What do you call a person whose father is an Irish born but Mexican settled and mother is a native Mexican, and who has played Arabs, Greeks, Filipinos, Eskimos, Dutch, French, American Indians, Chinese on screen? Whose mix of roles include an Arab freedom fighter, a Greek resistance fighter, a Mexican revolutionary, an Arab tribal chieftain? A man who once remarked “I never get the girl, I wind up with a country instead”.
Well you call him Antonio Rudolfo Oaxca Quinn , to movie goers he is Antony Quinn, but for true blue movie fanatics, he is Zorba the Greek, Andrea the Greek resistance fighter in Guns of Navaronne, Omar Mukhtar the Arab freedom fighter to name a few. One of the most remarkable actors, a man who could simply slip into any role, his strength was his unconventional looks. He could slip into any role without much fuss, yet that would also prove to be his weakness. His unconventional looks and his mixed parentage( his father was Irish-Mexican and his mother was Mexican), meant that Hollywood as it’s wont, ended up typecasting him in secondary roles or ethnic villain roles. By 1947 he had acted well over in 50 movies, playing Red Indians, Hawaiian chiefs, Chinese guerillas, comic Arabs or gangsters, but most of them were totally stereotypical roles.
It was Elia Kazan’s 1952 movie Viva Zapata , the story of the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata , that gave Anthony Quinn his first major break. As Eufemio, the brother of the title character, played by Marlon Brando , he took the honors as well as the Best Supporting Actor award for the movie. But fed up of Hollywood’s tendency to stereotype him, he moved towards Italy. As he once remarked in a later interview “In Europe an actor is an artist, In Hollywood if he isn’t working he is a bum instead”.
From 1953 he acted in a host of Italian movies, where he became a well known actor, his most famous being Federico Fellini’s 1954 movie La Strada . Winner of the Best Foreign Movie. Quinn plays a circus strongman Zampano , who is totally dim witted, oafish and a brute. He buys a young slightly childish girl called Gelsomina. He exploits her as a sidekick, abusing her physically and mentally, yet she still retains her love for him. Tragic and bitter sweet, this still remains one of the best Italian movies to be ever made.
The 1954 Italian movie about Attila the Hun , was however a major dud. 1956 saw him again winning the Best Supporting Actor playing Paul Gauguin to Kirk Douglas’s Vincent Van Gogh , in the movie adaptation of Lust for Life . One of Douglas best performances, he was however shattered when he did not win the Oscar for it. He also played the role of Quasmido in the 1956 French version Notre Dame De Paris , the movie version of Victor Hugo’s classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Gina Lollobridga , played the ravishing gypsy girl, Esmerelda. As the deformed Quasmido, who has to satisfy his master’s lust for the gypsy girl, yet torn by the fact that he loves her, he was just brilliant. He did act in a number of Westerns also during this period, with Hollywood now accepting him as a major star.
One of the more memorable ones is 1959’s Last Train from Gun Hill, where he plays a wealthy rancher, who has to protect his son from the sheriff, whose wife he had raped and murdered.
The 60’s would see some of Anthony Quinn’s best work. Starting off with the Innocents, where he played an Eskimo leader Inuk, who needs to fight against the threat to their way of life, he would become famous to movie goers, especially in India, with his role as Andrea the resistance fighter in the 1961 war classic, The Guns of Navaronne . The movie had fantastic performances from Gregory Peck and David Niven, but as Andrea, it was Quinn who stole the show. One of his best acts being in the scene, when he feigns innocence, and then fools the Nazis, when they are captured. The same year he would play the role of Barabas, the thief who was set free for Jesus Christ to be crucified, and his later experience. He would also come up with another stunning performance as an aging ex boxer in Requiem for a Heavy Weight .
As the Arab chieftain Auda Abu Tayi in David Lean’s 1962 classic Lawrence of Arabia , he still manages to create an impression in an ensemble cast of Peter O Toole, Omar Sharif and Sir Alec Guiness .
1964 saw one of the most memorable characters, a man with an undeniable lust for life, some one who teaches a cynical Englishman the joy of living on a Greek island. Alexis Zorba or Zorba the Greek, is one of the most memorable movie to have ever come out. As a person who believes in living life to the full, Anthony Quinn was just brilliant. He brings alive the character of the Greek islander, also popularizing the Sirtaki dance.
In 1976 Anthony Quinn played the role of the Prophet’s uncle Hamza, in the Message, a movie that traces the birth of Islam and it’s spread.
He also played a Basque shepherd who helps a group of people escape from the Nazis in 1979’s The Passage.
1981 again saw him teaming up with his Message director Moustafa Akkad for another memorable movie on the Libyan freedom fighter, Omar Mukhtar, the Lion of the Desert . Also featuring excellent performances by Oliver Reed as Graziani and Rod Steiger as Mussolin, the movie has some spectacular battle scenes shot in the desert. Though it did not do very well in the US, it was a major success in the Arab world, as well as in India, where it was released as Lion of the Desert.