Telly Savalas as Zeno, Greek resistance leader
“Somewhere in the Greek islands”, Fall 1944
Film: Escape to Athena
Release Date: June 6, 1979
Director: George P. Cosmatos
Costume Designer: Yvonne Blake
Escape to Athena assembles an incredible cast for a World War II adventure comedy in the spirit of The Dirty Dozen… or am I just saying the latter because it co-stars Telly Savalas?
Savalas joins 007 alum Roger Moore and David Niven—real-life friends and future stars of The Sea Wolves—as well as Stefanie Powers, Richard Roundtree, Elliott Gould, Claudia Cardinale, and Sonny Bono(!) Less serious in tone than The Dirty Dozen, The Great Escape, or The Guns of Navarone, this farcical adventure focuses on the Allied prisoners (and their allies on the outside) as they hope to escape from Stalag VII Z, an almost resort-like Nazi POW camp on the Mediterranean focused on excavating ancient Greek artifacts under the direction of a romance–minded commandant played by no less than Sir Roger!
Despite the Alistair MacLean-inspired story, Escape to Athena ends up coming off more like a comedic send-up of Stalag 17 (complete with a joke cameo from William Holden), though Telly Savalas’ action scenes provide some genuine excitement.
Apropos the actor’s Greek roots, Telly plays the far more sympathetic role of a local resistance leader… and a lucky one at that, enjoying a romance with the local madam Eleana, played by Claudia Cardinale. It was Savalas’ unique style as the resourceful Zeno that spurred BAMF Style reader Scott to recommend the film to me for this particular post.
What’d He Wear?
Zeno begins the film wearing a unique brown leather jacket, well-worn in some areas—particularly the upper arms and on the pockets—far more than the usual patina, effecting the appearance of two-toned leather.
Zeno’s thigh-length ventless jacket is styled like a classic car coat with four large flat mixed light brown buttons from the wide shirt-style collar down to just above the waist, fastened through reinforced buttonholes. There is a yoke on the left shoulder only, and two large welts at the top of his chest pockets slant toward each armpit. Just below the last button, at hip level, is a square-shaped patch pocket on each side of the skirt.
A tall loop on each side of the waist, along the seam running from each underarm, suggests a long-lost belt. The set-in sleeves are reinforced with a seam around each forearm about six inches up from the ends, with the leather heavily worn on each upper arm.
Zeno wears two different kinds of shirts throughout Escape to Athena: clingy knit turtlenecks and collarless button-up shirts.
The dark navy turtleneck jumper has set-in sleeves and a somewhat unflattering tightness that Zeno distracts from with four different crosses in a variety of shapes and sizes, worn on a variety of necklaces and chains including black and brown leathers, yellow cord, and gold chain link.
Zeno also his neckband shirts layered under a cardigan, suit jacket, or on its own for the climactic assault on the Nazi compound atop the fictional Mount Athena. In this latter situation, he wears a plain ice-white shirt unbuttoned at the top and at the cuffs with the sleeves rolled up each forearm. He tucks the shirt into his black and tan mixed wool reverse-pleated trousers, which have straight side pockets, no back pockets, and tall belt loops to accommodate a wide dark brown leather belt with a large brass single-prong buckle.
The trousers are tapered toward the leg, likely with plain-hemmed bottoms to avoid bunching when he tucks them into his black leather knee-high riding boots. The only time we see Zeno wear any different footwear are when he dances in black oxfords with his double-breasted suit during the celebratory finale.
There are many names for the black mariner’s cap that Zeno wears with his coat, though the most appropriate moniker given the context would be “Greek fisherman’s cap” as this headgear had grew in popularity among Hellenic anglers toward the end of the 19th century. By that point, these peaked caps had already taken hold as inexpensive and practical workwear among seafarers and inland laborers across western Europe and Russia, where they would become a symbol of the communist revolution as worn by Bolsheviks like Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky as well as Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong. In addition to the informal nicknames of “Mao cap” and “Lenin cap”, these have also been called “fiddler caps” in tribute to Topol wearing a brown mariner’s cap in Fiddler on the Roof (1971) set during the Russian revolution of 1905.
Zeno’s peaked cap is all black wool including the soft felt flat-topped cover, the black braid across the front band, and the short felt-piped brim. While also seen in shades of blue, green, and brown, black is one of the most popular colors of Greek fisherman’s caps, including these three available via Amazon from Brixton, The Hat Depot, and Sterkowski.
Zeno wears two bracelets on his right wrist, a thin gold round chain-link bracelet and a bracelet of coral red plastic beads that seems merely decorative until he uses it to fling a hard pebble up to a guard tower outside the POW camp with enough force to knock out a sentry.
Zeno’s sidearm of choice in Escape to Athena is a Walther P38K, a short-barreled variant of the Walther P38 that had been developed by Walther to replace the expensive Luger as the standard service pistol of the Wehrmacht as the Germans armed themselves at the dawn of World War II.
Although the first design was ready in 1938—hence its original P.38 designation—requested changes by the Heer, including an external hammer, meant the pistol would not enter production until the middle of 1940. At that point, Germany had already declared war in Europe and officers were marching into battle with holstered Lugers as well as the more compact Walther PP and PPK pistols that would later be made famous by James Bond.
Despite essentially “competing” to replace iconic weapons like the Luger and PPK, the Walther P38 was well-received as an innovative sidearm as the first locked-breech semi-automatic pistol with a double-action/single-action trigger that allowed a user to de-cock a pistol with a round in the chamber and then, if needed, fire that round with a double-action operation. Previously, this capability was only offered on blowback pistols like the PP and PPK that were chambered for smaller calibers like .32 and .380 ACP; the more powerful 9x19mm Parabellum fired by the P38 required a short-recoil, locked-breech action.
A more compact variant of the P38—more specifically, its later evolution as the P4—was the Walther P38K, produced in a limited run from 1974 through 1981 and designated with a K for kurz (German for “short”) unlike the “K” in PPK which stood for Kriminalmodell as it was intended for detectives. According to Jim Campbell in a July 2017 American Rifleman article, the P38K was actually derived from the Walther P4 rather than the original wartime P38. You can read more about the Walther P38K here.
As the P38K was introduced in 1974, a full 30 years after the film was set and only five years before it was produced, Zeno’s use of the weapon is certainly anachronistic, though it could be argued that we’re meant to believe that he modified a full-barreled Walther P38 by trimming the barrel to a compact length.
The resistance fighters, including Zeno and Eleana, also make use of Sten Mk II submachine guns. These 9×19 mm English-made submachine guns with their distinctive side-mounted magazines were commonly fielded by British and Commonwealth forces and their underground allies so it’s very reasonable that they would have been a favored weapon by Zeno and his colleagues.
How to Get the Look
In contrast to his famously dapper duds on Kojak, Telly Savalas dressed in rugged, distinctive casual attire for his role as a Greek resistance leader in Escape to Athena, infusing the World War II-set adventure with contemporary 1970s fashion sensibilities as well as contextually appropriate items like a traditional Greek fisherman’s cap.
- Brown worn leather car coat with wide shirt-style collar, four-button front, slanted welted chest pockets, patch hip pockets, and set-in sleeves with wide self-cuffs
- Navy knit turtleneck
- Black-and-tan mixed wool reverse-pleated trousers with tall belt loops and straight side pockets
- Wide dark brown leather belt with large brass single-prong buckle
- Black leather knee-high riding boots with raised heels
- Black wool felt peaked Greek fisherman’s cap (or “mariner’s cap”)
- Coral red beaded bracelet
- Gold round chain-link bracelet
- Multiple necklaces with cross pendants
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.