Thursday, March 19, 2015

It Happened in Athens

History tells us that Spiridon Loues won the first marathon at the modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. From this bit of history, Fox added a lot of fluff and gave us the movie It Happened in Athens, airing at 11:15 AM on March 20 on FXM Retro.

Loues, played here by Trax Colton who was presumably being groomed for stardom but never attained it, is portrayed as a shepherd in a poor farm family living someplace in the mountains not too far away from Athens. He does a lot of running as part of his herding the sheep, and he must be the fastest man in the village. So when he hears about the Olympic games to be held soon in Athens, he wants to go to Athens to run the marathon. As though you can just show up and they'll let you in, but this is a movie, and it's set in a simpler time.

Unsurprisingly, when he gets to Athens, he finds his path to running in the marathon blocked, because the Olympic trials were already held. He's also got no money and no place to stay. So a young woman from his town named Christina (Maria Xenia as she's credited although she's really got a Greek name that fits the old joke that "It's Greek to me!") lets him take a shower in the house where the woman she works for lives. That woman, Eleni Costa (Jayne Mansfield) is an actress, in love with dashing Army Lt. Alexi Vinardos (Nico Minardos), who is also going to be running in the marathon, and is widely considered the favorite.

Alexi is so much the favorite, in fact, that Eleni allows herself to be used in a promotion that she'll marry whoever wins the marathon, because who wouldn't want to marry a hot woman like Jayne Mansfield? Well, not Spiridon. He's fallen in love with Christina, although Christina is due to emigrate soon to America. Eventually, Spiridon is able to convince the US delegation that he's got the Olympic spirit, and they convince Pierre de Coubertin and the powers that be that Spiridon should run. You can guess that Spiridon wins, and there's the dilemma of what Eleni will do, and whether Christina will be forced to emigrate.

The portrayal of the marathon is actually far worse than the one depicted in The Games. Everybody takes ridiculous breaks; Spiridon's dog keeps following him; and Spiridon's family follows him on their cart, all while semaphore men are relaying the results to the folks waiting in the Olympic stadium. There was telegraph back then, but no radio, and telephones wouldn't have been mobile enough to transmit the information. The result of all this is a movie that's laughably stupid at times, but winds up being a pleasant enough diversion.

There's one big problem, however, and that is that the last time FXM Retro ran the movie, it was a panned-and-scanned print. At least establishing shots were done in Greece, and the scenery looks like it would be quite nice in Cinemascope. Instead, we get what I like to call the "Cinemascope diet" for the credits, where everything is simply squeezed into 4:3 with no panning, making everybody look rail thin and tall; the meat of the movie is panned and scanned and looks lousy. As far as I'm aware, the movie isn't on DVD, either.

No comments: