DVD: Dream of Kings, A (1969)

January 21, 2015 | By


DreamOfKingsFilm: Good

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: n/a

Label: Warner Archive (MOD)

Region: 0 (NTSC)

Released:  June 22, 2009

Genre:  Drama

Synopsis: A gambler resorts to desperate actions and indulgences when he’s told his son is dying.

Special Features:  (None)




What begins as a small drama about a liar, gambler, womanizer, father, and proud Greek turns into a much different film when lead character Matsoukas (Anthony Quinn) makes the first of several terrible decisions and pushes the story in a direction that may have worked in Harry Mark Petrakis’ novel, but in Daniel Mann’s film it causes Matsoukas to lose some badly needed audience sympathy.

One could regard A Dream of Kings as a variation on Zorba the Greek (1964), especially since it reunites Quinn with co-star Irene Papas – Quinn also has a dance scene which is pivotal in illustrating the disintegrating relationship with wife Caliope (Papas) – but it’s really a tale of a loser whose personal problems eventually push him towards a desperate act, one that goes completely against his moral fiber and being a self-described ‘honest gambler.’

In the working class Greek neighbourhood of Chicago, Matsoukas is a kind of community motivational counselor, an elder whose experience in the steel industry during his younger years and religious devotion to his homeland sometimes brings in older men or wayward teens and their moms in need of some sage / practical advice. He charges a pittance for his meek services, but uses his gambling acumen to magnify the day’s income, even though in most cases the thrill of having a great hand and maintaining a perfect bluff is often all that he takes home.

Living in a cramped tenement building, the Matsoukas family consists of father, mother, a vitriolic mother-in-law whose pension keeps the roof over their heads, two daughters, and an ailing son (future Kung Fu star Radames Pera) whom Matsoukas believes will not die if he’s brought to Mount Olympus and bathed in the rejuvenating light of the Greek sun.

Eschewing the advice of his wife and family doctor, an angry Matsoukas goes for a late night drink, and on the way home, stops at the rear of a local bakery run by a widow he’s been admiring from his office window. Whether it’s due to the booze or his own ego, he makes the wrong moral choice and starts an affair with Anna (Inger Stevens).

Everything that can go wrong does, but as the script by Petrakis and Ian McLellan Hunter (Roman HolidayYour Ticket is No Longer Valid) takes Matsoukas to the finale, the real problem becomes one of focus, and interpretation.

Quinn is amazing – it’s a subtle performance with a lot of dark emotional subtext which harkens back to the live fifties teleplays that bubbled with frank topics and grungy emotions – and there’s no doubt Papas and Quinn have perfect screen chemistry, feeding off each other’s energy, but the character of Anna is so weak it almost crashes the film. Stevens had little dialogue or character depth to mine, so watching her suddenly switch from a jittery, paranoid woman to a temptress willing to give all to this strange older man makes absolutely no sense. If the character was in the novel, one hopes she had a greater purpose, because here she’s a throwaway character that really adds nothing to the story, nor deepens the divide between Matsoukas and Caliope. (Stevens and Quinn reportedly had a history, so perhaps her casting was merely a job for an old friend.)

Worse is the stilted, chunky dialogue which, when characters are having high-pitched fits, sounds like functional prose lifted from the novel but poorly shaped to suit the needs of a film. A great example is the contrast between Matsoukas coming home drunk at the film’s beginning, wrestling with Anna, and playfully teasing until the two have sex versus the Big End Confrontation in a bathroom, where he arrives home battered and bruised and she lets loose, venting the anger kept shuttered since their marriage began to falter. Even Anna’s parting tirade to Matsoukas is quite awful, but Mann treats the scenes as kitchen sink drama, making the aforementioned bathroom scene kind of fascinating to observe: the actors play the scenes with full, true emotional intensity; Mann covers the performances with close shots to grab as much honesty as possible, even when slightly out of focus; and the inadequate dialogue just dribbles to the floor.

Alex North’s music helps soften the film’s awkward sections– the composer creates a tense undercurrent in spite of a recurring main theme evoking Matsoukas’ ‘kingly’ persona and grace – and the cinematography by Richard H. Kline (MandingoBody HeatThe Fury) is both elegant and intense, but A Dream of Kings is a seriously uneven film; it manages to work only because the film’s most engaging storyline – the disintegration of a marriage – is so beautifully realized by Quinn, Papas, and Mann.

Quinn’s often criticized for falling back on his grinning, benevolent Zorba alter-ego (or for that matter, the Zorba-esque buffoon Bombolini in The Secret of Santa Vittoria, also made in 1969), but Matsoukas is a complex man: stubborn, delusional, yet in the end always well-meaning, even when forcing an affair with Anna whom he feels deserves his motivational praise and virility to wake up from a widow’s slumber.

Long unavailable on video, this Warner Archives MOD features a very lovely transfer that shows off the great locations, and North’s score sounds clean – a surprise to those familiar with the bullshit stereo soundtrack LP.

A Dream of Kings was one of seven films produced by film exhibitors National General Corporation, which also includes Robert Kennedy Remembered (1968), Charro! (1969), Latitude Zero / Ido zero daisakusen (1969), The Grasshopper (1970), The Cheyenne Social Club (1970), and The Baby Maker (1970).

Anthony Quinn and Irene Papas appeared in six feature films, including Attila (1954), The Guns of Navarone (1961), Zorba the Greek (1964), A Dream of Kings (1969), The Message (1977), and Lion of the Desert (1981).

Dream is also noted as Inger Stevens’ final feature film. After working in TV (most memorably in the 1960 Twilight Zone episode “The Hitch-Hiker”), the actress slowly graduated to feature films, often paired with veteran (and aging) stars in comedies (A Guide for the Marrying Man), westerns (FirecreekHang ‘Em High), and detective thrillers (Madigan). Stevens committed suicide at the age of 35, two months after the film’s release.

After directing major stars in top dramas during the fifties Daniel Mann’s subsequent films yielded rather uneven results. Our Man Flint (1966) was fun escapism, but like Dream, the story of a gambler in For Love of Ivy (1968) was similarly flawed, and quite unsatisfying. After the cult rodent thriller Willard (1971) and the grim The Revengers (1972), Mann worked almost exclusively in TV, ending his career with the drama The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains (1987).



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
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