Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 6, 2017)
In 1960, director Jules Dassin and actor Melina Mercouri paired for the successful Never on Sunday. These two united again for another romantic drama via 1962ís Phaedra.
Loosely influenced by the work of Euripides, the film introduces us to Phaedra (Mercouri), the daughter of a shipping magnate. She marries her fatherís biggest competitor, Thanos Karillas (Raf Villone), and this allows her to live a life of luxury Ė and boredom, as Phaedra feels unfulfilled.
Thanos discovers that his estranged son Alexis (Anthony Perkins) has dropped out of school, so he sends Phaedra to London to retrieve the young man. This takes an unexpected turn when Phaedra falls in love with her stepson and launches into a fateful affair.
Given my prior experiences with Dassinís work, I felt surprised to see him at the head of a drama such as Phaedra. I associate Dassin with crime-related films such as Rififi and Night and the City, not romantic fare such as this.
Indeed, without Dassin involved, I wouldnít have given Phaedra a look. I took interest in the movie solely due to the directorís track record, as the story didnít sound compelling to me.
Alas, my initial instinct proved correct. Even in Dassinís talented hands, Phaedra becomes a misfire.
Some of the problems stem from the casting, as our two leads feel wrong for their roles. With a rather hard-edged, severe appearance, I find to tough to accept Mercouri as the woman all men crave. She lacks classic beauty and could seem borderline unattractive at times, a bad match for a character weíre supposed to accept as some sort of goddess.
Even worse, Perkins becomes a terrible match for Alexis. Because he and Phaedra fall in love virtually immediately, we need for Alexis to seem charismatic and dynamic, qualities that Perkins canít pull off.
Indeed, Perkinsí Alexis lacks any compelling qualities whatsoever. Perkins plays the role in a flouncy, goofball manner that makes Alexis seem like a mentally limited nine-year-old, not a talented young man who entices his supposedly beautiful stepmother.
Perhaps Iíd buy the Alexis/Phaedra romance better if the movie used someone less dynamic than Vallone as Thanos. Handsome, vigorous and magnetic, it seems very tough to accept that Phaedra would prefer simpy Alexis to his dynamic father. Maybe a less charismatic actor wouldíve worked better.
Or maybe not, as the movieís problems donít end with the actors. Phaedra boasts cheesy dialogue that feels like taglines from trailers, and the film tries desperately to create heat and drama. It canít - it remains goofy and unbelievable at all times.
Thatís the greatest flaw in Phaedra: itís just too darned silly. Overwrought and melodramatic, the film fails to create a compelling tale.