From Warner Bros
Directed by Joshua Logan
You must remember this. Westerns, musicals, film noirs, mysteries and bios are not the only genres I find so beloved. Let's not forget I am a fool for romance, too. Surprisingly, that was so even as a child. If my tears occasionally get in the way of viewing all that romance, so much the better. It is with all this in mind that we come to Fanny, one of the 60s most charming romantic tales.
Of course I just finished watching it so I am clearly caught up in some sort of romantic haze which is not so likely to cloud my judgment in telling you about it. You do believe me? Well, ok, it would be unthinkable to not say here that my haze seems to be a little mixed up with Horst Buchholz but that does not mean there weren't some story points that quite caught my fancy.
The story has a long history. As conceived by French playwright Marcel Pagnol in 1931, Marseille Trilogy featured the main characters of Marius, Fanny and César. The same year a French movie was made called Marius. Fanny was turned into a film in 1932 and César became a film in 1934. To this day those films are considered French classics. The French also remade Fanny as a film in 2013.
In 1954, Joshua Logan directed a musical version on Broadway called Fanny with Florence Henderson in the title role. Then in 1961 Logan directed the film, this time as a drama with deft touches of comedy. The songs were nixed although the Broadway score was retained for the film.
The story takes place in Marseilles, most of it on the waterfront where 18-year old Fanny works for her no-nonsense mother who has a stall for selling fish. Across the way on the waterfront is where César runs a bar, aided by his son, 18-year old, Marius. He and Fanny have known one another since they crawled around on the floor as babies. A few doors away is Panisse, a rich, 60ish sailmaker, and César's best friend.
Fanny and Marius are in love, and if the old adage of no two people love the same is true, then Fanny loves him a bit more. Marius is a dreamer and his dream is to be at sea and for a long time. Loving Fanny has its rewards but he feels his life will never be complete unless he takes to the sea. She resists but finally encourages him to go, thinking that as he's about to board the ship, he will turn around and come back. He does not.
Shortly after his departure Fanny discovers she's pregnant. This will not play out well in early 1900s Marseilles. With no prospect of Marius returning for a few years, it is decided she will marry Pannise. He has enjoyed a harmless flirtation with Fanny and he is overjoyed at the marriage idea, even knowing that Marius is the father. César, too, is in favor of the union. Along with Fanny's mother, all have agreed to keep the true nature of things to themselves. Pannise will raise the child as his own and both he and Fanny will pay no mind to the extreme difference in age.
One of my favorite scenes, involving the four leads (remember, I nearly drool when I get to see all the main actors in any movie in the same scene) is when Marius quietly comes home and makes an appearance at Fanny's window... just like the old days. Hesitatingly he reveals he has known about the marriage and she reveals that though Panisse has been good to her and the son that has been born, she still does and always will love Marius. He figures out that he must be the true father and Fanny admits it. He wants Fanny back and says so as César arrives and advises against it. Then Panisse arrives and says lovingly that Marius can have his wife if she also wants it but not with the child. Marius tells Panisse he's a clever old man and knows the mother will never leave the child.
Ultimately the child grows to an age of 9-10 and Marius has secretly returned to a nearby island. The child, named Césario, meets Marius although he doesn't know it's his father. Marius, on the other hand, knows it's his son and let's just say the meeting is one of the film's most tender moments.
Actually this is a film with a lot of tender moments... some are romantic, some are familial, some are through the eyes of a child, some are in the faces of the delightful characters inhabiting this charming film.
There are also a couple of more dramatic moments and one of them involves a death at the end, one that will certainly impact those of the living. If you don't know who dies, then I can't tell you. What you should do is catch this movie. It is on the tube fairly regularly.
Drama notwithstanding, there is also a great splash of humor throughout. Most of it comes from the older generation, too... Chevalier, Boyer, Georgette Anys and all the others. Leslie Caron, in her autobiography, said it was a happy set and it shows.
Caron was not the original choice, if I recall rightly. It was Audrey Hepburn. The two actresses also had a bit of a connection regarding Gigi as well since Hepburn did the play and Caron the film. For Fanny, Caron turned in a fine performance as a sad girl who has lost the man she passionately loves to the sea. Mentioning Gigi reminds me that along with Fanny, Caron is one of very few actresses to play the title roles of characters with only one name... Lili and Gaby completely the quartet.
I have never been much of a fan of Charles Boyer or Maurice Chevalier. However, they both delivered the goods in this one. Chevalier's casting, however, reminds me of the one flaw I think this film has and that is a lack of age-appropriate actors. Chevalier looks like he's Caron's grandfather. I assume the original play was written for an age gap this wide but it seems a bit creepy at times. And Caron and Buchholz were hardly 18-year olds.
Did I mention I like Horst Buchholz? Except for that age part, he is ideal casting as Marius... handsome, sexy, emotional, hot-headed. One never questions for a moment why Fanny lusts for him. Being German, he is the only one of the top four who wasn't French. What? Was Alain Delon busy?
That musical score that was retained from the play is simply gorgeous. There is no doubt why the DVD also contains a CD of the soundtrack. Yummy. Bravo to Harold Rome. The colorful photography is equally stunning, thanks to the excellent camerawork of Jack Cardiff, one of filmland's best cinematographers.
Like me, director Josh Logan was a fan of romances. Good love stories were at the heart of his best films... Picnic, Bus Stop, Sayonara and South Pacific. Fanny deserves inclusion in that group.
Here, join Boyer and Chevalier for their take on Fanny:
Beautiful women from a franchise