William Kyriakis, Radley Metzger, 1961
Starring: Athan Karras, Jeanne Jerrems, David Hooks, Rosemary Torri
Radley Metzger’s first film, co-directed with his friend William Kyriakis, is a straightforward drama with touches of the crime or noir genres, and is completely different from the rest of Metzger’s output. Yianni, a Greek sailer who has emigrated to New York City, is determined to find the man responsible for his sister’s dishonor and death. She was engaged to a man who abandoned her and her subsequent suicide is a result of public shame with the implication of rape or some damning sexual relationship. During his quest to find this man, Yianni meets Nikki, a lovely, innocent Greek American. He falls in love with her and begins to believe that they could lead a normal, happy life and perhaps he should abandon his revenge plot.
Though Dark Odyssey aka Passionate Sunday is unlikely to attract fans of Metzger’s erotic films, it is worthy of seeing for a number of reasons. First, it presents a realistic snapshot of every day life in New York in the ‘50s, one that runs concurrently with the film’s narrative. Second, it is one of the most intimate filmic looks at post-war Greek immigrants, their life in America and the continuation of their cultural traditions. Many of the actors and extras were Greek, the film was shot in Greek neighborhoods in Washington Heights, on the Hudson, and near the George Washington Bridge, in a Greek-owned nightclub, diner, church, etc. Many of the people involved with the film donated their time and locations. When it finally received distribution, it was shown in theaters frequented by Greek-American and there is allegedly a dubbed Greek-language version of the film to make it more appealing to Greek Americans.
This neorealist family drama, focused on honor and ethics, bears little relationship to any of Metzger’s other works and instead feels like a combination of John Cassavetes, Morris Engle, Elia Kazan, and maybe even early Scorsese. Shot independently, this is a film about regular people in ‘50s New York: sailors, immigrants, working class people with difficult lives. It captures the ins and outs of Greek family life, of the relationship between traditional Greek parents and their American born children who are beginning to adopt different cultural values. This seems to have been largely the love child of co-director William Kyriakis, himself a Greek immigrant who grew up in New York. He wrote most of the film himself and co-produced and directed with Metzger.
Though the film did well critically, even garnering praise from the New York Times, the difficulty finding a distributor and lack of advertising ensured box office failure. Dark Odyssey was eventually rescued from obscurity by First Run Features, who released in on VHS. Image Entertainment later released it on DVD as part of their extensive Metzger series. This version is now out of print, but you can still find copies online. Dark Odyssey is an interesting snapshot of a past era and is overall well made, with interesting characters, an emotionally impactful script, and gritty, but attractive camera work. With that said, unless you are a fan of neorealism, Dark Odyssey is probably not a must-see and feels out of place with the rest of Metzger’s work.