Hold Me Tight: The Embracers (1963)

Dave wraps his heart around Gary Graver’s debut feature.

Gary Graver was just twenty years old when he made the thousand mile trip south to Hollywood from his birthplace in Portland, Oregon. Studying under the tutelage of Jeff Corey, Douglas Fowley and Lee J. Cobb, Graver had his heart set on becoming an actor, albeit with a lack of work forthcoming he was quick to absorb whatever he could on film production.

By the mid-‘60s he found himself drafted to the U.S. Navy Combat Camera Group and placed on a two year tour of the Far East. Upon arriving back in Los Angeles, a period lensing drive-in fare for the likes of Ed DePriest and Al Adamson would beckon, but just prior to his military stint, Graver wrote, directed and took the lead role in one of his most unique endeavours – THE EMBRACERS.

Shot in late ’62 when the filmmaker was barely twenty-four, this black and white nod to French New Wave cinema is backed by an original Les McCann score, whose jaunty opening introduces us to Graver’s character of ‘The Boy’. Echoing reality, this anonymously named protagonist is desperate to get a break in Hollywood to get him out of his rundown digs and swell the twenty-five cents that he has to his name.

‘The Girl’ (Lois Adams) soon enters his life. She’s a mysterious character whose past isn’t far behind her, not least with a quartet of chain-smoking Godardian hoodlums in pursuit, complete with slicked-back hair and shades. They’re certainly not enamoured by her new-found beau, although ‘The Boy’ is a true charmer at heart, taking ‘The Girl’ in and embarking on a really cute love affair that inevitably clashes with the life she’s running away from.

Opening in Los Angeles on July 16th 1963, before making a trip across The Atlantic the following month to play at the Cork International Film Festival, the first run of ‘The Great Dream’ (as it was originally known) was short-lived. However, three years later it was picked up by the notorious exploitation peddler Joseph Brenner who released it theatrically under its new title of The Embracers. Brenner forged a career in re-releasing old classics like Freaks (1932) as well as giving theatrical opportunities to Italian movies like Sergio Martino’s Torso (1973) and Umberto Lenzi’s Eyeball (1975), though quite what audiences made of Graver’s unassuming arthouse venture makes you wonder.

Recently uploaded onto a prominent video sharing website by Sean Graver, the current condition of the picture leaves a little to be desired, and its fifty-seven minute run time alludes to the fact that a reel of the film could well be missing. Nevertheless, even in this poor state, Graver’s talent and cinematic eye is clear to see, and The Embracers remains an absolute treat for fans of the productive auteur.

USA ● 1963 ● Drama ● 75mins

Gary Graver, Lois Adams, ‘Little Billy’ Rhodes, R.J. Gristak, John Romeyn ● Dir. Gary Graver ● Wri. Gary Graver

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