Judge Ben Saylor is one-eighth of the love stories of the world rolled into one.
All the love stories of the world rolled into one.
Writer-director Joshua Logan made several films out of successful plays/musicals such as South Pacific and Camelot. Another of these stage-to-screen works is Fanny, which Logan himself directed when it was a musical (which was itself adapted from Marcel Pagnol's Marseilles Trilogy). With the film adaptation, Logan excised the songs and assembled a cast including Leslie Caron (Gigi) and French acting legends Charles Boyer (Gaslight) and Maurice Chevalier (Love in the Afternoon). The film was rewarded with five Academy Award nominations, but does it live up to that recognition decades after its 1961 release?
Facts of the Case
Young Marseilles woman Fanny (Leslie Caron) helps her mother work a fish stall, pining all the while for Marius (Horst Bucholz, The Magnificent Seven), who works across the way in the café owned by his father, Cesar (Charles Boyer). But while Fanny longs for Marius, he can think only of escaping the drudgery of his father's café in order to sail the seas. To this end, Marius signs on with a scientific research vessel for a five-year hitch, but not before sharing a night of passion with Fanny.
Fanny and Marius' liaison leads to Fanny becoming pregnant, and in order to save her mother (Georgette Anys) the shame that would be brought by an illegitimate child, she marries Panisse (Maurice Chevalier), an aging, gregarious sailmaker. But old passions are ignited and jealousy stirred when Marius returns from his voyage and learns of Fanny's marriage and the birth of their son.
I haven't seen any other Joshua Logan films, so I don't know if pacing is something he struggled with in his other works, but it's a fairly significant problem in Fanny. At 134 minutes, the movie is just too long, and for no reason. It takes almost an hour for Marius to leave Marseilles. All the character development and plot points that occur during this period could have easily been addressed in half the time. And once it becomes apparent how the plot will resolve itself, the story drags once again as it heads to its rather inevitable conclusion. While the characters in the movie aren't stick figures, they're not so meaty so as to necessitate a two hour-plus film to develop them.
Some of what I had read about Fanny had me excited about the film from a cinematography standpoint; however, upon watching the film, I've got to say I was a little disappointed. While Jack Cardiff's widescreen Technicolor shots are certainly nice to look at, Fanny's plot takes place on a limited number of locations, so despite the fact that the movie was shot on location in Marseilles, it feels awfully stagy at times (which also makes the film's runtime that much more stifling). Also, during scenes where Logan wants to amp up the drama, he frequently resorts to boring close-ups that not only look silly (especially as they go back and forth between the two people speaking) but also waste the gorgeous Marseilles setting.
Fanny is, in many ways, a product of its time, which is particularly true when it comes to the film's acting. There's not much subtlety to be found in this film; whatever the rather broad performances can't convey on their own, Logan makes sure to bolster with ample amounts of Harold Rome's admittedly good score (and he frequently does so even when the performances are enough). The Oscar-nominated Boyer is particularly bombastic as Cesar, but it's to the actor's credit that this is generally more amusing than it is grating. Boyer also has a great scene where he tells Marius what it means to be a father, and he tones down the theatrics for it.
For his part, Chevalier is well suited to the character of Panisse, who loves Fanny and her child unconditionally. Panisse is easygoing and kind, and Chevalier's good-natured performance is a nice counterpoint to Boyer's more emotional Cesar. This personality contrast, combined with the skill of the actors, makes most of the scenes featuring the two characters memorable ones; Fanny was the first film where Boyer and Chevalier worked together, making the movie the Marseilles-set, romantic equivalent of the Al Pacino-Robert De Niro pairing in Heat. Some of the arguments between the two are a little too goofy for my tastes (like a heated altercation that ends with Panisse accidentally shooting a diving bell in his shop), although sometimes these scenes work, too, like one near the end where Panisse dictates a letter to Cesar.
As the hot-tempered Marius, Horst Bucholz grits his teeth and narrows his eyes as his character seems to demand, but the actor faces an uphill battle as Marius is a complicated (and oftentimes unpleasant) character. Since Fanny has loved Marius since they were both children, it's pretty much impossible for Marius not to be aware of the fact. He obviously has some kind of feelings for her, too, as is shown by his jealousy at watching Panisse paw Fanny in the café. Ultimately, however, it's Fanny who has to take charge, telling Marius outright that she loves him. His response is to knock boots with her and then leave Marseilles as quickly as possible. (While I admire Marius for sticking to his guns on going after his dream of being on the sea, if Leslie-freaking-Caron told me she had the hots for me, I'd instantly toss any dreams I had out the window.) And when he comes back, he becomes a brooding grouch who cuts himself off from Fanny and his father (but only slightly; he lives a short boat ride away from them). Again, to be fair, I suppose it wouldn't have been realistic for Marius to break out into a joyful song and dance at the news that the love of his life is married to a rich old guy who is raising the child he (Marius) and Fanny conceived. Any way you look at it, Marius is the most troubled character in the film, and Bucholz more or less does what he can.
Leslie Caron, however, has no such trouble in the title role. The stunningly beautiful actress is completely charming and believable in Fanny, and her energy is what powers this movie through its at-times-sluggish plot. Caron manages to be equally adept at making the audience laugh (the scene with Panisse in Cesar's café) and also break its heart (the scene with Marius on the dock, among others). And Logan was clearly no dummy when it came Caron's screen presence, as he lavishes plenty of loving (and glowing) close-ups on the actress (which, as lovely as Caron is, is overdone a titch here).
Image Entertainment's DVD presentation of Fanny is generally strong in terms of picture and sound; the image appears faded some of the time but is frequently very nice, and the Dolby 5.1 track, while not exactly overpowering (except when delivering Harold Rome's score), is still good. In terms of extras, the only special feature on the DVD is a long (almost four and a half minutes!) trailer from the film hosted by Boyer and Chevalier. Also included with the DVD, however, is a CD containing 14 pieces of Harold Rome's music from the film. While its inclusion didn't really heighten my understanding or enjoyment of the film itself, it's still a nice extra, and the music is very pleasant to listen to on its own.
For those who enjoy old-fashioned movie romances, Fanny is likely to satisfy. And while Image Entertainment's DVD presentation could have included more extras on the disc itself, the relatively unique inclusion of the soundtrack CD should not be overlooked.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
• Theatrical trailer
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