No, the legendary film star is not listed among the great philosophers. However he did star in three of my favorite films in which his character utters some of the greatest philopsophical comments of all time. First was his role in “La Strada” perhaps Federico Fellini’s best film. Quinn plays a circus strongman and Fellini’s wife Giulieta Masini plays the winsome waif he buys from her family to be his assistant and companion. They do not speak often so there are few remarkable lines. Quinn abandons Mesini when she looses all desire and interest following Quinn’s accidental killing of a circus companion who showed Mesini some compassion as opposed to Quinn’s brutish behavior. He later finds that she was taken in by a family but dies of utter dissolution. This sad news strikes Quinn like a bolt of lightning and he goes to a nearby beach to stare at the sunset and cry when he finally realizes that Mesini had been the only person who really loved and cared for him.
Next was perhaps his most famous role as Zorba in the film “Zorba the Greek.” The film is rich with memorable lines that reveal the nature and philosophy of this larger than life character. When his Engilishman employer says they will enjoy the project they underake, to rebuild a mine owned by the Englishman, and Quinn will entertian them with his music and dance Quinn somberly responds, “Boss, in work I am your man, but in play I am my own.”
In another moment the Engllishman asks, “Telll me Zorba, are you married?” Quinn replies, “Am I not a man, is not a man a fool? I am married, wife, children, home, the full catastrophe.”
In a further question, the Englishman asks, “What work do you do Zorba?” Quinn responds, “Work, my hands, feet do the job, who am I to choose?”
The film ends with the mining venture an utter failure and the Englishman finally giving in to the free spirit of Zorba. The Englishman capitulates by asking Zorba, “Teach me to dance” and he does.
The third film is the “Secret of Santa Vittoria,” which has the people of a small village in Italy following the overthrow of Mussolini as World War II is coming to an end put their facist government in jail. They then learn that the German army is coming to the village to occupy it and demand them to hand over the stores of their famous wine. Quinn plays the village drunk and Anna Magnani plays the owner of the village bar. Needing a new mayor who they can hand over to the Germans, the villagers elect Quinn, their most expendable citizen, as mayor. When he tells his wife the news she exclaims, “Why they elect you mayor?” Quinn responds, “Because I smell the people and the people smell me.”
Quinn then tries to get Magnani’s sympathy when he tells her, “When the Germans come, the commander willl put a gun to my head and demand, ‘Bombolini (Quinn’s character’s name) tell us where the wine is stored or I will blow your brains out.” Maginani responds, “You crazy, why they put a gun to your head when all the world knows that Bombolini’s brains are in his ass.?”
Words to live by and an elequent expression of a philosophy for life. Who would have thought Quinn to be a philosopher?