Marcel Pagnol’s Studios and the French Hollywood

Marcel Pagnol's The Baker's Wife

The Baker’s Wife

In 1937, hoping to create a French Holywood, Marcel Pagnol expanded his company by installing studios, distribution and technical departments in the St. Giniez neighborhood near the Avenue du Prado. Thanks to his new production facility, he was now able to fully fulfill his vision, including building an entire Provençal village on the hills for Regain, which ruins still stand today.

In 1937, he produced the Schpountz starring Fernandel and Orane Demazis about the rise of a simple man. A year later, he took on The Baker’s Wife, the adaptation of a Jean Giono novel starring Raimu and Ginette Leclerc. While the movie was shot for the most part in the little village Le Castelet, near Toulon, some sequences were also created in studio. The film premiered at the Cesar theater which is still opened on Marseille’s Castellane place.

In 1940, with The Well-Digger’s Daughter, Marcel Pagnol  brought together two of his favorite actors, Raimu and Fernandel, with Josette Day in the title role. Despite the fact that the two actors were not getting along, the film was a success – Marcel Pagnol had planned to make another movie with two stars but Raimu’s  sudden death in 1946 put an end to this project.

In 1940, following France’s Armistice to the Nazis, Marseille and Nice became capitals of the arts, theater and film with the arrival of artists and intellectuals fleeing occupied Paris. This situation lasted until the entry of German troops in the free zone in November 1942. It was at this time that Marcel Pagnol bought the castle of Buzine with its park of 40 hectares in the suburbs of Marseille, in order to fulfill his “Hollywood-in-Provence” dream. Unfortunately, for various reasons, that dream never materialized.

In 1941, Marcel Pagnol began filming La Prière aux Etoiles, a film set in in Paris and Cassis which he wrote for the actress Josette Day. Due to budget problems and censorship, he was however forced to shut down production.  This was just the beginning of a series of setbacks. Knowing his reputation as a filmmaker and always looking for talents to make their propaganda films, the Germans then asked Marcel Pagnol to work for them. Without giving then an answer, he closed his studios and disappeared quickly. He got back to filmmaking activities in 1945, after the other D-Day (the allied invasion of Southern France) but ended up selling his studios to the Gaumont film company. The studios were then sold again and renamed  Franstudios before closing down once for all. Disappointed with the Industry, he gave up his “French Hollywood” dream and became an artistic director for production studios in Marseille and Paris.


back to Provence Movies featureImagined by brothers Armand and Lucien Roux in 1947, the Rouxcolor was a revolutionary color film process surpassing Technicolor. Using black and white film, the color effect was achieved by a special lens projecting four simultaneous images. Marcel Pagnol knew Armand Roux and, excited about this new process, he used it to shoot La Belle Meuniere in 1948, at the Victorine Studios in Nice. Starring the popular singer Tino Rossi as the composer Shubert and the actress Jacqueline Bouvier , this tacky romantic movie was designed to promote Rouxcolor but proved to be disappointing. While outdoor sequences looked good, the colors for the interior scenes were way too saturated and, with the movie failing to convince, the Rouxcolor process was quickly abandoned, despite some praise from the New York Times when it was shown in the US.

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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.