Tuesday, April 10, 2007

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.