Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Films of Edmond Greville


Vanda by Eli Lotar
I've discovered much useful information on my grandfather Edmond Greville (aka Max Montagut) at this extremely informative French website.

Both Edmond Greville and Vanda Wangen were photographed by Eli Lotar and a link to his gallery is here.

Edmond T. Greville

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Vanda Greville Obituary

Vanda MacEwan (Vanda Vangen), actress: born London 10 January 1908; married 1930 Edmond Greville (died 1966; one daughter; marriage dissolved); died Westgate on Sea, Kent 26 December 1997.

In Rene Clair's classic film- musical comedy Le Million (1931), Vanda Greville was Vanda, the American vamp flirting with Rene Lefevre's garret artist. This slender blonde opportunist is none too pleased to discover he is penniless but eagerly joins the search for his stolen jacket which carries a winning lottery ticket.

This early role would remain the highlight of Greville's career. It had been preceded by her other proudest achievement, playing a leading role in Abel Gance's multilingual La Fin du Monde (1930). Born Vanda MacEwan to a Scottish father and Norwegian mother, she had wanted to be an actress from childhood and skipped school in Fulham to work as an extra on an Alfred Hitchcock film. While in Paris at a finishing school, she was spotted by Gance and screen-tested. Speaking no French, she auditioned by reciting "He Fell Among Thieves" with such emotion that Gance (who understood no English) was reduced to tears. He barred his prim young discovery from taking part in the orgy scenes of La Fin du Monde when mankind, threatened with destruction by a comet, has a last wild fling.

She was billed as Vanda Vangen, taking her mother's maiden name, and played in the English- and German-speaking versions of the film. While seeking a career in British films (and impersonating Greta Garbo in a promotional short) she fell wildly in love with and married a half- English avant-garde film- maker called Edmond Greville. He had acted in Rene Clair's Sous les Toits de Paris (1930) and introduced his new wife to Clair when he was casting Le Million. Greville himself started writing and directing feature films, and starred his wife in Le Train des Suicides (1931) as a singer who has suddenly lost her voice.

In Britain she co-starred as a French woman opposite Arthur Wontner in the drama A Gentleman of Paris (1931) but gained only a small role as a barmaid in Ebb Tide (1932). She found better opportunities in France, often playing English characters as in L'Or dans la Rue (1934) and Le Train d'Amour (1935), and became a society figure with a circle of friends that included Mrs Wallis Simpson. Vanda Greville's last film appearance was in 1939, in her husband's highly topical drama Menaces.

She played an American, one of several foreigners living in a hotel in the Latin Quarter of Paris as the Second World War erupts. Vanda herself caught one of the last trains to England before the fall of France, clutching only a Utrillo painting and a vast supply of her favourite face cream, while Edmond spent the war hiding in Cannes. In London, she did propaganda work for General de Gaulle, broadcasting to France and working on schemes to bring out prominent Frenchmen left behind. She would have liked to parachute into France as a special agent, but her English accent and well-known looks ruled this out. Returning to France after the war, she worked for Unesco and as a journalist, never resuming her acting career. She came back to England when her parents' health failed and, divorced from her husband, lived quietly in Kent from the mid-1960s until her death.

Edmond Greville Biography


Edmond Gréville (Thonger) was born in Nice on 20 June 1906, the adopted son of Anglo-French parents, a schoolteacher and a former Salvation Army Protestant evangelist. (see family tree)

Since family genetic testing in 2016 -2017 with www.23andme.com revealed that Edmond was Ashkenazim Jewish, speculation among his daughter and grandson, is that Edmond's own parents may have fled the 1905 Jewish pogrom in Odessa and found their way to Marseilles and then the hospital in Nice. His adopted father was assisting with a Salvation Army ministry. Edmond must have been adopted there, although no records exist. It's quite possible from his later life, that he may have known he was Jewish (fleeing the German occupation) but kept it a secret from his wife and family until the genetic testing revealed the truth in 2017.

Initially Edmond worked in France as a film journalist and critic. His first studio experience came in England in 1928 when he worked as an assistant on Piccadilly for E. A. Dupont, whose methods of visual story-telling he much admired. Gréville's first feature as a director was Le Train des Suicides (France, 1931), a fanciful drama featuring his actress wife, Vanda Gréville. But the milestone film was Remous (France, 1934), a provocative drama of desire and frustration, tardily released in France after its success in Britain. Remous firmly established Gréville's baroque visual style, marked by mobile camerawork, surprising transitions, and much play with reflections in mirrors and puddles; it also demonstrated his fascination with sexual anguish.

Edmond Greville
Building on the British attention given to Remous, Gréville established his own London company in June 1935. Gypsy Melody (1936), a hoary melodrama starring Lupe Velez and the gypsy orchestra leader Alfred Rode, was its sole feature, and the company never lived up to its chosen name, British Artistic Films. Gréville's susceptibilities found much better outlets in subsequent British films. His knack for exploring complex, sometimes erotic relationships bore particular fruit in Phoenix Films' Brief Ecstasy (1937), a tale of passion raging outside marriage, featuring Linden Travers, Paul Lukas and Hugh Williams, strongly praised in a review by Graham Greene for its camera sense and atmosphere of 'starved sexuality'. Phoenix's Secret Lives (1937), a visually resplendent anti-war film wrapped up in a spy story, and the more ponderous Mademoiselle Docteur (1937), made for Max Schach's Grafton Films, dealt with ambiguous allegiances and treasonable love.

Gréville was happy working in Britain, but an ambitious film project about Shakespeare failed to make headway with financiers, and he returned to Europe in 1938. French successes included Menaces (1939), an evocative portrait of war clouds gathering, set in a Paris hotel, and a powerful Zola adaptation, Pour une nuit d'amour (1946). In his visual language and attitudes to sex he stayed defiantly continental, although several post-war British ventures led him closer into British society than any of his 1930s films. Soho prostitutes and vice racketeers peopled Noose (1948), a vigorous, slyly comic spiv drama adapted from Richard Llewellyn's play; over a decade later, Beat Girl (1960) deployed Adam Faith, Shirley Ann Field, and other signs of the times in a lurid tale of Soho strip clubs and murder.

As Gréville's output continued, his artistic urge became increasingly dwarfed by commercial needs: his last British venture was The Hands of Orlac (1960), a disappointingly routine horror film (he also directed its French version). But in the late 1950s and 60s his best work found new vocal champions among French critics, including the film-maker Bertrand Tavernier. Gréville died in Nice on 26 May 1966.

See the most recent retrospective on his life and career from Betrand Tavernier.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Edmond Greville Update

Evelyne Jouve has very kindly sent some of her own clippings of Edmond and Vanda Greville along. Merci Evelyne!. You can find lots more photos here.