Leslie Caron gets top billing and the lion share of screen time in "Fanny" but Maurice Chevalier steals the show from the first frame. Making its DVD debut, this 1961 film is based on the Tony-Award musical of the same name. Despite getting its start way back in 1954, the story is surprisingly risqué and contemporary, dealing with issues such as illegitimate children, premarital sex, cleavage and adultery. Because of Chevalier and the cast, those issues are presented in a jovial, comedic way until the third act, when the humor and levity the production is built on is jettisoned in favor of mediocre melodrama.
Set in the port city of Marseilles, Fanny (Caron) is the object of two men´s affections: barkeeper Cesar´s son Marius (Hort Buchholz) and the elder Panisse. While Marius is torn between his love for the young girl and his longing for the sea, Panisse only wants an heir to his sail making shop. When Marius leaves Marseilles after a romantic night with Fanny, she marries her older suitor, complete with the information her unborn baby is Marius´. Cesar, Panisse, Fanny…even Fanny´s blusterous mother Honorine (Georgette Anys) keeps the secret.
I will admit right off the bat: I was mesmerized by "Fanny." Not only because of the taboo subjects it dared to talk about, but also because of the script and the actors assembled to pull it off. While Caron falls into the trap of being just a beautiful face-she is given relatively little to do through the movie outside of reciting nearly emotionless lines-this movie belongs to two actors: Chevalier and Charles Boyer. Their interplay, the way they bounce off of one another from start to finish is more than standard movie trickery. We buy them as long time friends, men who have sat together, laughed and cried together for years on end. It´s like watching a ping pong ball go back and forth between two comparable players. We can´t take our eyes off of either man for fear we´ll miss some aspect to their performance. This level of comfort with one another is hard to fake; these two make it look effortless.
The comedy, undoubtedly, is the reason the story is able to touch upon all the controversial subjects I mentioned earlier. Without it, audiences would have seen the drama as nothing more than a way to preach a particular viewpoint, even as a way to circumvent the screen values of the time. It should be noted the word "sex" is never uttered; characters come out and mention Fanny´s pregnancy and Marius running from his new family is an open secret. These topics are never shied away from. Instead, they simply appear as if there is nothing out of the ordinary about them. In reality, there isn´t.
In the final analysis, all the comic moments or other social tweaking doesn´t stand up to the ultimate story of a bond which runs thicker than blood or water. A bond of people who genuinely care about one another and decide to be in each others lives because of it. Families, in a perfect world, can have any complexion, any makeup and be legitimate.