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March 22, 2024 Brett Dillon Episode 114
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Movie Chronicles
Mar 22, 2024 Episode 114
Brett Dillon

Series AK Marseilles Trilogy

 Films:- Marius, Fanny; César

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Show Notes Transcript

Series AK Marseilles Trilogy

 Films:- Marius, Fanny; César

Episode Archive: -

Patreon:- Movie Chronicles

Buy all the Movie Chronicles series of e-books …You know you want to.

Support the Show.

Series AK Marseilles Trilogy
Hello, I’m Brett Dillon and this is the Movie Chronicles.

In this episode we examine the Marseilles Trilogy from playwright and Director, Marcel Pagnol.



Marcel Pagnol


Was born on Feb 28, 1895, in Aubagne, France, and he died in 1974


   It was in 1904 that the Pagnol family rented the Bastide Neuve in the village of La Treille Provençe. 

Marcel’s mother died in 1910, and his father remarried in 1912.


   In 1913, Marcel passed his baccalaureate in philosophy, and then attended the university of Aix-en-Provençe. 

In 1914 war broke out like a rash. 

Marcel was conscripted, and then discharged in January 1915 as unfit for duty. 

In March 1916 he married. 

By the end of the year, he had graduated with a degree in English. 

Très bon! 

He became an English teacher.


   In 1922, Marcel and his family moved to Paris. 

While he continued to teach (until 1927) he also began to write. 

His first success was a play written in collaboration with Paul Nivoix and produced in 1924. Marel felt life in Paris was exile from his beloved Provençe. 

This sense nostalgia became the play “Marius”, which became his first film adaptation in 1931.


   This came about when Marcel, visiting London, England, saw an early talking picture and realised cinema was a format which he could use to increase his audience base exponentially. “Marius” became the first internationally successful French language film. 

On the other hand, Marcel left the direction to Alexander Korda and, while not actively disliking the result, decided he could do better. 

Marcel became famous for his careful casting of actors with the right accents for his films, and for highlighting French regional variations of culture.


   Tragedy struck in 1951 when his daughter, Estelle, died at the age of two. 

Marcel retreated into himself and produced four memoires of his early life. 

The sequence has the collective title “Souvenirs d’Enfrance”. 

In 1962, he published the “l’Eau des Collines” series, and turned the first book, “Jean de Florette”, into a film.


   Marcel is buried near his childhood friend, David Magnan (Lili des Bellons in “My Father’s Glory”). 

Marcel once observed, “One has to look out for engineers – they begin with sewing machines and end up with the atomic bomb”.



We open with the tale of the core character in the trilogy…


Marius (1931)

Director: Alexander Korda                             Script: Marcel Pagnol

DOP: Theodore J. Pahle                                 Editor: Robert Spiri-Mercaton

Music: Francis Gromon

Actors: Raimu, Pierre Fresnay, Orane Demazis, Fernand Charpin, Alida Rouffe, Paul Dullac, Vassi


   Marcel Pagnol was an enthusiastic proponent of film. 

It was an excellent mechanism to deliver his plays to a larger audience. 

For this film he is part-producer, part-scriptwriter and a supporter of director, Alexander Korda, because Korda was disinclined to mess with Pagnol’s words. 

This is a film of words – its milieu of the port city of Marseilles in France is full of characters who love to argue on the smallest pretext.


   Which brings us to, perhaps, the bravest aspect of the film. 

Marseilles has one of the regional dialects of France. 

In preserving the accent for the film Korda (and Pagnol) are making a bold statement to those who thought the introduction of sound in film meant a standard received accent; regional accents need not apply because they would not be understood outside their region.


    Marius works for his father, Cesar, at a wharfside bar in Marseilles. 

He dreams of going to sea. 

His girlfriend is Fanny. 

She is being wooed by widower, Panisse (much to everyone’s amusement). 

Fanny comes to realise she cannot compete with the sea and encourages Marius to leave.


   The comic highlight is the fight between Panisse and Marius (the moment he realises he is in love with Fanny). 

This is performed as a tango. 

This is encapsulated in the single shot where Marius, in long shot, gets into Panisse’s face. They then walk backwards with the camera tracking them into a close up of the two faces while they shout empty threats at each other.


  A close second for comic highlight is the card game. 

Pagnol’s witty dialogue is allowed to shine. 

Korda helps this along by refusing to show us what cards are in the hands of the players.


  The plot is a melodrama, almost a soap opera in structure. 

We asked to observe a society, in macro, that is firm and square through the eyes of a society, in micro, that is about to crumble. 

I like the way Aunt Zoe is held up to Fanny as an example of what not to do – to the point we suspect she has become a prostitute. 

When Zoe’s story is finally revealed, it is much different from what we have been led to expect (and, probably prefiguring the next film in the series, “Fanny”). 

Melodrama is appropriate for people who live in this hyper-reality. 

As an example, Cesar shouts down the street to a friend not to tell anyone the Ferry captain’s wife has been cheating on him because the Ferry captain is sensitive on this point. 

Korda adds an extra layer of comedy by having everyone on the street stop to listen in expecting some new scandal only to recognize they already know about it.



Alexander Korda


Was born on September 16, 1893, in Túrkeve, Hungary (then part of Austria-Hungary) and he died in 1956.


   After the death of his father, Alexander became a film critic to support his family. 

He was excused military service due to his eyesight and began WWI by editing film scripts (through contacts he had made working through film magazines). 

In 1916, Alexander built his own production company, Corvin Film, which he built into one of the largest companies in Hungary. 

This was aided, in part, by the Hungarian Soviet Republic. 

The Republic was overthrown and Alexander was imprisoned in 1919, under the White Terror that followed the fall of the Soviet.


    Upon his release Alexander left Hungary and never returned. 

He left his homeland in a huff and landed in Vienna, Austria, due to an invitation from Count Alexander Kolowrat to direct the epic (and ultimately profitable) “The Prince And The Pauper” (1920). 

The Count wanted a director with experience in imitating the Italian epic films of this period. He also wanted a director adept at S.Fx, because actor,  Tibor Lubinszky, was to play the two main roles.


   Despite this success, Alexander was not happy at the Count’s studio, Sascha-Film. 

He had to be annoyed at the Count’s meddling in each project (in Hollywood I think this process is still described as the producer pissing on a project to mark his territory). 

Alexander left the studio to work as an independent to make “Samson Und Delila” on a lavish scale (including a shooting schedule of 160 days). 

Needless to say, this film didn’t make any money.


   Next stop was Germany, where money was at least circulating to fund projects. 

Moreover, his wife, María Corda, was a star in Germany, making it easier to achieve financial backing by associating her name with the production.


   In 1926, Alexander moved to Hollywood. 

This was a fairly miserable period of his life. 

Alexander struggled to fit into the Studio system, who pigeon-holed him as a director of woman stars featured in exotic locales. 

To add to the stress, Hollywood was adapting to sound, and Alexander was having a hard time adapting with it. 

His hopes of making enough money to set up his own studio crashed with the Wall Street crash in 1929.


   In 1930, Alexander had learnt how to play the system. 

Paramount Studio sent him to France. 

He had almost immediate success by adapting Marcel Pagnol’s play, “Marius” (1931) to the screen. 

With this success under his belt, Paramount sent him to England to create more of his magic. Instead, he created his own Studio, London Film, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Alexander became a naturalised English citizen in 1936, and was knighted for his services to the country (the first non-British producer to do so) in 1942. 

He said, “It is not enough to be Hungarian; you must have talent to”.


   In the thirties he was a major guiding force in the development of the industry. 

He learnt the craft by working his way through studios in Austria, Germany and the USA. He said, “The art of filmmaking is to come to the brink of bankruptcy and stare it in the face”. He was criticised for spending much of WWII in the USA yet, it was subsequently revealed, he was acting as a courier for Winston Churchill.


   He guided Charles Laughton to an Oscar for his performance as Henry VIII. 

He said of Laughton, “With him acting was an act of childbirth. 

What he needed was not so much a director as a midwife”. 

He also observed, “Anyone who gets a raw deal at a film studio is no more deserving of pity than someone who gets beaten up in a brothel. 

A gentleman has no business in either place”.



Pierre Fresnay


Was born on April 4, 1897, in Paris and he died in 1975


Pierre was eleven years with the Comedie Francaise.

He broke into the big time working with Marcel Pagnol on the stage version of “Marius”.

The major sticking point being Raimu who didn’t want to work with an actor who hadn’t come from Marsailles. 

Pagnol read the part in rehearsals while Pierre went down to work at a bar on the docks of Marseilles. 

He then surprised everybody by turning up at a rehearsal with the right accent.


This didn’t stop Raimu making fun of the actor in this film when he mispronounces the word mother. 

Korda and Pagnol kept this ad lib in (and, if you watch closely Pierre almost cracks up).



Fanny made a big sacrifice for her man, but it has consequences in…


Fanny (1932)

Director: Marc Allegret                                  Script: Marcel Pagnol

DOP: Nikolai Toporkoff                                Editor: Raymond Lamy, Jean Mamy

Music: Vincent Scotto

Actors: Raimu, Pierre Fresnay, Orane Demazis, Fernand Charpin, Auguste Mouries


   “Fanny” opens immediately after the finale of “Marius”.


   Marius has followed his dream and run away to sea of a five-year voyage. 

Cesar is heartbroken and Fanny is sanguine. 

Then she learns she is pregnant. 

Her mother is horrified by the scandal and it takes Fanny’s Aunt to make Hortense see sense.


   Fanny can’t keep the secret from Cesar, especially as Panisse has re-submitted his marriage offer. 

Cesar councils not telling Marius BECAUSE he would come home and then resent her for the rest of his life.


   Hortense pressures Fanny to marry Panisse. 

She puts her foot down and refuses to even consider his offer until he knows the truth. 

If he renews his offer then she will accept. 

She goes to his shop and confesses all.  

Panisse confesses he was unable to have children with his first wife AND, so long as no one knows (apart from Hortense, Cesar, and presumably Marius)… basically as long as the general public believe the child to be his, he’ll happily marry her today.


    In due course Cesar Marius Panisse is born. 

Fanny learns, as the relatives arrive, that without the child the Panisse family would end with this generation. 

When the child is two years old Marius turns up. 

He has learnt of the child and demands his rights. 

He also confesses that his time away from Fanny has taught him how much he loves her.


   Cesar and Fanny have to teach Marius some home truths. 

He is acting dishonourably toward Panisse in trying to take Fanny away from him. 

Panisse stood by Fanny even when he knew the truth whereas Marius couldn’t even stand by Fanny when he didn’t know the truth. 

AND, while it is true Marius fathered the child, the real father is the man who gave his name to the child and has been with the child through sickness and health, joys and sorrows. 

Marius shouldn’t be claiming to be filling an absence that doesn’t exist. 

Marius comes to understand he must suffer the consequences of his decision just as others must.


   The film suffers from sequelitis. 

The blame falls mostly on director Marc Allegret who, having the world of the film already built by Korda and Pagnol, concentrates his focus on the melodramatic elements of the plot.

This leaves the comedy concentrated into two scenes:- the sale  of the boat nicknamed “Submarine”; and the scene in the  park where Cesar and Hortense are babysitting Cesar Marius. 

The conversation is a game of brinkmanship where each implies they know something about the child that might bring the other’s happiness crashing down. 

It is Cesar who twigs they are both sworn to secrecy on the same subject.



Marc Allegret


Was born on December 22, 1900, in Basel Switzerland and he died in 1973.


Marc’s initial interest was Law, when he shifted to film making it was to pursue a career as a documentarian.

He is credited with introducing the world to actors, Jeanne Moreau, Simone Simon, and Brigitte Bardot.



Nikolai Toporkoff


Was born on June 20, 1885, in Moscow, Russia, and he died in 1965.


Nikolai fled his homeland in 1917 to escape the Revolution. 

He settled in France and became a stalwart of French cinema. 

He made his first two films in Russia in 1917 and started making films in France from 1919.



Raymond Lamy


Was born on August 15, 1903, in Pointe-á-Pitre, France, and he died in 1982.


“Fanny” (1932) was the second film that Raymond was in charge of editing. 

Today, he is best known for his work with Robert Bresson.



Vincent Scotto


Was born in Marseilles on April 21, 1874 and he died in 1952.


Vincent was a close friend of Marcel Pagnol. 

He was born in Marseilles, and his career began in Marseilles. 

He moved to Paris to get better opportunities to stage his operas, and had a sideline business of churning out 4 000 songs and 50 film scores.



Orane Demazis


Orane was born in Oran, Algeria and she died in 1991.


Orane studied at the Conservatoire National Supérieur d'Art Dramatique (CNSAD) beginning in 1919. 

She constructed her stage name from the town of Oran and the nearby town of Mazis. 

Upon graduated she performed at the Théâtre de l'Atelier in Paris.


She first met Marcel Pagnol in 1923. 

He wrote for her some of her most famous roles. 

She had a child, Jean-Pierre, to Marcel Pagnol, in 1933. 

This was not Pagnol’s first illegitimate child, nor his last.



The years have passed as we pick up the story again.


César (1936)

Director & Script: Marcel Pagnol

DOP: Willy Faktorovitch, Grischa, Roger Ledru

Editor: Suzanne de Troeye, Jeanne Rongier

Music: Vincent Scotto

Actors: Raimu, Pierre Fresnay, Fernand Chapin, Orane Demazis, Paul Dullac. Andre Fouche


   The Marseilles Trilogy ends with a whimper. 

I suspect I’m not the only one who feels this way. 

“Marius” has been remade may times; as has “Fanny”. 

No one has remade “Cesar” yet.

The previous two films were adapted from stage plays. 

“Cesar” was written as a film.


   Cesar, although the title character, is not the focus of the movie. 

This belongs to Cesariot, his grandson. 

The film picks up 15 years after the events of “Fanny”. 

Panisse dies and Fanny reveals to Cesariot who his real father is. 

Cesariot tracks down a resentful Mariuis and re-introduces him to his family. 

Marius points out everyone got some benefit from the deal struck years ago, except him. 

He was banished from his family and exiled from the city of his birth.


   Perhaps I am unhappy with the film because of the happy ending. 

This closes off the trilogy (which is acceptable) by ignoring the issues this film, in particular, has brought up to the light (this is unacceptable). 

Cesariot must wrestle with what a father is in terms of genetic heritage (which is a bit silly as Cesariot fears he may have inherited a propensity for criminal acts). 

Into this is added the class struggle. 

One of the reasons Marius doesn’t want to get back with Fanny is because it would be “like sleeping with the boss’ wife”.


  As the trilogy has developed it has included ever more location shots. 

In this film it even goes so far as to include shots which link indoor and outdoor spaces (Fanny, for instance, opening the shutters to reveal the harbour). 

This sense of spaces, and the uses to which they are put, is essential in Pagnol’s scheme of revealing Marseilles as a community.


   Perhaps I’m disappointed in Fanny. 

Her character hasn’t developed in this film. 

Her passivity in “Marius” is understandable; in “Fanny” she is sanguine and makes the hard choices. 

In “Cesar” I would have liked to see some fire – aged to the point she won’t tolerate fools. There are some indications (for instance when she learns Cesariot has deceived her), yet nothing comes of these indications. 

She needs to meet the fire of Marius and his whining with some fire of her own to teach him that she is HIS equal.



Willy Faktorovitch


There is some controversy of Willy’s birthday and place of birth. 

He was probably born on October 3, 1888, in Kiev, Russian. 

He might have been born in Ukraine. 

He died in 1960.

It is also claimed he was born on November 22, 1915, in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, and died in 1987.


Willy was in France by 1918, which is when his first film is recorded. 

He was a jobbing DOP with little of distinction to his name. 

He is associated with Marcel Pagnol, and, in the 1950’s with helping to restore the reputation of Maurice Chevalier.





Was born on December 18, 1883 in Var. He died in 1946.


Raimu started his career in vaudeville imitating famous comics. 

He did a few silent films but only found fame when he began working with Marcel Pagnol who helped shaped his working class, good-natured yet cunning persona. 

Orson Welles described him as, “the greatest actor who ever lived."



Next episode is a right Carry On in 1963 (chance would be a fine thing).

Don’t forget to purchase many of the fine Movie Chronicles e-books from an e-store near you. 

Both 1930 and 1970 are well into preproduction as we speak.

Until next time… remember… don’t let a cabby drive up your backside or let a sailor pull on your lanyard… at least, not without asking first.