(director/writer: Elia Kazan; screenwriter: from the novel by Elia Kazan; cinematographer: Haskell Wexler; editor: Dede Allen; music: Manos Hatzidakis; cast: Stathis Giallelis (Stavros Topouzoglou), Frank Wolff (Vartan Damadian), Harry Davis (Isaac Topouzoglou), Elena Karam (Vasso Topouzoglou), Estelle Hemsley (Grandmother Topouzoglou), Lou Antonio (Abdul), John Marley (Garabet), Gregory Rozakis (Hohanness Gardashian), Salem Ludwig (Odysseus Topouzoglou), Robert H. Harris (Aratoon Kebabian), Katharine Balfour (Sophia Kebabian); Runtime: 174; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Elia Kazan; Warner Bros.; 1963)

“One of the greatest ever immigrant pics.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This impassioned family drama, cast with unknown actors, one of the greatest ever immigrant pics, was shot by Haskell Wexler in a stark black-and-white giving it a documentary look. Elia Kazan’s (“On The Waterfront”/”Viva Zapata!”/”Gentleman’s Agreement”) directorial efforts benefit from the film’s lack of theatricality and fantastic location shots giving it an authentic feel. It’s based on his novel and tells the tale of a young Greek, Stavros Topouzoglou (Stathis Giallelis), Kazan’s real-life uncle, and his struggle in 1896 to come to America from his oppressed homeland of Anatolia—occupied by Turkey, where the subjects were Armenians and Greeks.

When Stavros’s best friend, the Armenian ice man Vartan, is murdered for standing up to the Turks’ harsh rule, he plots to go to America and gets a leg up on his journey by going to Constantinople in order to join his cousin Odysseus’ rug business. His parents, Isaac and Vasso, plan to join their son later, and entrust him with the family valuables. On the way across the mountains, the dishonest Turk, Abdul, robs the boy he previously befriended. Later Stavros catches up with Abdul and slays him, but reaches his cousin’s home penniless and disgraced. There he joins a group of revolutionaries and is seriously wounded during a raid. When Stavros reneges from an arranged marriage to the homely daughter of a wealthy rug dealer, he manages to take enough of the dowry to reach the new country by ship. There are more adventures aboard the ship with an American-Greek married woman, Sophia Kebabian, who endangers his passage when her rug buyer hubby catches them and threatens to have him deported to Turkey. While hiding aboard the ship, he meets Hohanness Gardashian, a young Armenian indentured shoeshine boys on his way to New York, and discovers he’s dying from tuberculosis. Just as Stavros’ chances for escape seem impossible, Hohanness jumps over the side of the ship and drowns himself, and has granted Stavros permission to use his name and take over the shoeshine job. Stavros reaches America and finds it’s not wholly as magical as he imagined but begins saving money to bring his family to join him. His difficult journey on steerage speaks for many others (maybe a bit more exciting!) who landed on Ellis Island at the turn of the century and made a better life for themselves escaping the Old World’s oppressions.