Sunday, October 24, 2010

To Xypolito Tagma - The Barefoot Battalion - Gregg Tallas' Delightful Movie about Children in German Occupied Greece

As the whole of Greece gets ready to celebrate OXI Day, the anniversary of the day on the 28th October in 1940, when the Greeks said a firm 'NO' to the invading forces of Italy's leader, Benito Mussolini, Greek children, in Greece and in our communities abroad are preparing for the day's celebrations and learning about the events and the incredible heroism of the Greek nation as a whole during the dreadful years of the Second World War. 

As schools prepare the students for the αnnual OXI Day school Yiortes and Parades, they are learning much about how Greece and her people survived a catastrophic war which left the country destitute and in ruins, both physically and economically. 

In my daughter's school books, one of the things the children are asked to do is have a parent or grandparent recount an event that took place during the War and the German Occupation, and they must write it in their own words. Each child learns to recite a poem, or take part in a play which recounts events during the War specially for the school Yiorti or celebration, and if old enough, proudly takes part in the school parades in cities and towns all over Greece. This Thursday, on the 28th October, our daughter will be part of that parade for the first time and she is very excited! 

As part of their learning more about the events of World War II and its consequences for Greece, my 10 year old daughter's class, (she's 5th year- Pempti - by the way) was taken to see a new release of a marvellous movie about children growing up in war ravaged Thessaloniki. She loved it, as did all the children,  and as she was telling me about the movie, Το Ξυπόλυτο Τάγμα or The Barefoot Battalion, and I read the pamphlet they were given, I remembered my own parents telling us about the same movie when we were growing up in our own community so far away from Greece, each time the 28th October celebrations took place there. 

I realised then that it was something that I would like to share with the readers of Global Greek World ... 
Gregg Tallas 1950's 
Photo Source: Tallas Family Archives  

As I researched the material for this post a lot of previously unknown facts came to light  about this wonderful film
  • the director was none other than one of our Global Greeks - Gregg Tallas born Gregory Thalassinos in Constantinople in 1903 ...
  • Many of the cast and crew were of Greek descent including Peter Boudoures, the producer, a Greek-American restaurateur in San Francisco who had been the regional director of Greek War Relief on the West Coast of the USA from 1940-1949
  • The film's production cost was $38,000. 
  • It was shot without sound, using a 1920s era camera and minimal technical equipment.
  • The music for the film was the first film score that Greece's national composer,Mikis Theodorakis ever wrote
  • The Barefoot Battalion opened in New York on 28 May 1954 and Los Angeles on 11 June of the same year to great acclaim
  • In 1955 it was awarded the Golden Laurel at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, thus becoming the first Greek film to win a prize at an international film festival
  • It has been the subject of many university studies around the world, especially historical studies
    In post war Thessaloniki, Greece, in 1953, a young, barefoot, ragged and homeless boy named Stavros wakes up on an abandoned rowboat... It is getting cold on the boat so he goes to shore, and, in order to buy a blanket, attempts to steal a purse from a woman in the crowded market. Demetri, a young man who sees the whole thing and sees him run off, follows the boy, catches him and searches him.

    When Stavros begins to cry, saying he has no family, Demetri explains that he only wants to help and that he too used to steal on the street for a living... As the two talk we flashback to 1943 to wartorn, besieged Thessaloniki in German-occupied Greece and Demetri relates his own story - a war orphan who lives with his young sister Martha in an abandoned wrecked boat, with only food rations for survival. As they become desperate for food they join a group of boys, known as Το Ξυπόλυτο Τάγμα or The Barefoot Battalion

    Based on a true story of a group of young boys who lost their parents when the Nazis occupied Greece in 1941, and the children sent to orphanages, this delightful film recounts the courage and bravery of a marvellous group of children, "The Barefoot Battalion" who got together to provide food for themselves and others who had no means, while at the same time working closely with Greece's dynamic underground resistance movement who worked to help Americans and Allied Forces escape to the Middle East, hiding and eventually smuggling an American airman out of the country... 

    The idea for the film came in the late 40's, when Greek actor Nikos Katsiotis, who was in the USA at the time, was discussing with Greek American director Gregg Tallas, the story of Thessaloniki's victory parade in November of 1944, on the day it celebrated its liberation from German  Occupation. Katsiotis  told Tallas  how right at the tail end,  a group of barefoot, bedraggled kids paraded, holding a banner with the words 'Το Ξυπόλυτο Τάγμα' ... 

    Gregg Tallas 1966 
    Photo Source: Tallas Family Archives

    Gregg Tallas was so enchanted and moved by this story that he decided to make it into a film, a film which was shot on location in Thessaloniki and Athens, even at the notorious black market site and the cast was made up of some of Greece's well known actors of the day, while 63 of the 66 children came from orphanages and reform institutions in Athens and Thessaloniki...

    Gregg Tallas 1970's
    Photo Source: Tallas Family Archives

    For those that would like to watch To Xypolito Tagma in it's entirety here is this brilliant film - a film which the reknowned director Vittorio de Sica is said to have praised so highly that he told Gregg Tallas that if The Barefoot Battalion had preceeded his own masterpiece 'Bicycle Thief', then he, Tallas, would have been de Sica...

    - it's well worth while!


    Shortly after this post was published, we were delighted to receive a comment in our visitors book from Rhett Tallas, the grandson of Gregg Tallas. He was kind enough to share the photos of Gregg Tallas from their family archives with us and all our readers. He also sent us this note from Gregg's brother Alex, who lives in Greece and is often invited to speak before screenings of this wonderful movie.  

    The movie's story line is simple, clear and concise and it retells a true story that took place in Thessaloniki ( Greece's second largest city located in Northern Greece). 

    In a nutshell: It recounts the story of more than 150 orphan teenagers whose orphanage (The Papafion) was commandeered by the German High Command of Norhern Greece and they were let out to starve. They showed great initiative, courage and a great will to survive - by stealing food from the Germans and Italians,but also sharing the food they could spare with the starving civilian population of the city of Thessaloniki - whilst also helping to smuggle American, British and Greek officers who had fallen behind as the front collapsed to Cairo to join the Allied forces there. 

    Thank you for the fedback Rhett and Alex. We are grateful to you and the entire Tallas Family for allowing us the use of the photos of Gregg Tallas from the family archives. 

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