Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Greek Tycoon (1978)



          There are at least three ways to watch The Greek Tycoon, a fictionalized take on the marriage of presidential widow Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. (Well, four ways, if you count the option of skipping the movie altogether.) Firstly, you can watch the film in abject horror at the crass exploitation of human tragedy. Secondly, you can experience the movie as a campy jet-set melodrama. And thirdly, you can cut the filmmakers a whole lot of slack by enjoying the piece as the downbeat character study of a larger-than-life individual whose money bought him everything except lasting happiness and social respectability.
          Released in 1978, just three years after Onassis’ death, The Greek Tycoon is among the most shameless cinematic endeavors ever “ripped from the headlines.” Most of the sensational aspects of the Kennedy-Onassis relationship are replicated here—the assassination of a president, the arrangement of a multimillion-dollar marriage contract, the luxury of life on a giant yacht, the controversial business deals. And for everything the filmmakers subtract from the source material (notably absent are stand-ins for Kennedy’s children), the team behind The Greek Tycoon adds in something just as salacious, because the movie features a conniving brother, a suicidal ex-wife, and a tempestuous mistress. It’s all exactly as glamorously trashy as it sounds, right down to the quasi-lookalike casting of Jacqueline Bisset as Kennedy and Anthony Quinn as Onassis. (Perpetually tanned movie/TV hunk James Franciscus appears, somewhat inconsequentially, as The Greek Tycoon’s version of JFK.)
          In the film’s storyline, Theo Tomassis (Quinn) first meets Liz Cassidy (Bisset) and her husband, James Cassidy (Franciscus), while James is a Congressman prepping a presidential campaign. Later, after Liz suffers a miscarriage while living in the White House, she leaves D.C. for a recuperative vacation with Theo in Greece. Then, a year after an assassin shoots and kills James, Liz accepts Theo’s marriage proposal, but with a slew of conditions—such as agreeing to share Theo’s bed only 10 nights each month.
          The Greek Tycoon is a cartoonish riff on history, but the production values are pleasant—cinematographer Anthony Richmond shoots the hell out of the film’s gorgeous Greek locations—and Quinn overacts with his usual operatic verve. Conversely, Bisset and costars Edward Albert (as Theo’s son), Charles Durning (as a U.S. politician), and Raf Vallone (as Theo’s brother) play the material straight, which is unwise. Versatile helmer J. Lee Thompson, who years earlier directed Quinn in The Guns of Navarone (1961), orchestrates the whole silly/tacky endeavor with his usual impersonal proficiency.

The Greek Tycoon: FUNKY

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