Joshua Logan's 1961 film "Fanny" has remained one of his most beloved movies, but for many years it has been difficult to track down. Warner Brothers' VHS edition has been out of print for years now, and the studio either lost or gave up the rights to the film, sending it into limbo while fans begged for a DVD release. That day has finally come, and it is evident that "Fanny" indeed lives up to the adoration it has generated among classic film fans. A lush, romantic melodrama set in France with three of that country's biggest international stars, the film is a sparkling rediscovery that is sure to captivate viewers both old and new with its sentimental story and beautiful production.
On the waterfront in Marseilles, 19-year-old bartender Marius (Horst Buchholz) dreams of escaping his dead-end life by taking to the sea for adventure and excitement. After secretly planning to leave his father (Charles Boyer) to pursue his dream, Marius spends his last night in Marseilles with his childhood friend Fanny (Leslie Caron). They are discovered by her mother (Georgette Anys), who urges Marius' father to force them to marry. After their night together, Marius is ready to give up everything to be with her, but listening to his father's plans for their future, his desire to escape is reignited. Seeing how much the sea means to him, Fanny encourages him to go on, even though it means he will not be back for five years.
Several weeks later, Fanny discovers that she is pregnant. With Marius gone, she will be subject to disgrace in the port village. Her one solution is to accept the proposal of Panisse (Maurice Chevalier), a wealthy, elderly bachelor who has been attempting to woo her for some time. Although her plan is to convince him, after the wedding, that the baby is his, she cannot bring herself to deceive him. He happily marries her anyway, even knowing that Marius is the father, because he has always wanted an heir to pass down his fortune to. The arrangement works out well for everyone for the first year, until Marius makes a surprise return to Marseilles.
The film was adapted by Julius J. Epstein from the 1954 Broadway musical by Joshua Logan, S.N. Behrman, and composer Harold Rome. Although Logan was known primarily for his work in the theatre as both a writer and director, he had previously been nominated for two Academy Awards and directed the film version of "South Pacific," which he co-wrote for the stage. His pedigree with romantic films placed him in a strong position to take on directing this adaptation. Ultimately, however, all of the songs from the musical were dropped for the film (the opposite had taken place with Caron and Chevalier's previous film together, "Gigi," a musical based on a non-musical play). Harold Rome's melodies for the songs were instead used as the background score, and a lilting one it is indeed. It must be said that the film works extremely well without musical numbers, and, in the opinion of one who has never seen the stage production, it is difficult to imagine just how they would fit in.
The story is carried extremely well by the four leads, particularly Chevalier and Boyer, whose general buoyancy provides spark to the surprising amount of broad and sometimes bawdy humor. They have the ability to turn from comical to heartbreaking with great ease, keeping the film consistently entertaining even if it is a tad overlong. Caron and Buchholz are exceedingly attractive, but they are more than just pretty faces. Both were a good nine or ten years older than their characters are at the movie's outset, but they possess a convincing innocence and spontaneity that transcends the melodrama and makes their actions more believable.
It could be argued, however, that the greatest star of "Fanny" is legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff. Shooting on location in Marseilles, Cardiff brought his painterly vision to the famed city, which becomes a vibrant, storybook landscape through his eyes and camera. The film is as much a visual feast as it is a dramatic delight. Within any given frame there are splashes of brilliant color. From the royal blue night sky to the warm, yellow interiors of the village houses, every shot is so carefully composed and vividly photographed that in can be a breathtaking experience. Credit must be given to Logan for allowing Cardiff to be so free with his camera without overwhelming the story. Though the visuals command our attention, they do not lead us away from the action but rather set the proper mood for each scene by capturing the emotional colors needed to express the characters' motivations.
After spending years as one of the most sought-out classic titles yet to be released on DVD, "Fanny" makes its digital debut courtesy of Image Entertainment. The film has been released in an anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen image. In general, it is quite a satisfactory presentation, with a rich color palette throughout, doing great justice to Jack Cardiff's cinematography. Black levels are relatively strong. There is some good film grain and a few visible speckles, but considering that the film is close to 50 years old, it is amazing that it looks this good with apparently little or no restoration. The opening credits sequence is the one major question mark here. It is presented in a completely different widescreen aspect ratio with black bars along the left and right sides. It is also considerably dirty, with several marks and color fluctuation throughout. After the sequence ends, the film is presented in its normal ratio and significantly improves image-wise. I don't know what happened here, but thankfully it never happens again.
The audio is offered in both a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and a mono soundtrack. Given the year the film was released, it is no surprise that the mono track is superior. The 5.1 mix only intensifies the sound, giving it a harsh and somewhat shrill quality. There is also a slight hissing in the background. The mono track, on the other hand, sounds fuller and presents the voices clearly. As with the image quality, no major restoration has been done to the audio, but it is adequate nonetheless. Sadly, there are no subtitle options.
Aside from a theatrical trailer, there are no supplemental features. Given the anticipation of this release by classic film fans, this is a major disappointment. On the plus side, Image Entertainment has included the film's soundtrack as a second disc, featuring Harold Rome's score. I listened to it as I wrote this review, and it is beautiful, a wonderful addition that almost makes up for the lack of supplements.
As "Fanny" has been unavailable for quite some time, it makes a welcome return in this DVD edition. Image Entertainment's disc is slightly disappointing in its lack of substantial extras, but the film is such a treasure that any fan of classic romance would be happy to own it. The charms of Chevalier and Boyer make this irresistible entertainment, and the sweeping music and beautiful cinematography add a spellbinding magic that is almost hypnotic. It is a truly marvelous film.