Never on Sunday (1960) from Tuna

Never on Sunday (1960) is a film that many of our readers may not be familiar with, so here are the stats. It is a Greek made black & white comedy, originally titled Pote tin Kyriaki. Although it is half in Greek and half English, it is nevertheless rated an amazing 7.2 at IMDB, very high indeed for a 43 year old foreign comedy. Thanks to MGM, which is steadily remastering and releasing catalogue material on DVD, it is now available. This is the signature performance from Melina Mercouri as Illya, a freelance prostitute in the port city of Pireaus. She is the only freelancer in the city, and her independence is giving other working girls ideas, much to the dismay of "No Face," the pimp/exploiter who charges them outrageous rent for their apartments in the red light district.

Illya is considered a national treasure by all of her friends in the waterfront district, and is loved by all. As the film opens, we see her breeze down a pier full of boat workers, stripping as she runs, and jumping in the ocean in bra and panties. Everyone joins her, including a newcomer, half Greek and half Italian, and all are smitten by her. This is the scene that greets Homer (Jules Dassin, who also wrote and directed) when he arrives from America, hoping to learn why the world is such an unhappy place by studying Greece. Hellas was once the pinnacle of civilization and everything he holds dear, so he wonders why it has sunk so low. The joyful Illya becomes the symbol of his study, and he sets about saving her. He can't believe she is happy as a hooker.

The title comes from Illya's practice of taking Sunday off, and holding open house for the men she likes the most.

The Oscar-winning title song was inescapable on the radio in 1960, and the Greek music soundtrack nearly made this a musical. Several things contribute to my love for this film. First, I love all of the characters (except No Face, of course). Second, the theme, that happiness is an inside job, is central to my personal belief system. Most of all, however, it is Melina Mercouri that makes this film. I don't think there has ever been an actress with a more expressive face, and this was a perfect match of actress to role. There is no nudity, of course, but this was a pretty spicy film for 1960. The theatrical trailer says, "We can't tell you what she does, but we can't stop you from guessing." 



Scoop's comments:

Has there ever been one person so intimately associated with the film industry and pop culture of a country as Melina Mercouri with Greece? Perhaps Romy Schneider's association with Austria could be a contender because of the Sissi films, but I think Mercouri must even outrank Romy on the iconic scale.  I don't see Romy voting in cabinet meetings, and I haven't seen any Romy statues in Vienna. Mercouri, on the other hand, went on to become Minister of Culture in Greece, and there is a great marble bust of her on the beginning of the pedestrian path up to the Acropolis. She is buried among the greats (Schliemann, Papandreou, etc) in the First Cemetery of Athens, and there are always flowers on her grave.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Widescreen letterboxed 1.66:1.

  • The transfer is very nice, and there are optional subtitles for the Greek portions.

The only other contender I can think of would be the great pride that Liechtenstein has for Hugh Grant. Of course, Grant is not from there, and doesn't even know where it is, but that does not deter the determined Liechtensteiners from their loyalty. They conduct tours of the childhood home that they wish Hugh had lived in, and they have a statue of Grant at both entrances to their country, and in all three buildings. Their main castle even has a tapestry which pictures Grant getting arrested for that blowjob in Los Angeles. Except for the Liechtensteiner Polka, Hugh is about the biggest thing that ever happened to them.

The Critics Vote

  • No major reviews available, but the film was nominated for five Oscars, including the major ones for the director and the screenplay. It won for the title song.

The People Vote ...


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a B. One of those classic, but seldom-mentioned films that many of you will enjoy, despite its age and subtitles.

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