Marcel Pagnol’s Movies

Marcel Pagno's Marius

Marius (The Marseille Trilogy)

A writer, film producer/director/screenwriter and entrepreneur, Marcel Pagnol was elected to the French Academy in March  1947 – if you’re not familiar with this institution, it is the authority about French language. But it is undoubtedly his contribution to French cinema that will be remembered the most, making him a pioneer of Provence and Marseille-centric filmmaking.

THE MARSEILLE TRILOGY

Already a popular writer, Marcel Pagnol discovered the talkies in 1930. Foreseeing the potential of this new medium, he approached the newly installed Paramount which bought the rights for two of his plays, Topaze (1928) and Marius (1929), which were shot in 1931 and 1932 respectively.

Marcel Pagnol’s Marius, a popular play and first part of his Marseille trilogy, was adapted for the screen by Alexander Kordas. While the film director initially tried to impose his own cast, the original stage actors were however kept for the movie version, Raimu, Pierre Fresnay, Orane Demazis, Charpin reprising roles they had already played more than 800 time. Paramount ended up producing several versions for the foreign market, with French, German and Swedish actors.

Although Pagnol had successfully adapted his play as a script, Paramount offered Topaz’ screenplay adaptation to his friend and bestselling author Léopol Marchant. The movie was directed by Louis Gasnier, a filmmaker with experience working in Hollywood, with Louis Jouvet as the lead. Dissatisfied, Marcel Pagnol claimed Paramount had murdered his work and shot later two other versions of Topaze.

Pagnol then decided to shoot Marius’ sequel Fanny for which he created a new company, Les Films Marcel Pagnol, in order to distribute the film. Directed by Marc Allégret with Raimu, Pierre Fresnay and Orane Demazis reprising their roles, the film was both a commercial and critical success.

At the end of 1933, Marcel Pagnol founded his own production company “Les Auteurs Associés” and, a couple years later, it was merged with “Les Films Marcel Pagnol” to create a full studio located near Le Prado avenue. He also bought some land between the village of La Treille (where he is buried) and the mountains of Garlaban, near the town of Aubagne (where he was born), to the east of Marseille. This area, where he spent time in his youth – as seen in the biographic My Mother’s Castle (1990) – was used as a setting for quite a few Provence-flavored productions, including adaptation of Jean Giono’s works: Jofroi (1933) starring the composer Vincent Scotto,  Angela (1934) and Regain (1937).

In 1936 Marcel Pagnol produces Cesar, the final and lesser chapter of his Marseille trilogy. These movies are memorable for some strong dialogues and performances, including a famous card game. Most scenes were filmed on location, in Marseille, on the port, at the Notre Dame de la Garde church, on the Prado Avenue and on a ferry boat.

back to Provence Movies featureSeveral adaptations of the trilogy were made: A German version of Fanny was made in Berlin in 1934 while a condensed version of the 3 movies was filmed in Hollywood in 1938. In 1961, the Warner Studios tackled once again that story, using Marseille and the smaller town Cassis as settings, with the singer Maurice Chevalier, the actors Horst Bucholz, Leslie Caron and Charles Boyer in the main roles. The picture was directed by Joshua Logan who had already adapted the story as a musical for the Majestic Theater in New York. More recently, new versions were made for TV and the big screen including a remake by Nicolas Ribowski starring Roger Hanin and another one directed by the renowned French actor – and Marcel Pagnol fan – Daniel Auteuil (Cache). Unfortunately, these modern versions weren’t able to compete with the original Pagnol productions which owe much to Raimu and Pierre Fresnay’s unforgivable performances (Pierre Fresnay is known internationally for his role in La Grande Illusion).

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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.