The classic Greek tragedy Hippolytus may seem an odd choice for the likes of Melina Mercouri and Anthony Perkins, but this is not your grandfather's version of the story. Jules Dassin has updated the tale to modern times, finding apt counterparts for ancient royalty in the world of wealthy shipping tycoons, and giving the proceedings a contemporary feel that doesn't negate the tragic aspects of the story. In these circumstances, Mercouri and Perkins are ideally cast and indeed give wonderful performances. Mercouri exudes sensuality, of course, but she's much more sophisticated and tempestuous than one might expect; she brings a spontaneous complexity to the role that is refreshing. Perkins is appropriately tortured; his neurotic quality is expected, of course, but there's an intensity to it here that is beautiful, and his mad scene is exceptional. Equally important, there's a palpable chemistry between them, and the fireside seduction scene is one of the most erotic sequences ever caught on film. (This moment is greatly aided, as if the whole movie, by the evocative Mikis Theodorakis score.) Unfortunately, Dassin doesn't quite know when to pull back, and he too often directs with a heavy hand, weighing the film down at inappropriate moments. Despite this flaw, Phaedra is a powerful, unforgettable film.
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Inspired by Euripedes' tragedy Hippolytus and set in modern times, this allegorical tale centers on the love triangle between a fabulously wealthy Greek shipping magnate, his lonely second wife, and his first-born son. The affair between the wife and her stepson begins soon after she arrives in London to bring him back to Greece so her husband can teach him about shipping and he can marry another tycoon's daughter to cement a new alliance. Though the son quickly falls in love with his beautiful stepmother, he cannot overcome his crushing guilt at having betrayed his father. When the wife learns of her husband's planned betrothal of his son, she becomes enraged and confesses her affair. Great tragedy follows as her husband beats his son senseless while verbally battering the wife.