Wednesday 17 July 2019

Guilty Pleasures - Uncovering Edmond T Gréville step by tentative step (1)

Did the name of Edmond T Gréville (left) first come to attention with Beat Girl?   Probably, but I’m not sure I gave the name any authorial notice. But slowly over the years, after that rather sleazy start, Gréville’s rather remarkable career has emerged from the shadows. 

Back in the day Beat Girl  was programmed into one of those sleazy Melbourne theatrettes down below ground level, the most notorious of which was the Star Theatrette near the corner of Flinders Lane and Elizabeth St. I can’t say for certain Beat Girl  went on there but if it didn’t it should have. One characteristic of the venue was that it had no qualms in showing films for its all-male audiences that had literally been carved up by the Australian censor, the notorious One-Armed Dick, Richard Prowse. Prowse lost the other arm fighting off the Japanese hordes during WW2, a military career that was apparently a qualification to tell the Australian people just what they could and could not see. And during Dick’s time they could not see female nipples thus rendering about half an hour of Beat Girl unviewable by curious Australians.

The film was set in a world of Soho strip shows and occasionally the foreground and frequently the background was filled with women dancing in almost no clothes. Snip, snip. The film starred the eminent David Farrar from, long ago, any number of Powell and Pressburger’s films all the way back to Black Narcissus  in 1947. Farrar also worked for Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, John Farrow and Michelangelo Antonioni. Beat Girl,  notwithstanding Gréville, must have seemed like a comedown of some dimension. 

The real star of Beat Girl  was Gillian Hills. In 2016  the BFI released a restored copy on DVD and you can get a taste of the action if you click on this link.  Clearly there was an attempt to make  Hills into a Brit Bardot a la Et Dieu Crea La Femme. The wild and unkempt hair, the pout, the liberated dance moves were all attempted carbon copies. She played a precocious teenager who gravitated to the fleshpots of Soho, most notably a café in which she hung out with the likes of Adam Faith, Peter McEnery, Shirley Ann Field and Oliver Reed, all in their first film and the last named prominent in the clip I've linked to. Hills was later, along with Jane Birkin, one of the girls who got frisky with David Hemmings in amongst the coloured paper in Antonioni’s Blow Up. 

Gillian Hills, Oliver Reed, Beat Girl
In Beat Girl she was first curious about and then tempted by the Soho strip joint opposite her hangout café. Oh my goodness it was spicy stuff in its day, and was directed with a lot of enthusiastic energy by Edmond T Gréville. At the time I didn’t know anything else of Gréville’s career. For decades I thought he was English. Maybe I didn’t notice the acute accent on the first “e”.

One final matter of curiosity, Beat Girl  was produced by George Willoughby who later came out to Australia as part of the production team that made Wake in Fright. 

I still thought Gréville was English when I found and watched a VHS copy of the Josephine Baker movie Princess Tam Tam (France, 1935)In fact, I’m not even sure I put the two films together as being directed by the same person. (I’ve never seen the film he did with the Mexican spitfire Lupe Velez in 1936, the British-made Gypsy Melody.)

It turns out that Gréville had an exotic ancestry. Wikipedia offers this explanation. “Born in June 1906, the adopted son of Franco-British parents, it was subsequently discovered through the 23andMe genetic testing of his daughter and grandson in 2017, that Gréville was in fact Ashkenazim Jewish from the likely area of Odessa, based on the present whereabouts of his closest genetic relations today. Family speculation suggests that his parents fled the 1905 Russian pogrom to Marseilles, where he may have been discovered in the Nice hospital his English father, a Salvation Army colonel and Protestant pastor, was associated with. His true origin and that of his parents, remains a mystery.”
Somehow or other he got work in the film industry in both Britain and France. He is mentioned as an assistant all the way back to Abel Gance on Le Fin du Monde and to E A Dupont on Piccadilly.
But…back to actually seeing Gréville’s films. 2013 was the kick along year. Quentin Turnour helped the discovery along when he programmed Noose  at the Sydney Film Festival in a series called Brit Noir way back in the day, so long ago before David Stratton was brought back to program the SFF retrospectives. 

Then Bologna added another brick in the wall. As part of a strand called “War is Near 1938-1939” Peter von Bagh curated a series of films based on the premise that “if an alien would visit our globe after the humans had destroyed each other and enter a film archive, the films from 1938-39 would give him a glimpse of the madness to come.”   Included was Menaces made following the signing of the Munich Pact in January 1939 and eventually released in December 1939. In his notes for the Bologna screening Bernard Eisenschitz gave a short history of the film’s troubled production and claims the script developed the plot alongside the political events of the day. Eisenschitz quotes Gréville: “Every week, a change in the international situation into panic and confusion. There were various partial mobilisations forcing me to change technicians and actors”. 

The producers lost all their money and the film was taken over by the laboratory. A fire destroyed a large part of the negative. Shooting re-started in August 1939 and shut down again when war was declared. Later the negative was claimed to be destroyed by the Gestapo. In 1945 it was put back together and given a new ending. Lead actors Erich von Stroheim and John Loder had left the country. Ginette Leclerc and Mireille Balin were in prison and Jean Galland banned. Other actors and doubles were used to assemble the only extant version now held by the Belgian Cinematheque.

The key to the film is in the character created by von Stroheim, a man who wears a mask covering one side of his face to hide a hideous WW1 wound. He prowls around the hotel which is the film’s setting, mysteriously threatening in the manner implied by the film’s title.

There are two more Gréville titles to hand. Another of Gréville’s Brit films, the 1937 Brief Ecstasy  with Paul Lukas, Hugh Williams and Linden Travers in an exotic amorous but very British triangle.  And finally arriving via an Italian language/French subtitled DVD, located at Florence's beloved Alberti Dischi, is a film with so many titles its dazzling for that alone. In some  iterations it's called Temptation and  The Island at the End of the World. Then there are various translations of the latter. (The Italian DVD I bought has this variation above). 

So, just alerting at this stage that  more will be done. ....and I don't expect in some short time to pronounce Gréville to be another Duvivier.   A special check also needs to be made of Bertrand Tavernier's TV series Voyage a travers le cinema  which apparently devotes some attention to Greville as one of those unsung French film-makers overdue for some recognition. (To be continued.)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.