Fanny is a 1961 American Technicolor drama film directed by Joshua Logan. The screenplay by Julius J. Epstein is based on the book for the 1954 stage musical of the same title by Logan and S.N. Behrman, which in turn had been adapted from Marcel Pagnol’s trilogy: Marius (1929) and Fanny (1932), plays which he adapted to film a year or two later; and César, the film he wrote and directed for the screen in 1936 (and later adapted for the stage).
The film deleted all the songs from the 1954 stage musical, but the music by Harold Rome served as the underscore for the soundtrack, and the title tune is used as the Main Title theme. Although it had been composed for another medium, it was nominated for both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score.
César (Charles Boyer) is a barkeeper in Marseille in the early 1920s. His 19-year-old son Marius (Horst Buchholz) works for him at his bar, but wants nothing more than to go to sea and leave his boring existence behind. The only thing holding him back is Fanny (Leslie Caron), an 18-year-old girl with whom he grew up. Fanny works selling fish with her mother down at the waterfront. Fanny has been in love with Marius her whole life, and flirts with him, but Marius always rejects her.
Fanny invites Marius to a Sunday night dance, but he rejects her once more. Unbeknownst to Fanny, Marius is planning to leave the next day, having secretly signed on as a sailor on a lengthy scientific expedition traveling around the world after being encouraged to do so by his friend known as the Admiral (Raymond Bussieres). She is offended and leaves.
Meanwhile, elderly but wealthy merchant Panisse (Maurice Chevalier) asks to meet with her mother Honorine (Georgette Anys), who believes he wants to propose to her. To her surprise, he wants to marry Fanny, even though he knows she loves someone else. Although disappointed, Honorine does not object, seeing as Panisse is worth 600,000 francs.
Fanny tells Marius she has rejected Panisse’s proposal because she loves him and is willing to wait until he returns. Marius tells her he will be away for five years and to forget about him. They declare their love for each other and go to her house, which is empty while her mother is away.
The following morning, Honorine discovers Fanny and Marius in bed together. She and César begin to plan their children’s wedding, but Fanny urges Marius to leave, even lying to him, telling him that she would rather marry a rich man like Panisse than she would him. But, in truth, she is fearful he eventually will grow to hate her for depriving him of this great opportunity.
Around two months after Marius goes off to sea, she discovers she is pregnant with Marius’s child and tells Panisse the news. He is happy to marry her anyway, overjoyed with the possibility of a male heir to carry on his name. They marry and Fanny gives birth to a boy to whom César is godfather. César, knowing the baby’s true father, collaborates with Panisse to give the baby the name Césario Marius Panisse.
On Césario’s first birthday, Panisse leaves on the train to Paris on business, and while he is gone, Marius returns on a short leave. He visits Fanny, and upon learning her child is his, apologizes to Fanny, as he knows now she said those things only to make him go. Marius tells her that he wants her back, but then César comes in before anything can happen. Panisse then arrives home early and says that he will not try to stop Fanny from leaving with Marius but he will not part with the child, knowing that Fanny won’t leave without the boy. Fanny tells Marius she loves him but will not take Césario from Panisse, as it was Panisse who had been there for Fanny and Césario all along. César advises his son the father is “the one who loves,” and Panisse loves this child and has been a wonderful father to him. Marius then departs with neither Fanny nor his child.
Ten years later, Césario (Joel Flateau) is looking forward to his birthday party. After being taken to the waterfront with Fanny’s mother, Césario wanders off and meets the Admiral. The Admiral takes the boy sailing without telling anyone and reunites him with Marius, though Césario has no idea who Marius is. Marius, who is now working in a garage, is overjoyed to see his son, but when Panisse is told the boy is missing, he is stricken and taken to his room. Fanny finds Césario with his father and is shocked. She announces that Panisse is dying and Marius drives them home to the dying Panisse.
When they arrive at the house, Panisse calls for Césario to sit with him, and Cesario asks to invite Marius to the birthday party. Fanny goes outside to the property entrance and joins Cesar and Marius in discussion. Marius has an opportunity to express his bitterness and plans to leave for the United States the next day. Fanny explains to Marius she never told him about the baby because on the day he left she had hoped he would turn around and not get on the boat, and when he didn’t she felt betrayed and was angry. Fanny then goes to Panisse and as he lies dying, Panisse dictates a letter asking Marius to marry his wife once he is dead, and be a father to Césario; his only request being that the boy keep his last name.