Saturday, July 11, 2009

FANNY (Warner Bros. 1961) Image Entertainment

Based on S.N. Behrman’s musical play by the same name, Joshua Logan’s Fanny (1961) jettisons the original Harold Rome songs of the stage show (they are only heard as orchestral background) in favor of a remarkably adult tale about a French waif who suddenly finds herself pregnant, but without a husband.

The screenplay by Julius J. Epstein is remarkably frank and uncharacteristically glib about the foibles of human sexuality and its inevitable fallout; a very progressive attitude then, given the climate of the production code and Hollywood’s usual lack of addressing any adult relationship as a relationship between adults. Jack Cardiff’s lush and captivating cinematography offsets the immediate severity of the story with some truly inspiring vistas of the south of France.

The narrative begins at the seaside café of Cesar (Charles Boyer) and his adult son, Marius (Horst Buchholz). Cesar and the town’s wealthiest reprobate, Panisse (Maurice Chevalier) indulge in some harmless badinage with the locals by placing a heavy brick under a bollard brim hat and then casually observing as various passers by attempt to kick the hat but instead miserably stub their toes.

Panisse has eyes for the youthful Fanny (Leslie Caron) who frequents Cesar’s café in the hopes that she will eventually lure the affections of Marius away from his first love; the sea. To no avail, Fanny realizes that Marius’ true desire is to leave the claustrophobic existence of his youth behind and sail away to great adventures on the ocean.

Unfortunately, one night of passion before Marius sneaks off to become a sailor results in Fanny becoming pregnant. Her mother, Honorine (Georgette Anys) is furious with Fanny, almost as much as Cesar is with Marius for abandoning them both for his personal lark. To save face, Fanny agrees to a marriage proposal from Panisse who offers to rear Marius’ son as his own – thereby fulfilling his family’s legacy to procure an heir for the family business after he has passed on.

Cesar vows to keep Marius’ son, Cesario (Joel Flateau) a secret. But Escartifique (Salvatore Baccaloni), the crazy sea captain who was initially responsible for having Marius put out to sea, eventually reunites Cesario with his real father. Panisse becomes ill on the eve of a lavishly planned birthday gala for Cesario, forcing Fanny to go in search of her son – only to discover that Marius and he have found one another. On his deathbed, Panisse realizes that Fanny still love Marius. Deciding to free Fanny of her marital obligations to him, Panisse’s final request is that Cesario retain his family name and maintain the secret of his illegitimate birth.

Billed as “all the world’s love stories rolled into one” Fanny was nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture. Yet, in viewing the film today it seems more of a time capsule than a revelation. Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, Charles Boyer and Horst Buchholtz all deliver A-1 caliber performances, and yet there is something intrinsically lacking from the piece as a whole.

Perhaps, given his own heavy handed lack of success with musicals in general, director Joshua Logan’s excision of the memorable score works in favor of the film. As an entertainment, Fanny does come alive in fits and sparks – more so during the last act than anywhere else – but it never quite lives up to its own marketing publicity even as a serious melodrama. Is it worth a second glance? Yes…but that’s about all.

Owing to a rights issue, Image Entertainment assumes the DVD release of Fanny – a film originally made with funding by Warner Bros. The anamorphic transfer is quite adequate, though hardly stellar. Jack Cardiff’s cinematography is slightly buried under a patina of film grain and age related artifacts. Colors on the whole are vibrant, but the subtle nuances of Cardiff’s best work are tempered by manipulated contrast levels that fade out much of the middle register – particularly during bright day time scenes. Studio bound footage fairs better. Flesh tones appear slightly pasty and somewhat pinkish. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital. The only extra worth noting is a CD copy of the film’s beautifully orchestrated score – well worth multiple listens even as the film may only warrant one casual viewing.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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