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DVD SAVANT

Fanny


Fanny
Image
1961 / Color / 1:85 anamorphic widescreen / 134 min. / Street Date June 17, 2008 / 24.98
Starring Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Charles Boyer, Horst Buchholz, Georgette Anys, Baccaloni, Lionel Jeffries, Raymond Bussières, Victor Francen
Cinematography Jack Cardiff
Art Direction Rino Mondellini
Film Editor William Reynolds
Original Music Harold Rome
Written by Julius J. Epstein, from a play by S.N. Behrman, Joshua Logan, Harold Rome from two stories and a 1936 script by Marcel Pagnol
Produced and Directed by Joshua Logan

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Fanny is a story of life and love in Marseilles that pushes the limit for sentimentality. French New Wave critics were likely incensed to see one of their country's best loved plays turned into a vehicle for French stars judged bankable in Hollywood -- Maurice Chevalier, Charles Boyer, and Leslie Caron. But Fanny can boast some good acting, honest emotions, and glowing cinematography by the great Jack Cardiff. Fanny garnered several Academy nominations, including one for Best Picture.

Synopsis:

Fish seller Honorine (Georgette Anys) loves aged widower Panisse (Maurice Chevalier) but the businessman has eyes for Fanny (Leslie Caron), the 18 year-old daughter of bartender César (Charles Boyer). Fanny in turn loves the bartender's son Marius (Horst Buchholz). Although Marius loves Fanny as well, he's set on a life as a sailor. Caught spending the night together, the young lovers are pressured to marry. Fearing that Marius is being forced into a trap, Fanny encourages him to go to sea, if adventure is truly his heart's desire. After Marius leaves, Fanny learns that she's with child ... the child of Marius, who intends to be gone for five years, minimum.

Esteemed author and playwright Marcel Pagnol entered filmmaking in 1931 with an adaptation of his stage hit Marius, which along with his plays Fanny and César became known as his "Fanny Trilogy." In 1954, Joshua Logan, S.N. Behrman and Harold Rome reworked the trilogy into the Broadway musical Fanny. Logan's 1961 film drops the play's songs but uses Rome's music as underscore. The script is by Julius J. Epstein, of Casablanca fame.

Joshua Logan's colorful and rather lengthy (134 minutes) movie straightens out the storyline of Pagnol's original, dropping some of its rough edges. The presence of the jocular Chevalier and Boyer assures us that all problems of the heart will be solved. Made three years later, Jacques Demy's colorful, stylized The Umbrellas of Cherbourg would appear to be a New Wave riposte to Fanny's Hollywood-ized notions about bittersweet love. Cherbourg covers almost the exact same plot points as Fanny -- its abandoned hero even becomes a car mechanic, as does Marius. But Demy does not subscribe to Fanny's illusions about miraculous, convenient lover's reunions.

Old Hollywood hands Chevalier and Boyer compete for audience affection but cannot quite overcome the story's feeling of 'sanitized earthiness.' An unwanted pregnancy pressures Fanny to consider marriage to Panisse, a man old enough to be her grandfather. Later, to dispel any distressing images of sexual reality, we're assured that Fanny and Panisse's union has been completely platonic. We can't have anyone thinking for a minute that old Maurice is a dirty old man, can we? I doubt that Pagnol's original characters were quite this noble.

Fanny goes on for at least one major climax too many, making far too much of Panisse's selfless generosity. But we're deeply concerned for Caron and Buchholz, the kind of attractive couple for whom soap opera miracles were invented. The beautiful cinematography is a big help as well. Jack Cardiff gets maximum effect from the exotic location, He bathes the show in warm, bright colors that make the Marseilles fish markets look like they don't smell. Most of the shots in César's saloon have the real Marseilles harbor peeking through his bead curtains; any other movie would just use rear-projection. When Cardiff does resort to an artificial background, as in a midnight rendezvous at the end of the pier, the blend between location and stage work is almost imperceptable. Leslie Caron is only 29 but dozens of soft-focus close-ups turn her into a dream vision. A fine director in his own right, Cardiff's eye is apparent in every camera angle. We get the feeling that director Logan concentrated on his actors and left the visuals to a master.

After making a big impression in Tiger Bay, German Horst Buchholz was a hot property -- in the space of two years he made The Magnificent Seven, One, Two, Three and this box office winner. His Marius functions fairly well, considering that he's absent for most of the film's second half.

Veteran Georgette Anys goes back to the 1930s; like the other French supporting actors, she's awkwardly dubbed and speaks her English lines as if they were intended for a language lesson. Opera singer (Salvatore) Baccaloni and Raymond Bussières (Casque d'or) are boisterous as a ferryboat captain and a whimsical homeless character called "The Admiral". Lionel Jeffries lends his name to the proceeding but does little more than smile his way through a few "jolly Englishman" bits.


Image's DVD Fanny comes as a welcome surprise. Ten years ago the only copies available were weak transfers for VHS. Originally released by Warner Bros., the show reverted to its producers, which often results in poor maintenance. This new incarnation has a beautiful enhanced widescreen transfer and excellent color. The disc comes with a trailer in which Boyer and Chevalier talk to the audience. The disc packaging doesn't even mention the desirable special bonus, a CD of the entire Harold Rome soundtrack.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, rates:
Movie: Very Good and sugary
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: trailer, soundtrack CD
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 16, 2008

Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.



DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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