Marcel Pagnol’s enduring creation has a peculiar history. Center of a trilogy (Marius, Fanny and Cesar) penned around the early 1930s, it graduated from stage to screen in 1933 French film versions that, sans English titles, died after a week’s exhibition in a New York theatre. Refurbished with titles and an additional 25 minutes in 1948, it became an unforgettable motion picture and an art house click. Earlier, in 1938, Metro produced a film (a Wallace Beery starrer titled Port of the Seven Seas) based on the Pagnol yarn. Then, of course, there was the Broadway musical version in 1956.
Although the deep sentiment in Pagnol’s tale constantly threatens to lapse into maudlinity in this film, it never quite does. Pagnol’s story, skillfully adapted out of the original Marseilles Trilogy and the legit book by S. N. Behrman and Joshua Logan, focuses upon four people: a thrifty waterfront bar operator (Charles Boyer); his son (Horst Buchholz), who has a yen to sail away to the ‘isles beneath the wind’; a fishmonger’s daughter (Leslie Caron) in love with the wanderlustful lad; and an aging, wealthy widower (Maurice Chevalier), whose great wish is to add ‘& Son’ to the sign above his shop.
The contribution of cameraman Jack Cardiff is enormous, ranging from great, sweeping panoramic views of the port of Marseilles and the sea to tight, intimate shots of the faces of the principals. Caron employs that Gallic gamin quality to full advantage again, Buchholz does a nice job as Marius, but a couple of old pros named Boyer and Chevalier walk off with the picture.
1961: Nominations: Best Picture, Actor (Charles Boyer), Color Cinematography, Editing, Score of a Dramatic Picture