Joshua Logan's "Fanny" vs Pagnol's

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: rec.arts.movies.past-films
Date: Thursday, August 06, 1998 4:13 PM

>Claude Chabrol said: "When I shot 'Folie Bourgeoise', I thought
>it was the worst movie in the world. I was wrong: Joshua Logan's
>'Fanny' was much worse! An incredible movie! Horst Buccholz
>playing Marius!…"

Then: Ivy (Iona97) wrote in message
>Well I am sorry to disagree with Monsieur Chabrol but I love
>Fanny, and I think the music and the love scenes are wonderful.
>Horst Buccholz - humm!! now you mention it, but still he was
>okay, I fancy a Tom Cruise,or Leo type would have been terrible.
>Leslie Caron was great.

Joshua Logan's 1961 "Fanny" is not a bad movie, but it is a tremendous disappointment compared to the trilogy of which it is a remake, Pagnol's 1931, 1932 and 1936 French films "Marius," "Fanny" and "Cesar."

Pagnol's three-film trilogy is to my experience the finest romance-tragedy/soap-opera film ever committed to celluloid. (I say this knowing full well that "Gone With the Wind" takes this honor in the hearts of many film fans.) Any remake is likely to not measure up.

Horst Buccholz presumably was hired for the same reason as the three other principles: they were box-office draws -- major stars whose ranges sufficiently suited the dynamic characters. To the credit of Logan, the actors generally subdue their star personalities beneath the specifically-local-Marseilles types they signed on to portray. Charles Boyer and Leslie Caron don't display the mannerisms familiar to fans of their many previous movies, and even Maurice Chevalier -- after perhaps the one moment when we first see him -- takes on the accent and facial characteristics of the character, letting the electrical personality appealing as Chevalier's through only when the excitable character of the drama experiences those same emotions, Chevalier letting through no more of those reactions than required.

The 1961 "Fanny" suffers most from how its source story was gutted. The 1961 film came to the screen via a Broadway version, so Logan and company cannot be blamed for the adaptation; they apparently were merely presenting what movie audiences expected to see when a stage version already had a reputation.

Pagnol's trilogy had running times as follows:

"Marius" -- 121 minutes

"Fanny" -- 125 minutes

"Cesar" -- 124 minutes

The 1961 film consolidates all of this into 135 minutes. Logan's film covers the storyline of the three original films in the following proportions:

"Marius" -- 55 minutes

"Fanny" -- 55 minutes

"Cesar" -- 25 minutes

Needless to say, not much was left of the final third of the original plot. The running times given by me above should not be taken to imply that the first two films were short-changed in the adaptation as well. Pagnol's films had secondary, one-scene characters turning up to create atmosphere. These were easily deleted without the new version suffering. (It's likely that no director other than Pagnol would have known the local peoples as well as he had, anyway.) Pagnol's films had leisurely conversations. In Logan's version, the sense of leisureliness remains even as he has pruned side-topics that needn't be so developed.

** possible spoilers ahead **

Not caring to dispute the notion that "Leslie Caron was great," it pains me to report that the appealing actress who brought so much to her title roles of "Gigi" and "Lili" is not permitted by the adaptation to have the lively characteristic of Orane Demazis in the originals. The adaptation has Leslie Caron too much a woman to whom actions are done rather than a vivacious, youthful, life-loving female who sees life as a process she can adapt to her wishes as she also sees herself acquiescing to situations created by others.

In the 1961 film, Fanny (Leslie Caron) docilely follows Marius (Horst Buccholz) to his room on the eve of his leaving for the sea. In the 1931, she seems much more aware of the possible consequences; she follows his lead, but doesn't seem the least uneasy. Late in the 1930s trilogy, she will admit forthrightly that she slept with him in a deliberate attempt to sway him from going to sea, and all those years later, she doesn't ashamed, even though she must admit that she wasn't equal to the sea in his love. The 1961 version kowtows to the post-Code notions of "virginity virtue."

Leslie Caron is robbed of what would have been marvelous opportunities to vent and express strong emotions by the reshaping of her character. In the final film of Pagnol's trilogy, Fanny has an incredible speech in which she defends her unrequited love for Marius, telling her now-grown son (when that son has finally learned of his paternage) that although he thinks of her strictly as a mother, she has beating in her the soul of a strong-willed woman who sought the most exciting young man. She convinces him with her unconstrained yearning the depths of an aspect of her character that he can accept only after he shatters his stereotypes.

The 1961 film sunders this aspect of the original entirely by making Fanny's son be a mere eight years old at the time of the death of Panisse (the elderly merchant who had married Fanny after she had begun carrying Marius's child). In the original, the son was eighteen at the time of the death of the man he had thought his father, so his meeting with his real father is tinged with his realization of what value familial relationships are supposed to have. What's more, the eighteen-year-old son had gone searching for his father with his own satisfaction as his goal; the goal is weakened (dramatically speaking) in the 1961 version, wherein the eight-year-old knows only that Marius is the estranged son of his "godfather" (in actuality his grandfather) and seeks a reunion not of his bloodline but of someone else's.

In the 1961 version, Panisse (played by Maurice Chevalier) is alive at the time of the search for Marius; in the original, it had been Panisse's death early in the third installment that had led to the revelation of the false paternity and the search that followed from this knowledge. Panisse will thus effect the reunion of Fanny and Marius by declaring that upon his own death he prefers that the two seek happiness in one another. In the original, Fanny, Marius, Cesar (Marius's father) and the son will have to express to one another their true emotions and grievances before the other parties will see where they had ignored a vital interest in allowing the estrangements to reach the level that they did.

In the 1961 version, happiness and reunion for Fanny and Marius came as a gift, and the moral seemed to be that if they let an old benefactor (Panisse) have his life of a fool's paradise, they will be rewarded for their sacrifice. Pagnol's original films present a far more challenging obstacle for the lovers, yet one that does not rest upon waiting for dust to return unto dust: happiness comes upon a full expression of the value that one person is held by another.

(The 1961 "Fanny" depicts Panisse as he sees himself: the benefactor sacrificing the pride of having physically sired the offspring he'll raise in his name. In the original, Marius rightly challenges this view in pointing out that Panisse's "sacrifice" was compensated by his getting a young wife who would have been unavailable but for her pregnancy. Fanny admits that her nights with Panisse were without the vigor of what she'd had experienced with Marius, and that she missed out on the additional children she would have had were it not for Panisse's advanced age. The film also shows us that the rest of Panisse's family was without heir, suggesting that his whole bloodline was sterile and that he knew it.

(These moments have almost all the drama -- and the same shattering of preconceptions held by the characters -- of the scenes in which Fanny expresses her long-held emotions about Marius.)

All in all, the 1961 "Fanny" maintains the set-up and the basic situation, but in cutting short the denouement (and by maintaining Legion of Decency notions), the 1961 "Fanny" blunts the storyline.

David Hayes

In a subsequent post, I added a point that I wished I had put into the original post:

Date: Monday, August 17, 1998 1:47 PM

[From] my earlier post
>>Pagnol's three-film trilogy is to my experience the finest
>>romance-tragedy/soap-opera film ever committed to celluloid. (I say this
>>knowing full well that "Gone With the Wind" takes this honor in the hearts of
>>many film fans.)

I'm not alone in my admiration of the trilogy. It turned up on the Cinematheque Belgique's 1952 survey of best films.

David Hayes


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