Monday, November 21, 2011

Meanwhile … Back at the Ranch – UK! Greta Gynt, the Queen of Quota Quickies

Although she came to England with her parents as a four-year-old, Norwegian-born Margrethe Thoresen Waxholm (1916-2000) made her stage and screen debuts in Scandinavia, her native Norway and Sweden, respectively. But her ambitious mother thought that with her fine knowledge of English she could do better in London and, presumably once established, in Hollywood. In was 1935 and the Garbo craze had yet to subside so she shortened Margrethe to Greta and added that familiar name from Grieg, to become Greta Gynt.

Confusingly, around the same time another Norwegian starlet, the Brooklyn-born (!) Sigrid Gurie was attempting to launch a career in Hollywood and she, too, took the name Greta Gynt, added an extra “e” and billed herself Greta Gynte. As such she was listed in pre-publicity material for James Whale's The Road Back (1937). Unfortunately, Greta Gynte ended up on the cutting-room floor (if she was actually ever even in the film), signed instead a contract with Samuel Goldwyn and reverted to her real name. (Today, she is remembered, if remembered at all, as yet another of Goldwyn's dead-on-arrival attempts to create a new international star a la his great silent era discovery, Vilma Banky.)

The original Greta Gynt, meanwhile, had caught the eye of UK producer J. Arthur Rank, who saw in her a British version of Jean Harlow. She would never enjoy that kind of success, but did embark on a lengthy career in B movies, notably the so-called “quota quickies,” minor genre films bankrolled by American companies in order for them to be allowed UK distribution of their overly competitive Hollywood fare. Without hardly any accent at all, Greta Gynt became a fixture in the British film industry and was all set to take on Hollywood after hooking up with German-American producer-director Robert Siodmak in the post-war era. Nothing came of it, alas, and as far as I can determine, Greta Gynt never appeared in a true Hollywood movie. Her popularity in the UK waned in the 1950s and she retired from the screen in 1963.

Sexton Blake and the Hooded Terror (1938)

Quota Quickies, in my opinion, have gotten a bad rap. At least those that I have been fortunate enough to view. And we can all enjoy Sexton Blake and the Hooded Terror, produced by quota quickie expert George King (Quota Quickie King?), which is in public domain and available for free on the Internet. Greta Gynt plays Mademoiselle Julie and attempts a sophisticated accent while dallying with her two leading men, Sherlock Holmes wannabe Sexton Blake (George Curzon) and evil mastermind Michael Larron. The latter is played in typical over-the-top Victorian style by the delightfully-named Tod Slaughter, a fixture in British film production since the days of silent films, days, indeed, that the redoubtable Mr. Slaughter seemingly never forgot. Sexton Blake was a long-lived British pulp-fiction detective who had the audacity to reside in Baker St. complete with a bumbling sidekick, Tinker (Tony Simpson), and an elderly landlady (Marie Wright), who was called Mrs. Bardell but was Mrs. Hudson by any other name. Many writers contributed to the Sexon Blake stories through the ages and even I remember reading Danish translations of the books as a young teenager. Here Mr. Blake, et al. get involved in various Oriental hokum and the whole hour or so reminds you of a Hollywood action serial, bizarre cliffhangers included. By no means a work of art, Sexton Blake and the Hooded Terror is nevertheless recommended viewing for its period richness and as a prime example of a throwaway quota quickie production.

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