Paris Writhes Again
From TIME Magazine - January 16, 1950
In its half-century at the blind end of a cobbled alley in Montmartre, le Theatre du Grand Guignol has become a synonym for blood-drenched horror on the stage. Until the war came along, its 293 seats were filled nightly with a faithful, shuddering clientele. Its finest hour came one night when a woman in the audience swooned at the sight of two harridans gouging out a girl’s eyes in their madhouse cell; the management called for the house doctor, but he had passed out too.
No New Twists . The war made horror trite and started emptying the Grand Guignol’s seats. Another blow: the theater’s chief playwright, Andre (“Prince of Terror”) de Lorde, died (in bed) at the age of 90. No new twists in torture or tricks of realism – e.g., “blood” that coagulates as it cools – could lure the crowds back. Even worse, the sounds of skulls being crushed and bodies plopping into acid vats began drawing guffaws instead of gasps. Things got so bad that couples who took the curtained boxes in the rear of the house looked to themselves rather than to the stage for thrills. “The time had come,” says Owner-Director Eva Berkson, “ . . . to modernize or die.”
Last week, swallowing national pride, the Grand Guignol was modernizing with a shocker based on a trashy British novel about U.S. gangsters, Rene Raymond’s No Orchid’s for Miss Blandish . For the benefit of patriots, Mme. Berkson explained: “It’s just that we’re bringing the tradition up to date.”
Eh Bien . . . Adapted by Whodunit Editor Marcel Duhamel, Pas d’Orchidees pour Miss Blandish was as different from the old Grand Guignol classics as a Tommy gun is from a thumbscrew. Amid knifings and kneeings, kidnapping and murder, the meaty blonde Miss Blandish (Nicole Riche) spent most of two hours in panties and bra, successfully pursued by drooling Gangster Slim Grisson (Jean Marc Tennberg). A moving touch for Grand Guignol fans: Old Ma Grisson, the boss of the gang, beats Miss Blandish into submission with a rubber hose so that Slim won’t be annoyed by her cries when he rapes her.
Paris writhed again. Reported Ce Soir , with a wince: “Never on such a small stage and in the space of two hours has such carnage been wreaked. That is easily a record, even for the Grand Guignol.” Sniffed Le Monde : “One can be rather proud of being French when one sees imported products of this kind . . .” But as the seats filled and couples in the curtained boxes began to watch the stage again, Carrefour’s critic seemed to have caught the audience’s mood: “We had a crise de nerfs , twisted our handkerchiefs, we held on to the arms of our chair . . . Eh bien, la tradition continue . . . ”