PlotBasil (Alan Bates) is a half-English, half-Greek writer raised in Britain who bears the hallmarks of an uptight, middle-class Englishman. He is waiting at the Athens port of Piraeus on mainland Greece to catch a boat to Crete when he meets a gruff, yet enthusiastic peasant and musician named Zorba (Anthony Quinn). Basil explains to Zorba that he is traveling to a rural Cretan village where his father owns some land, with the intention of reopening a lignite mine and perhaps curing his writer's block. Zorba relates his experience with mining and convinces Basil to take him along.
When they arrive at Crete, they take a car to the village where they are greeted enthusiastically by the town's impoverished peasant community. They stay with an old French war widow and cortesan named Madame Hortense (Lila Kedrova) in her self-styled "Hotel Ritz". The audacious Zorba tries to persuade Basil into making a move on the much older Madame Hortense, but when he is understandably reluctant, ...
Basil (Alan Bates) is a half-English, half-Greek writer raised in Britain who bears the hallmarks of an uptight, middle-class Englishman. He is waiting at the Athens port of Piraeus on mainland Greece to catch a boat to Crete when he meets a gruff, yet enthusiastic peasant and musician named Zorba (Anthony Quinn). Basil explains to Zorba that he is traveling to a rural Cretan village where his father owns some land, with the intention of reopening a lignite mine and perhaps curing his writer's block. Zorba relates his experience with mining and convinces Basil to take him along.
When they arrive at Crete, they take a car to the village where they are greeted enthusiastically by the town's impoverished peasant community. They stay with an old French war widow and cortesan named Madame Hortense (Lila Kedrova) in her self-styled "Hotel Ritz". The audacious Zorba tries to persuade Basil into making a move on the much older Madame Hortense, but when he is understandably reluctant, Zorba seizes the opportunity, and they form a relationship.
Over the next few days, Basil and Zorba attempt to work the old lignite mine, but find it unsafe and shut it down. Zorba then has an idea to use the forest in the nearby mountains for logging (although his specific plan is left ambiguous), however the land is owned by a powerful monastery, so Zorba visits and befriends the monks, getting them drunk. Afterwards, he comes home to Basil and begins to dance in a way that mesmerizes Basil.
Meanwhile, Basil and Zorba get their first introduction to "the Widow" (Irene Papas), a young and attractive widowed woman, who is incessantly teased by the townspeople for not remarrying, especially to a young, local boy who is madly in love with her, but whom she has spurned repeatedly. One rainy afternoon, Basil offers her his umbrella, which she reluctantly takes. Zorba suggests that she is attracted to him, but Basil, ever shy, denies this and refuses to pursue the widow.
Basil hands Zorba some money, and sends him off to the large town of Chania, where Zorba is to buy cable and other supplies for the implementation of his grand plan. Zorba says goodbye to Basil and Madame Hortense, who is by now madly in love with him. In Chania, Zorba entertains himself at a cabaret and strikes up a brief romance with a much younger dancer. In a letter to Basil, he details his exploits and indicates that he has found love. Angered by Zorba's apparent irresponsibility and the squandering of his money, Basil untruthfully tells Madame Hortense that Zorba has declared his love to her and intends to marry her upon his return – to which she is ecstatic to the point of tears. Meanwhile, the Widow returns Basil's umbrella by way of Mimithos (Sotiris Moustakas), the village idiot.
When Zorba eventually returns with supplies and gifts, he is surprised and angered to hear of Basil's lie to Madame Hortense. He also asks Basil about his whereabouts the night before. That night, Basil had gone to the Widow's house, made love to her and spent the night. The brief encounter comes at great cost. A villager catches sight of them, and word spreads, and the young, local boy who is in love with the Widow is taunted mercilessly about it. The next morning, the villagers find his body by the sea, where he has drowned himself out of shame.
The boy's father holds a funeral which the villagers attend. The widow attempts to come inconspicuously, but is blocked from entering the church. She is eventually trapped in the courtyard, then beaten and stoned by the villagers, who hold her responsible for the boy's suicide. Basil, meek and fearful of intervening, tells Mimithos to quickly fetch Zorba. Zorba arrives just as a villager, a friend of the boy, tries to pull a knife and kill the widow. Zorba overpowers the much younger man and disarms him. Thinking that the situation is under control, Zorba asks the Widow to follow him and turns his back. At that moment, the dead boy's father pulls his knife and cuts the widow's throat. She dies at once, as the villagers shuffle away apathetically, whisking the father away. Only Basil, Zorba and Mimithos show any emotion over her murder. Basil proclaims his inability to intervene whereupon Zorba laments the futility of death.
On a rainy day, Basil and Zorba come home and find Madame Hortense waiting. She expresses anger at Zorba for making no progress on the wedding. Zorba conjures up a story that he had ordered a white satin wedding dress, lined with pearls and adorned with real gold. Madame Hortense presents two golden rings she had made and proposes their immediate engagement. Zorba tries to stall, but eventually agrees with gusto, to Basil's surprise.
Some time later, Madame Hortense has contracted pneumonia, and is seen on her deathbed. Zorba stays by her side, along with Basil. Meanwhile, word has spread that "the foreigner" is dying, and since she has no heirs, the State will take her possessions and money. The desperately poor villagers crowd around her hotel, impatiently waiting for her demise so they can steal her belongings. As two old ladies enter her room and gaze expectantly at her, other women try to enter, but Zorba manages to fight them off. At the instant of her death, the women re-enter Madame Hortense's bedroom ''en masse'' to steal her valued possessions. Zorba leaves with a sigh, as the hotel is ransacked and stripped bare by the shrieking and excited villagers. When Zorba returns to Madame Hortense's bedroom, the room is barren apart from her bed (where she lies) and the bird in her cage. Zorba takes the birdcage with him.
Finally, Zorba's elaborate contraption to transport timber down the hill is complete. A festive ceremony, including lamb on a spit is held, and all the villagers turned out. After a blessing from the priests, Zorba signals the start by firing a rifle in the air. A log comes hurtling down the zip line at a worrying pace, destroying the log itself and slightly damaging part of the contraption. Zorba remains unconcerned and gives orders for a second log. This one also speeds down and shoots straight into the sea. By now the villagers and priests have grown fearful and head for cover. Zorba remains unfazed and orders a third log, which accelerates downhill with such violence that it dislodges the entire contraption, destroying everything. The villagers flee, leaving Basil and Zorba behind.
Basil and Zorba sit by the shore to eat roasted lamb for lunch. Zorba pretends to tell the future from the lamb shank, saying that he foresees a great journey to a big city. He then asks Basil directly when he plans to leave, and Basil replies that he will leave in a few days. Zorba declares his sadness about Basil's imminent departure to England and tells Basil that he is missing madness. Basil asks Zorba to teach him to dance. Zorba teaches him the sirtaki and Basil begins to laugh hysterically at the catastrophic outcome. The story ends with both men enthusiastically dancing the sirtaki on the beach.
This article uses material from the Wikipedia article "Zorba_the_Greek_(film)", which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0