Pagnol's first major success as a writer was his 1925 play, Les Marchands de gloire, a satire on how opportunistic civilians profit from the heroism of soldiers during wartime. This was followed by Jazz (1926) and the hugely popular Topaze (1928) and Marius (1929), which won Pagnol international acclaim as a playwright.
Having abandoned teaching, Pagnol returned to Marseilles in 1932 to found his own film production company, buying land where he would film some of his most famous films. His first film as a producer was Marius (1931) and as a director was Joffroi (1932).
In stark contrast to the prevailing trend in French cinema at the time (which was almost entirely centred on films set in Paris, made in studios in Paris), Pagnol developed his own style of film-making which foreshadowed the work of the neo-realists by over a decade. His films were almost exclusively poignant human dramas, sometimes comic, filmed on location in the beautiful Provençal countryside and towns where Pagnol grew up as a boy.
Pagnol's most well-known films are the Marius-Fanny-César trilogy which capitalised on the success of his stage play, Marius, on which it was based. Although he wrote the scripts for all three films, Pagnol only directed the third film in the series, César.
In addition to directing films based on his own scripts, Pagnol would also make films which weregi based on the works of other authors, most notably Jean Giono's novels (Angèle, Regain and La Femme du boulanger).
For many of his films, Pagnol would work on many occasions with a small group of actors whom he favoured. These included the legendary actor Raimu, the popular comic actor Fernandel, and the actress Orane Demazis, with whom Pagnol would have an affair resulting in an illegitimate child.
In 1946, Pagnol was elected to the Academy Francaise, the first film director to have this honour conferred on him.
After the publication of his novels Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources (which he made into a film in 1953 and were remade by Claude Berri in the 1980s), Pagnol began working on films for television. He began to write a four volume autobiography but only the first three parts were completed: La Gloire de mon père (1957), La château de ma mère (1959) and Le temps du secret (1960). The first two of these were adapted into two popular films (with the same titles) by Yves Robert in 1990.
After a brilliant literary and film career which made him one of the most respected creative talents in France, Pagnol died in Paris in April 1974.