner torment. Director Minnelli’s meticulous use of color and widescreen defines the different stages of Van Gogh’s life, from his early ministry in a drab coal-mining region, through his stormy relationship with the prostitute Christine, his ambivalent ménage with fellow artist Paul Gauguin (Quinn in a scene-stealing, Oscar-winning performance), his mental breakdown, and his final, sun-drenched moments. 35mm widescreen. (MR)
- REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT
- 1962, Ralph Nelson, USA, 95 min.
- With Anthony Quinn, Jackie Gleason
“The screenplay is as tight as a right hook from Cassius Clay (who, incidentally, appears here as himself)...This one's up there with RAGING BULL among the all-time-best sports movies that you don't need to be a sports fan to appreciate.”
—Mark Bourne, The DVD Journal
Based on a “Playhouse 90” classic written by Rod Serling, this big-screen remake is widely considered one of the all-time best boxing movies, in a select league with FAT CITY, RAGING BULL, and THE FIGHTER. Quinn plays Mountain Rivera, a proud but washed-up boxer who doesn’t know how to do anything else. The cast includes Piper Laurie as a social worker who tries to help Mountain, Mickey Rooney as his loyal trainer, and Jackie Gleason as his manipulative manager. Arthur Ornitz’s low-key b&w cinematography captures a superb on-the-Bowery ambience. Archival 35mm print courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment. 35mm. (MR)