Anatole de Grunwald - Writer





Producer and Writer. Nationality: Russian. Born: St. Petersburg, 25 December 1910. Education: Attended the Sorbonne, Paris; Caius College, Cambridge, England. Family: Brother, the film producer Dimitri de Grunwald. Career: 1943–45—producer and writer at Two Cities Films; 1946—formed independent production company International Screenplays with Terence Rattigan; 1959—producer at MGM. Award: National Film Award for "the best British picture made during WWII," The Way to the Stars , 1945. Died: In London, 13 January 1967.


Films as Producer and Writer:

1949

Now Barabbas was a Robber . . . (Parry)

1951

Flesh and Blood (Kimmins)

1952

Treasure Hunt (Carstairs); The Holly and the Ivy (O'Ferrall); Three Men and a Girl ( Golden Arrow ) (Parry)

1958

The Doctor's Dilemma (Asquith)

1959

Libel (Asquith)



Films as Writer:

1938

French without Tears (Asquith) (co)

1940

Spy for a Day ( Live and Let Live ) (Zampi) (co)

1941

Cottage to Let ( Bombsight Stolen ) (Asquith) (co); Pimpernel Smith (Howard); Tomorrow We Live (King)

1943

The First of the Few (Howard)

1948

Bond Street (Parry) (co); Home at Seven ( Murder on Monday ) (Richardson)

1952

Women of Twilight ( Twilight Women ) (Parry)

1953

Innocents in Paris (Parry)



Films as Producer:

1943

The Demi-Paradise (Asquith)

1945

The Way to the Stars ( Johnny in the Clouds ) (Asquith)

1948

The Winslow Boy (Asquith); The Queen of Spades (Dickinson)

1962

Come Fly with Me (Levin); I Thank a Fool (Stevens)

1963

The V.I.Ps ( International Hotel ) (Asquith)

1964

The Yellow Rolls-Royce (Asquith)



Publications


By de GRUNWALD: articles—

"The Champagne Set—from Two Cities to The Yellow Rolls-Royce ," in Films and Filming (London), vol. 11, no. 5, February 1965.

Kine Weekly , no. 2313, 10 May 1969.

On de GRUNWALD: article—

Obituary in Daily Cinema , no. 9320, 18 January 1967.

* * *


"Tolly," as Anatole de Grunwald was nicknamed, came from a Russian diplomatic and academic family; an air of affable distinction imbued most of his productions. On leaving Cambridge he submitted scenarios to Gaumont-British, who, in crisis, could only offer a year's apprenticeship, unpaid, in their scenario department. Eventually Mario Zampi brought him into the company, and French without Tears was the first of many collaborations with its playwright, Terence Rattigan, and its director, Anthony Asquith. A romantic comedy of Englishmen in France, it combined several de Grunwald specialities: "typical Englishness," windows into Europe, adaptations of stage plays, "drawing-room" discussions of issues, and sophisticated dialogue. In a word: personal diplomacy, where politeness may conceal intelligence, and sharp purpose survive due form.

Until he rejoined Two Cities in 1943, his writing jobs were mainly melodramas of Occupied Europe, as the free nations imagined it. In retrospect, Tomorrow We Live looks astonishingly like 'Allo, 'Allo , BBC TV's 1984 Resistance burlesque, thanks to its melodramatist director, George King, and his invincibly English cast. But de Grunwald came into his own while working on Pimpernel Smith and The First of the Few with Leslie Howard, whose refined Englishness went with a sensitive cosmopolitanism. Howard initiated de Grunwald in the finer points of American tastes, which other English producers too quickly assumed they understood. In The Demi-Paradise Laurence Olivier played a Bolshevik engineer who comes to appreciate an apparently overgentrified English industrialist; its two-way sentimentality suited the times. The Way to the Stars , about gentle frictions between a "Yank" aircrew and the English, was inspired by the poem which it featured—John Pudney's gently Housemanesque "Johnny-Head-in-the-Air," and promptly became one of the best-loved war films.

Labour Government Minister Ernest Bevin asked de Grunwald to make a film about British justice, and another about British goods. Rattigan's play, The Winslow Boy , inspired by the Archer-Shee case, was the first, and The Yellow Rolls-Royce , much later, the second. Gradually de Grunwald's interests shifted to his own company, International Screenplays. Its most celebrated film was Thorold Dickinson's The Queen of Spades , which also sparked a well-known courtroom battle over credits with playwright Rodney Ackland.

De Grunwald then combined independent productions with executive production of Korda's lower-budget films. His own films included several "cross-section" or "omnibus" films (a then-prevalent genre, with loosely connected tales proceeding episodically or in parallel), like Now Barrabas Was a Robber . . . (convicts), Innocents in Paris (Englishmen abroad), and Bond Street (women associated with a wedding trouseau). The Korda films inclined to "filmed theatre," notably Home at Seven , directed by Ralph Richardson. R. C. Sherriff's play, about an amnesiac bank clerk suspected of murder, forefronts a theme hovering over many de Grunwald films. A protagonist who might be mesmerised by circumstances into accepting his plight, gropes for control of his own life—not brashly, American-style, but almost blindly, and by quietly persistent negotiation which elicits modest support from others—by, in short, the diplomacies of everyday life. In The Winslow Boy and Libel the syndrome centres on courtroom battles. The Doctor's Dilemma , from Shaw's play, centrestages the converse theme, a "superior" individual achieving a just, not exaggerated, estimate of his social rights. The Queen of Spades endows with expressionist force the theme of "the trap and the spell." This theme imbues with a little poetry de Grunwald's otherwise routine "little people" subjects.

Soon after Korda's death de Grunwald moved to MGM, where his last three films were mounted with a slap-up lavishness suiting American ostentation. The V.I.Ps and The Yellow Rolls-Royce reunited him with Rattigan and Asquith, but stressed the self-made super-rich and famous, notably Burton and Taylor as a divorcing couple. De Grunwald reputedly intended the films as rejoinders to kitchen-sink misery, and encouragements to self-help; with Asquith, a very compassionate socialist, directing, their individualism could only be nonabrasive. They are upmarket "omnibus" films, the form suiting an interest in moments of interpersonal decision.

De Grunwald's cinéma de qualité , rooted in middle-class middle-brow stage pieces, may have struck younger critics as talkative and unfilmic, and geared to old-fashioned issues and attitudes, but wider audiences shared the director's fascination with personal diplomacy, which is indeed a profound and complex matter.

—Raymond Durgnat

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