Will "The Greek Tycoon," a film a clef suggested by the union of Aristotle Onassis and Jacqueline Kennedy, leave audiences with enough idle speculation and secondhand high life to fantasize about? Not on its merits, it won't. However, some kitsch addicts know no shame. They're as likely to relish blah kitsch as spicy kitsch.
"The Greek Tycoon," now at area theaters, is definitely one of the blah side. It compares very poorly in this year's market with "The Betsy," which also suffered from plodding pacing but boasted a more illustrious and colorful cast along with healthier portions of sex, glamor and melodrama. Producer Allen Klein and the hirelings responsible for "The Greek Tycoon " lack the courage of their own tastelessness.
As the Onassis figure, a gruff but endearingly paternal and carnal old goat called Theo Tomasis, Anthony Quinn who else?) descends from panoramic heights to join a party already in progress at his enviable seaside villa. The purpose of this opening sequence is introductions, particularly the first meeting of Tomasis with the beautiful object he will eventually acquirw, Jacqueline Bisset as Liz Cassidy, wife of an ill-fate future president of the United States.
This is so much busy work. The genuine appeal of the sequence derives from picturesque incidents such as a buffet table dominated by twin peaks of cold cuts and a distracting array of nymphs gliding around in minimal swim wear. If the filmmakers were smart, they would get their draggy, feeble exposition out of the way of the luxurious incidentals. Only a sap would think that this ho-hum chronicle of a June-November courtship between members of the ruling classes reveals anything of consequence about the Onassises or Kennedys.
On the other hand, a vast public could derive satisfaction from the illusion of dwelling in the lap of luxury for two hours. The movies are uniquely qualified to satisfy vicarious popular cravings. Fortunately for the overprivileged, the vicarious experience is more than enough for most people.
Quinn and Bisset don't lack presence or histrionic force, but who can get anything smoldering with material that's all wet? The romance perks up briefly when it shows tendencies toward bedroom farce. On their wedding night Liz shows Theo the door when he refused to promise to be faithful. The next morning they have a spat when she tries to contribute an opinion to a conversation about business conditions. This approach might have proved entertaining, but there's no follow-through.
The fleeting glimpses of luxury would be enhanced by a sharper focus and richer color palette. "The Greek Tycoon" often looks so hazy that it inspires nothing so much as the urge to doze off. The Mediterranean sun is no doubt intense, but surely the light could be filtered and subdued. Movies of this kind are usually improved by color photography that makes food, fabrics and flesh look ravishing.
Bisset is fairly sensational in a wedding-night peignoir designed by Halston. When she moves, the effect suggests Herrick's "Upon Julia's Clothes" come to life:
Whenas in silks my Julia goes.
Then, then (methinks) how sweetly flow.
That liquefaction of her clothes.
Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free;
O how that glittering taketh me!
I was also grateful for a spot of sightseeing aboard La Bell Simone, William Levitt's palatial yatch, loaned to the movie company to double for Quinn's floating Xanadu.
The movie quietly expires at a splendid location, a seaside tavern in Kalami on Corfu where the waves break within a few feet of the tables.