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Film / America America

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"My name is Elia Kazan. I am a Greek by blood, a Turk by birth and an American because my uncle made a journey."

America America is a 1963 drama film written and directed by Elia Kazan.

It is loosely based on the experiences of Kazan's uncle Avram, called "Stavros Topouzoglou" in the film. Stavros is a young Greek who lives with his Greek Orthodox family in a Christian village in Turkey—the Ottoman Empire, actually—in the latter part of the 19th century. The ruling Muslim Turks treat the Christian Greeks and Armenians as domestic enemies. Stavros's father chokes down his resentment of the Turks in order to protect his family, but after a violent pogrom perpetrated by the Turks against the Armenians of the village, Stavros's father gives him all the family's material assets and tells him to go to Constantinople and thence to America. Stavros has a difficult journey in which he loses all his family's money and possessions and winds up penniless in Constantinople, but he refuses to give up on his dream of escape to America.

America America was based by Kazan on his memoir of his family's history. Other Kazan films like On the Waterfront are better remembered in latter days, but this was Kazan's favorite of his own films.


  • As You Know: Stavros's mother introduces him to Stavros's father with "Isaac, your eldest."
  • Blackmail: The Turkish bureaucrat in charge of the village assures Isaac that nothing will be done to the Greeks, then makes a thinly veiled payoff demand, saying "I know you do very well." It is then when Isaac elects to send his son Stavros away with the family bankroll.
  • Call-Forward: The Greek elders in the village tell each other that the Armenians' problem is not their problem. A sarcastic Stavros asks who they think the Turks will come after next. Almost all the Greeks in Turkey were forcibly ejected from the country following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the foundation of Turkey after World War I.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: One scene in the first act shows Stavros meeting Hohannes, a man traveling on foot to Constantinople and thence to America. In the third act over an hour later Stavros meets him again. Hohannes eventually makes Stavros's escape to America possible by switching papers with Stavros after Stavros is barred from entry.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Back in his village, early in the film, Stavros meets Hohannes, a pilgrim in ratty shoes who says he's going to walk all the way to Constantinople and then sail to America. Stavros gives Hohannes his shoes. Nearly a year later and hundreds of miles away in the metropolis of Constantinople, Stavros meets Hohannes again.
  • Creative Closing Credits: Elia Kazan narrates the main credits as they appear onscreen (although he does not narrate his own credit as writer/director).
  • Description Cut: Stavros sends a letter home telling his family that he has "a good appetite." The film then cuts to Stavros scavenging for food in the garbage thrown out of the sultan's palace.
  • The Determinator: Stavros WILL get to America, by hook or by crook. Not only does he make it, he eventually makes good on his promise and brings over all of his family except for his father, who dies in Turkey.
  • Dutch Angle: Used for a shot of the Greek elders in the town as the anti-Armenian government proclamation is read out. It isn't actually against them, but it's still bad news.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Stavros nearly gets killed by the Turks. He is tricked, robbed of all his stuff, and nearly killed by a Muslim con artist. He roots through garbage for food in Constantinople. He loses his tiny nest egg when it's stolen by a prostitute. He's nearly killed again when caught in a Turkish raid on Greek dissidents (in fact he's mistaken for dead and chucked on a pile of corpses). He has to abandon Thomna, whom he's clearly grown to love. He's nearly barred from entry to the United States. But he finally, finally makes it to America.
  • Exact Words: Thomna's father says that Stavros and Thomna should live with him, and then tells Stavros not to take his daughter away. Stavros says "I will not take your daughter away from you," because he isn't going to marry her, he's going to use the dowry to escape to America.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Abdul, the Muslim man that Stavros meets on the way to Constantinople. Abdul acts friendly towards him and calls him "brother", but winds up bleeding Stavros of his money until he finally accuses Stavros of theft, causing Stavros to lose everything but a few coins he managed to swallow. Then Abdul tracks Stavros down again and, while still acting friendly and charming, says that he's going to kill Stavros and cut the coins out. Stavros kills him instead.
  • Gold Digger: Stavros's uncle's plan for him. After finding out that Stavros lost the family bankroll and has nothing, the uncle plans to marry him to Thomna, the plain daughter of a wealthy businessman. It would have worked, as Thomna falls in love with him, but Stavros is determined to go to America and eventually tells Thomna he won't marry her.
  • Heroic Suicide: Stavros has been barred from America after Mr. Kebabian caught him doing the horizontal mambo with Mrs. Kebabian. Hohannes has a free pass to America due to his Indentured Servitude opportunity, but he remembers the kindnesses Stavros did for him, like giving him his shoes. He also knows that His Days Are Numbered due to that Incurable Cough of Death. So Hohannes jumps off the ship to his death, within sight of Ellis Island, while leaving behind Stavros's shoes—with his ID papers inside. Stavros makes it past immigration and into America by using Hohannes's name.
  • Immigrant Patriotism: As exhibited by Stavros, who couldn't be happier to be in his new country, even cheerfully accepting the Anglicized name "Joe Arness" from "Hohannes".
  • An Immigrant's Tale: This one being all about the journey. After much suffering, Stavros finally gets to America about five minutes before the movie ends.
  • Important Hair Accessory: Stavros chucks his Turkish fez in the ocean as the ship approaches America, vowing to get a fashionable American straw boater hat. Mrs. Kebabian gets a straw boater to him as the ship docks.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: When Hohannes the pilgrim is reintroduced in the third act, he is coughing. He's tubercular.
  • Indentured Servitude: A weaselly American businessman routinely pays for the passage of young Greek men to America, in return for them working for him without pay for two years as shoeshine boys. The officials at Ellis Island even call Stavros and his fellow indentured servants "slaves."
  • Jump Cut: A few of these when Stavros's uncle receives him in Constantinople. The uncle excitedly plans to plow Stavros's money into the rug merchant business—Jump Cut to the uncle reacting in horror after finding out that Stavros lost all his money—Jump Cut to the uncle, now calmer, planning to marry Stavros off to salvage the situation.
  • Kissing the Ground: Stavros does this after his long epic journey (and a three-hour Epic Movie) ends with him passing through immigration and stepping ashore at Ellis Island.
  • Lady Drunk: Mrs. Kebabian. Former Trophy Wife now trapped in a loveless marriage to a businessman who married her when she was eighteen. Routinely gets drunk in the daytime—her maid cuts her off at one point, and her husband notes an empty wine bottle in the room. Lusting for Stavros, she tells him through drunken tears about how she wasted the best years of her life in her marriage and now mourns her lost youth. Eventually gives Stavros $50 (not a bad stake in 1890s America) to help him get settled.
  • Mrs. Robinson: Mrs. Kebabian, who is fortyish and casts carnivorous glances at much younger Stavros from the first time she meets him. It's a sympathetic example, as she's a sad and lonely woman trapped in an unhappy marriage.
  • The Purge: The violent Turkish persecution of Armenians, which leads to every Armenian in Stavros's village being either murdered or imprisoned. Verges on Final Solution—especially in the scene where innocent Armenians are burned to death in a church—although in Real Life the Final Solution, the Armenian Genocide, didn't happen until World War I.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: The camera does not show Stavros's encounter with a beautiful prostitute. But it does show her stealing his money immediately after.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Pretty darn cynical for most of the movie. Stavros is robbed and nearly killed by the con artist, ruthlessly exploited during his time as a porter at the docks, robbed by a prostitute, then nearly killed by the Turks just for being at a meeting. Eventually he grows hard, telling guileless Hohannes that people should only trust themselves, and that you can't be "human" because others will exploit your weakness. It veers towards idealism at the end, though. It is Hohannes, who remembers Stavros's friendship and generosity to him, and specifically Stavros giving Hohannes his shoes, who performs the Heroic Suicide that allows Stavros to come to America.
  • Spiteful Spit: An Armenian spits in the face of a Turkish gendarme, and is murdered immediately thereafter.
  • Title Drop: The other porters at the Constantinople docks laugh at Stavros's talk of the United States and start calling him "America, America". Stavros's father also says this at the end while reading a letter from Stavros.
  • Translation Convention: All the dialogue is in English, but when Stavros arrives in America he can't understand a word that the immigration officials are saying.
  • Video Credits: Sort of - stills of all the actors as their names appear in the credits.