Cast & Crew
In the Marseilles harbor, Marius, the son of café owner Cesar, dreams of working on the exploring ship Malaysia in order to travel. He becomes jealous, however, when sailmaker Honore Panisse, who is in his fifties, courts Fanny, the twenty-year-old daughter of the fish seller Honorine. Marius advises Fanny not to marry Panisse, but withholds his own feelings because he plans a life at sea. When Fanny rejects Panisse and then tearfully reveals her love for Marius to her mother, Honorine consults with Cesar on how to bring the two together. On the night that Marius is to replace a sailor on a ship, he confesses to Fanny his love for her, and she is delighted when Marius is not required aboard ship because the sailor whom he was to replace shows up. After this, Marius puts aside his dreams of the sea, and he and Fanny are inseparable. One evening, however, seaman Piquoiseau introduces Marius to the mate aboard the Malaysia , who tells him that one of his sailors fell ill and he needs a replacement. Thinking only of Fanny, Marius refuses the offer, but Fanny secretly meets the mate and tells him that Marius will be ready the next morning. That night, Fanny and Marius have a secret rendezvous while her mother is away. Honorine comes home early in the morning, however, and she is shocked to see her daughter in bed with Marius. Honorine complains to Cesar, who later tells Marius of his responsibility to Fanny by relating the story of Fanny's aunt, whose virtue was compromised, and who was later deserted and had to turn to prostitution. With this in mind, Marius again rejects the offer of the mate of the Malaysia when he comes to the café, but Fanny informs him that she has already arranged to marry Panisse so that Marius will not be forced to lead a miserable land-bound life. Appalled by Fanny's manipulations but grateful for the opportunity it offers, Marius slips out of the café as Cesar, assuming his son will soon be married, discusses living arrangements with Fanny. Fanny faints when the Malaysia clears the harbor, and Cesar calls for his son, but receives no response.
Marius, the son of a bar owner, fights his attraction to Fanny, the daughter of a seafood vendor, because marrying her would mean the end to his dream of going to sea. Fanny is courted by Panisse, an older, well-to-do merchant who is a friend of Marius's father Cesar, but she refuses him because she's in love with Marius. When Marius's efforts to get a job on a ship are unsuccessful, he at last turns to Fanny, and they are happy for a while. But then another job on a ship becomes available. Will Fanny hold him, or is the lure of the sea stronger? A simple plot summary can't really do justice to Marius or the other films in the trilogy, which are rich in character and detail, full of poignancy, humor, everyday life, and delightful performances by what would become Pagnol's stock company of character actors.
Pagnol had sold the film rights to his play to Paramount's French division, but had retained approval of the film adaptation. Marius would be the first film version of Pagnol's work, and Pagnol himself was writing the screenplay. Determined to preserve the integrity of his play, he was proving to be difficult to work with, so studio head Robert Kane decided to hand the job of directing to a new arrival, Alexander Korda.
Korda had begun his career in his native Hungary, and had risen to become one of the nation's top directors during World War I. Forced to leave Hungary during political upheaval in the aftermath of the war, Korda arrived in Vienna penniless, and began rebuilding his career. His next stop was Berlin, then Hollywood in 1927. He did well at first, but after the coming of sound his career declined, and he returned to Europe, landing a job at Paramount's Paris studios directing the German versions of French films.
Korda was very supportive of Pagnol, agreeing to use the original cast of the stage production, and keeping the regional accents that defined the characters. Korda did not like the sets, which did not look like they belonged in Marseilles, and recruited his brother Vincent, an artist living in the south of France, to create new ones that looked more like the region he knew well. It was the beginning of Vincent Korda's career as a motion picture art director. Alexander Korda not only shot Marius quickly, he also shot it again, just as quickly, in a German version, with a German cast. Marius was a hit, and Kane was so impressed with Korda's work that he offered him the job of running Paramount's British studios. Korda moved to London, and soon established his own studio, London Films, launching his long and successful career as an independent producer.
The success of Marius also paved the way for Pagnol's cinematic career. He set up his own production company, and its premiere film was Fanny (1932), the sequel to Marius. Once again, Pagnol wrote and produced, but did not direct the film, leaving that role to Marc Allegret. By the time he made Cesar in 1936, Pagnol had been directing for two years, and he directed that film as well. In 1946, Pagnol became the first filmmaker to be elected to the Academie Francaise. His work was considered old-fashioned by some of the French New Wave filmmakers of the 1960s, but earned new appreciation in later years, with the remakes of some of his films, and adaptations of his novels and memoirs, such as Claude Berri's 1986 Manon of the Spring and Jean de Florette, and Yves Robert's 1990 My Mother's Castle and My Father's Glory.
But it is the Marseilles trilogy, one of French cinema's best-loved masterpieces, that has become the most enduring of Pagnol's work. MGM's version, Port of Seven Seas (1938), was directed by James Whale, written by Preston Sturges, and starred Wallace Beery as Cesar, Frank Morgan as Panisse, and Maureen O'Sullivan as Fanny (renamed Madelon). It is rarely seen because of legal issues.
A 1954 Broadway musical, Fanny, compressed all three stories into one, and starred Ezio Pinza, Walter Slezak, and a young Florence Henderson in the title role. It was directed by Joshua Logan, who also directed the 1959 film version. It starred Leslie Caron and Horst Buchholz as the lovers, and Charles Boyer and Maurice Chevalier as the elders. The film used Harold Rome's music from the stage musical as background only, and was otherwise a straight dramatic film with no songs. In France, the trilogy has been remade several times for French television, most recently in 2000; and a stage version of the combined stories, titled Caesar, Fanny, Marius opened in Paris in February of 2009. All of these adaptations had their charms, but for many film lovers, nothing compares with the original trilogy.
Director: Alexander Korda
Producer: Marcel Pagnol, Robert T. Kane
Screenplay: Marcel Pagnol, based on his play
Cinematography: Theodore J. Pahle
Editor: Roger Spiri-Mercanton
Production Design: Alfred Junge, Vincent Korda
Music: Francis Gromon
Principal Cast: Raimu (Cesar), Pierre Fresnay (Marius), Orane Demazis (Fanny), Fernand Charpin (Honore Panisse), Alida Rouffe (Honorine), Paul Dullac (Escartefigue) Alexandre Mihalesco (Piquoiseau).
BW-130m. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri
The Fanny Trilogy on DVD
The multitalented Pagnol (1895-1974) began his a career as a playwright and turned to film directing only in 1934; a member of the Academie Francaise, he was also noted for his novels and memoirs. His best work tends to be set in the south of France, particularly around Marseilles where he was born and grew up. Marius premiered as a play in 1929 and Fanny in 1931; Caesar, in contrast, originated as the film. Together with Pagnol's satire Topaze, which opened less than a year earlier, Marius was one of the greatest box-office successes of the French stage. In particular, the card game scene in Marius has become an indelible part of French popular culture. Part of the immense appeal of the original plays comes from Pagnol's engaging and authentic use of the Marseilles dialect and southern character types, which was a novelty on the Parisian stage of that era.
At the same time, The Fanny Trilogy transcends local color to present full-blooded characters and dramatic situations that arise organically from the characters' basic traits and values, giving the stories universal appeal. It is deeply touching to see, for example, how Panisse pretends not to know that Fanny's child is not his, both in order to preserve his dignity and to keep questions from arising about the child's legitimacy. Here there are no outright villains, and we come to appreciate all the major characters' motives for their actions even if we don't necessarily approve of them. Moreover, even the seemingly throwaway moments in the scripts serve to build up a real sense of rapport both among the characters and with the audience. Pagnol's humanist vision, very much on display in these films, has rightly earned the admiration of directors such as Jean Renoir, Orson Welles and the Italian Neorealists.
In Marius (dir. Alexander Korda, 1931), the first installment of the trilogy, Pagnol introduces us to a close-knit group of characters in the Old Port of Marseilles: Cesar, the strong-headed bar owner; Marius, his restless son; Fanny, the fish-peddler with whom Marius falls in love; Honorine, Fanny's mother; Panisse, the pompous but kind-hearted owner of a sail shop; Escartefigue, the genial ferryboat captain and cuckold; and Mr. Brun, the Lyonnais. The basic conflict arises when both Panisse and Marius express romantic interest in Fanny. While Fanny is in love with Marius, the future of their relationship remains in doubt because of Marius' lifelong fascination with the sea and his ambition to become a sailor.
In Fanny (dir. Marc Allegret, 1932), Marius is already at sea when Fanny learns that she is pregnant. Although Panisse offers to marry her, she is torn because of her pregnancy out of wedlock. The widower Panisse, who has been longing for a child of his own, nonetheless agrees to marry her on the condition that the child be recognized solely as his. Cesar, on the other hand, wants the child to be recognized as the offspring of Marius. Matters are complicated when, several months later, Marius returns.
In Cesar (dir. Marcel Pagnol, 1936), we meet up again with the characters twenty years later. When Panisse dies, the son Cesariot--now a young man--discovers the truth about his real father, Marius, and decides seek him out. Fanny, in turn, must face up to her long-suppressed feelings for Marius and decide whether to resume their relationship. By the time Pagnol himself directed the last film in the trilogy, he had already made several films and had formulated his basic stylistic approach as a filmmaker. While Cesar is the loosest of the three both in terms of directorial style and dramatic structure, it remains a striking example of Pagnol's keenness for authenticity of setting. Not only was most of the film shot on location, giving us lovely views of Marseilles and its surroundings, but Pagnol's insistence on live sound--even if it means considerable background noise--is remarkably forward-looking. The organic relationship between the use of natural locations and the film's style should put to rest any notion that as a film director Pagnol was overly dependent on theatrical models.
In terms of the video transfer, Marius looks very good for a French film of the era, displaying strong detail and contrast. The print of Fanny has more flaws than Marius, including some out-of-focus shots, but they appear to be inherent to the surviving materials or the original photography. On the whole, the sharpness and contrast still look solid. At the same time, the shot compositions in the first two films sometimes seem a little tight around the edges. It is possible that, as early sound films, they originally had the square-ish aspect ratio of 1.19:1 and thus should look more like the Criterion Collection's edition The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933); here they are presented in the standard 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The print used for Cesar has weaker contrast and looks washed out compared to the first two films, with especially thin black levels, though the image is still workable. Certainly, these transfers look far better than any versions I've seen on home video before.
The films' soundtracks appear to have been cleaned up digitally to remove excess noise; in principle, this is not a bad idea considering the quality of sound reproduction during the early Thirties and in France in particular. However, one of my friends pointed out that some of the sound effects in Marius appear to have been re-recorded, since they are too "clean" and have more presence than the dialogue and music. When I compared the DVD of Fanny to the older Interama version on videocassette, the beginning of the DVD soundtrack had seagull sounds that were not audible at all on the videocassette soundtrack. If sound effects were in fact added or re-recorded, it is not indicated anywhere on the packaging. While I am mostly in favor of applying digital restoration technology to older film soundtracks, there is a danger that remixed or re-recorded soundtracks can give a misleading picture of film history, for the artistic identity of a film is intimately tied with the technology of the era in which it was made. While the aforementioned possible changes are relatively minor and don't detract from the films' overall dramatic impact, if the soundtracks were in fact changed then the persons responsible should have been more forthcoming about it. Incidentally, one should keep in mind that Kino licensed the titles from Compagnie Mediterraneenne des Films in France and that it is they who may have supplied Kino with the transfers ready-made rather than Kino doing the transfers in-house. At any rate, it is unlikely that Kino, a relatively small distribution label, would have engaged in extensive audio restoration on its own because of the cost involved.
The special features include an essay insert by Bertrand Tavernier, theatrical trailers, and galleries of stills, posters and other promotional materials. A fourth disc contains a 75-minute documentary called "About the Trilogy" (actually, several shorter segments stitched together), consisting mainly of observations by various Pagnol experts. While their basic approach is scholarly, their insights are genuinely interesting. For me, the most welcome extra was the subtitled audio essay by Pagnol, spread out over the first three discs. In it he talks about the genesis of the project, his friendship with Raimu and conflicts among the cast and producer. Pagnol is a great storyteller, and it's a pleasure just to hear him speak. The DVD case, which incorporates original poster artwork, is attractively designed. All three installments of Marcel Pagnol's "Fanny Trilogy" are wonderfully written and acted films that hold up to repeat viewings. Despite reservations about the authenticity of the soundtracks, this set is very much recommended. Now let's hope that we get to see DVDs of Pagnol's Angele (1934), Harvest (1937), The Baker's Wife (1938), and the original 1952 version of Manon des Sources. This director's work deserves a much wider audience.
For more information about The Fanny Trilogy, visit Kino International. To order The Fanny Trilogy, go to TCM Shopping.
by James Steffen
The Fanny Trilogy on DVD
Marius was the first film produced from a play by Marcel Pagnol. Although the film, which cost approximately $80,000 to produce, according to Variety, was released in France in 1931, it was not released in the U.S. until 1933. The release time cited by Film Daily and Variety indicates that the film was cut by approximately twenty minutes for its American release. Variety noted that for the 1933 release, the censors made fifty-two cuts. According to Variety, the cast of the film played in the Paris stage production, which at the time of the film's Paris opening, was still being performed. This is the first film in a series of three based on plays by Pagnol. Fanny, produced by Pagnol in 1932, starred Orane Demazis and Raimu, as did César, which was released in 1936. German and Swedish versions of Marius were also produced at the Paramount studios in Joinville, but no information concerning any showings of those versions in the U.S. has been located. The German version, entitled Zum goldenen Anker, was directed by Alexander Korda and starred Ursula Grabley and Mathias Wieman; the Swedish version, entitled Längtan till havet, was directed by John W. Brunius and starred Edvin Adolphson and Inga Tidblad.
According to modern sources, production director Robert T. Kane wanted to use well-known French actors in Marius, but director Alexander Korda, after seeing the play, sided with playwright Pagnol and convinced Kane to use the cast of the play. Some modern sources state that Korda brought his brother Vincent, who until then had been a painter and had not worked in films, to design the sets. Vincent Korda subsequently had a distinguished career in films as a leading art director. Other modern sources, state that Alfred Junge and a third Korda brother, Zoltán, designed the sets; however, Zoltán Korda's listing is probably erroneous, as he was primarily a director. In addition, modern sources state that Pagnol worked on the film as supervisor and that Harold Young was the editor. The 1938 M-G-M film Port of Seven Seas (see below) was based primarily on the Pagnol play Fanny, although it included some incidents that were contained in Marius. In 1961, Warner Bros. released a film based on Pagnol's trilogy, entitled Fanny, which was produced and directed by Joshua Logan and starred Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier and Charles Boyer (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70).