Never on Sunday
Never on Sunday was something of a sensation when released in 1960. Coming into a more brazen screen sexuality that would mark the '60s and '70s, it surprised viewers with its approach to a freewheeling prostitute. Melina Mercouri plays Illia, a dancing (to the music of the bouzoukies), singing, love-mongering Greek who beds a variety of men throughout the week in the port city of Piraeus, keeping Saturday an anything-goes affair. On that day, she heads for the docks and the predatory sailors, where she flaunts about in bathing suits to the hoots and cheers of horny men. Content to take life on with a different man, she still keeps one thing clear never, never on Sunday. As the trailer proclaims, you have to guess what that means (we get it). Writer/director Jules Dassin plays Homer, an American scholar who, though smitten with Illia, thinks her life could be much improved through education and enlightenment. Hers is no kind of life for a lady particularly one as spirited and fascinating as Illia. Homer gives her money, but not to bed her. Rather, a la Prof. Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, he hopes to reform her. Nevertheless, he finds the process much harder than his naïve idealism had projected. Illia tries to cooperate, but she can't let got of her spirit, which is deeply Greek, deeply sexual, and deeply free. In one charming, poignant scene, she pulls out her small record player, pops on a 45, and sings "Never on Sunday," which became a hit (the song is catchy you cannot get it out of your head). Though the picture feels somewhat dated and thin, it is highly entertaining, lovingly shot in black-and-white (with Mercouri, Dassin's real-life wife, somehow looking both harsh and radiant), and also a bit strange. Some may find Dassin's treatment of Greeks, with all of the oom-pa! and plate-breaking, as condescending, but there is a genuine air of respect and awe the picture carries, particularly with its bittersweet ending that reveals people aren't meant to be fixed. Never on Sunday also remains a curio in regard to Dassin's career. The director of the seminal noir titles Brute Force and The Naked City, Dassin was ousted from Hollywood via the blacklist after director Edward Dmytryk named him as a communist in a HUAC hearing. Dassin high-tailed it to Europe, where he would fashion his greatest works Night and the City, shot in London, and the inventive, influential Rififi, made in France. By then a confirmed expat, Dassin found his second wife in Mercouri; Never on Sunday is a sort of valentine to her. It became massively popular, introducing a Greekness to audiences that became meaningful again in the superior Zorba the Greek. But despite its sweet, rambunctious quality, Never on Sunday also displays a cynical streak, particularly with its take on uptight Americans a commentary from Dassin that was no accident. MGM's DVD release features a clean, crisp widescreen transfer (1.66:1) with Greek and English audio (Dolby Digital 2.0), Spanish audio, (DD 2.0 mono), and subtitles in English, Spanish and French. No extras, except for the film's lively original theatrical trailer (and again, just try to get the song out of your head it's not possible). Keep-case.