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Friday, June 26, 2009

FANNY (1961)

A Broadway musical of Marcel Pagnol’s trilogy of life & love on the Marseilles waterfront hits the big screen with its film-challenged director (Joshua Logan) onboard and its wonderful Harold Rome songs tossed overboard. (The melodies show up on the spirited soundtrack.) Sounds none too promising, non? And didn’t Hollywood already crap this one up?* Yet, this FANNY confounds expectations. With its gorgeous location photography from the great Jack Cardiff (very Kodachrome) and the action neatly reduced to two hours & change, it all comes alive under the sort of visually fluid direction you’d expect from a Rouben Mamoulian, but certainly not from Josh Logan. (He returns to bad form for the film’s last act.) The story remains the same: Fanny loves Marius; Marius jilts her for a life at sea; old Panisse takes on the pregnant Fanny; Marius soon regrets his choice; Cesar (Papa to Marius) comments & advises on all issues. Horst Buchholz & Leslie Caron work too hard as the young lovers, but the eccentric waterfront gang all make their marks even if bad dubbing sinks Georgette Anys as Fanny’s Mamam. What is crucially missing is the broad but utterly specific Pagnolian powers of observation, and with local color & custom pared down to accommodate three film’s worth of plot, Charles Boyer can’t run the story the way Raimu did in his classic portrait of Cesar. But Maurice Chevalier, in his mid-seventies, is an unexpectedly fine (and specific) Panisse, with his joyful acceptance of Fanny’s situation memorably explicated. What a shame he didn’t get to record the score.

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