(The Golden Coach)
Director: Jean Renoir
Production: Panaria Films and Roche Productions; Technicolor, 35mm; running time: 100 minutes, some sources list 98 minutes;
Producers: Francesco Alliata and Ray Ventura; screenplay: Jean Renoir, Renzo Avenzo, Giulio Macchi, Jack Kirkland, and Ginette Doynel, from the work Le Carrosse du Saint-Sacrement by Prosper Mérimée; photography: Claude Renoir and Ronald Hill; editors: Mario Serandrei and David Hawkins; sound: Joseph de Bretagne and Ovidio del Grande; recorded by: Mario Ronchetti; production design: Mario Chiari with De Gianni and Polidori; music: Vivaldi, Archangelo Corelli, and Olivier Metra; arranged by: Gino Marinuzzi; costumes: Mario de Matteis.
Cast: Anna Magnani ( Camilla/Colombine ); Duncan Lamont ( Ferdinand, the Viceroy ); Odoardo Spadaro ( Don Antonio, the head of the troupe ); Riccardo Rioli ( Ramon ); Paul Campbell ( Felipe Aquirre ); Nada Fiorelli ( Isabelle ); Georges Higgins ( Martinez ); Dante ( Arlequin ); Rino ( Doctor Balanzon ); Gisela Mathews ( Irène Altamirano ); Lina Marengo ( Comedienne ); Ralph Truman ( Duke of Castro ); Elena Altieri ( Duchess of Castro ); Renato Chiantoni ( Captain Fracasse ); Giulio Tedeschi ( Balthazar, the barber ); Alfredo Kolner ( Florindo ); Alfredo Medini ( Pulcinella ); John Pasetti ( Captain of the Guard ); William Tubbs ( Innkeeper ); Cecil Matthews ( Baron ); Fredo Keeling ( Viscount ); Jean Debucourt ( Bishop of Carmol ); Raf de la Torre ( Procurer ); Medini Brothers ( 4 children ); Juan Perez.
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* * *
Jean Renoir regarded Le Carrosse d'or as a mere jeu d'esprit , but in fact the film, while one of Renoir's lighter efforts, has been greatly underrated. Its commedia dell'arte -inspired picturesqueness encompasses one of Renoir's lifelong themes—the disaffinity between illusion and reality, life and theatre, what people really are versus the roles they play. Most important to the creative sensibility of Renoir the artist, the film concerns the artist's duty to give, not take; by doing so he experiences his greatest power and true humanity.
The film is based on Prosper Mérimée's one-act play, Le Carrosse du Saint-Sacrement which derived from a real-life Peruvian incident. Mérimée's play was also the inspiration for an episode in Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey. On the surface, Le Carrosse d'or is a simple story of love, but Renoir gives it a Pirandellian twist with its confusion of identities while giving new meaning to Shakespeare's phrase, "All the world's a stage." The plot centers around Camilla (Anna Magnani), the Columbine of a troupe of travelling theatre players in 18th century Peru, and her three loves: the Peruvian viceroy, a matador, and a young Spanish nobleman/soldier. The viceroy has just incurred the wrath and envy of his court and the church council by importing a golden coach from Europe. As Renoir stated, "In Mérimée's play, La Périchole is an actress, and in my movie, Camilla is an actress. In the play and in the film the coach stands for worldly vanity, and in both works the conclusion is precipitated by the bishop." As was his practice, Renoir used his scripts as a starting point, then wove the plot around his own special view of life and human nature.
Here Renoir's point was to present a serio-comic masque, referring to the game of appearances, as a true reflection of human behavior. In a play within a play within a film, Camilla plays at love. She becomes the center of attention when the viceroy presents the coach to her as a gift, an act he hopes will dissipate the jealousies of his court. Camilla wears a variety of faces as she wavers among her three romantic choices: she can opt for the life of luxury with the viceroy; she can choose a simpler life among the Peruvian Indians with the faithful soldier; or she can elect a volatile relationship with the adored and fiery matador. But the theatre is her real life, her real love, and she astonishes all three lovers by presenting the coach to the Bishop of Lima so it can be used to carry the last sacraments to the dying. Renouncing desire, she stands alone at center stage as the curtain falls. When asked if she misses her three lovers, she replies, wryly, "Just a little."
Le Carrosse d'or is the first of Renoir's three theatre films of the 1950s—the others being French Cancan and Elena et les hommes. In each he fills the stage/screen with a spectacle of action, sets, and costumes, with a childlike glee at his powers of manipulation. In keeping with the commedia dell'arte flavor, he chose Vivaldi's music for its lightness of spirit, making the music an integral part of the film.
Renoir drew forth the finest performance of Anna Magnani's career with this picture and called her "the greatest actress I have ever worked with." Her Camilla is a brilliant tour de force. Le Carrosse d'or is a charming film, and while minor Renoir, it is a testament to his warmth, good humor, and sense of whimsy.