Morning comes to Marcel Pagnol’s Marseille, the older generation slumbers while the young one scans the horizon. The town is sliced into blocky sectors, bistro and wharf and al fresco market, chuckling and shrugging at each other’s colorfulness is a full-time job. César (Raimu) embodies the comfy viex garde, but his son Marius (Pierre Fresnay) hears the siren call of the sea and seeks escape, even if it means leaving behind chez Fanny (Orane Demazis). The nesting/flight tension is but the center of a circus of tangible provincialism, full of joking melancholy ("Honor is like a match, it can only be used once") and cutaways to such trapeze artists as Fanny’s gasbag suitor Panisse (Fernand Charpin) and her brassy mother (Alida Rouffe). Filming the play head-on, Alexander Korda attempts some face-saving directorial flourishes, like carving a composition in half with shadows of mariners and a blubbering Gallic version of "Blow the Man Down." But the auteur is Pagnol, of course, and this is a tragicomedy not of camera angles but of bodies and voices (even non-French ears should feel the rollercoaster accents), mock-brawling interrupted for a glass of champagne, aprons and rolled-up sleeves and caps worn like uniforms or armors. Mixing a drink is a ritual, flaunting a new hat and cheating at cards even more so: "You admit you’re cheating?" "Sure, but since you can’t tell, it’s all right." Walsh is concurrent (Me and My Gal), Marty and Pialat and James Gray follow in due course. The closing image finds the pregnant Fanny pretending to smile through tears, suspending the tale between adolescent male yearning and female (lack of) choices in the patriarchal museum. (The sequel takes up her name.) With Paul Dullac, Alexandre Mihalesco, Robert Vattier, Édouard Delmont, and Milly Mathis. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce