Monday, 16 March 2015

The Golden Coach (Le Carrosse D'Or) (1953)

After a long absence on the List Jean Renoir is finally back and this time in Technicolor.

I am sure Renoir was not idle in Hollywood, but apparently his golden age was the thirties while he was still in France. Maybe he just had to get back to Europe to find himself again. With “Le Carosse d’or” (or “The Goden Coach”) he is truly back in Europe. It is a French-Italian coproduction filmed in Cinecitta in Rome where the actors are supposed to speak Spanish, but actually speak English. Essentially how movies work in Europe today…

“Le Carosse d’or” is a bit of an oddity. At least I have some difficulty categorizing it. I finally decided it is a comedy, mostly based on a number of farcical scenes and a light mood in many of the scenes. But there is also something else, a gravity that is strangely at odds with the farce elements. So far I have not yet decided if that is good or bad but it does leave me with an uneasy feeling.

The story takes place in some South American town, most likely Peru, in the eighteenth century. An Italian acting troupe has made the journey to the new world, obviously on some false pretense that this would be a super-rich place only to find themselves stranded in a backwater with a pigsty for a theater.

The troupe is an odd mix of actors, singers, musicians and acrobats and comes with a horde of children. The most prominent character in the troupe is Camilla (Anna Magnani) who is a bit of everything and a magnet for the attention of their audience, the men in town and for us, the viewers. It is not because Magnani is classic eye-candy, she is no Ava Gardner or Grace Kelly, but she has a presence like few others. Anna Magnani owns the screen. She is funny, loud, direct, tender and we are soon as much in love with her as all her suitors. Anna Magnani is the primary reason to watch this movie. Last time I saw her was in “Roma, Citta Aperta” and that was a very different kind of movie. Now instead we see her as comedian and that fits her so well.

The troupe soon becomes a big success in town and among the fans are three men who all court Camilla. The first one is Felipe (Paul Campbell), who was arriving in town together with the troupe as some kind of companion. He obviously consider Camilla his girlfriend, but she clearly is not on the same page as he is. Oh, she likes him, but she does not really consider them a thing.

Secondly there is Ramon, the bull fighter (Riccardo Rioli). He is the macho-man who expects everybody to tremble before him and is quite the local celebrity. He wants Camilla as if she was one of the bulls he fights. Since this is mostly a comedy Ramon comes off as a self-indulgent bozo, who is always there at the wrong time being insanely jealous. But in the deeper moments he represents masculinity where Felipe represents love.

The last and most interesting of Camilla’s suitors is the Viceroy himself, played by Duncan Lamont. He goes by the name Ferdinand, but nobody seems to call him anything but the Viceroy. He is a bit of a dandy with his foppish court, which seems to do its utmost to keep up with the standards of the European higher nobility. The Viceroy seems to be all over the place. Sneaking out among commoners in disguise, spending a fortune on an imported golden coach, offhand with his girlfriends and nonchalant toward the courtiers. For him falling in love with Camilla seems to be just another one of those things that happen. For an impulsive type his huge advantage is that he has the power and wealth to act on it and soon he has outmaneuvered the other suitors through simple bribery. Some expensive jewelry, a nice apartment and access to the court and Camilla is all in. To top it off the Viceroy even gives her the golden coach. The Viceroy represents wealth.

Camilla, who is used to scramble for every bit of coin is not one who says no to all these gifts. All those things are actual wealth, not to be dismissed. She also has no sympathy to the troubles of the rich. How can the rich have any problems?

But soon things gets serious for Camilla. The Viceroy may be losing his seat because the nobility is fed up with his squandering their money and bringing in lowborns to the court. He is willing to give it all up for Camilla, but now she knows the ugly games of the wealthy. Ramon is back with none of the softness of the nobility, but offering her a real man. The love of this man however is a prison where she is reserved only for him. Finally Felipe is back from some soldiering in the wilderness. He offers a love none of the others can match, but the price is giving up everything she has. Nothing can she bring with her to the jungle.

What is a girl to do? She refuses them all and in one of the stranger scenes steps out of the film and on to a stage. I am not sure what it all means, but my guess is that she decides that she is first of all an actress and her family is the troupe. She cannot leave that.

I may be wrong in the interpretation. The end was rather confusing to me and although this is supposed to be the deeper part of the movie it also feels like the weakest.

The strongest on the other hand is the bizarre council meeting where the viceroy is storming through the room like a pendulum trying to placate two fuming girlfriends and every time he thinks things are back under control Camilla will play some guitar and throw him into a new fit. This is truly funny to watch and even better with flying wigs and dandy costumes.

“Le carosse d’or” is funny when it wants to be and it is very much borne by a strong performance from Anna Magnani. But it is also a movie that wants to be more than just a comedy and that part feels messy. I enjoyed the movie more than I thought I would, but as for mixing comedy and social critique, a Renoir specialty, he was way better in the thirties with “La Règle du jeu”, “Grand Illusion” and “La Marseillaise”.


  1. I saw the opening and closing scenes as framing devices of making this a stage play within a movie - an early example of being "meta", if you will.

    I liked this movie, but I prefer other Renoir films more.

    1. Yes, I think you are right about that. They frame the story. Renoir did something like that in his early movies too. I am just wondering if it is supposed to mean something else as well.

  2. I haven't seen this for years and remember very little about it other than the setting. Not a particularly good sign. I'm always up for even mediocre Renoir though. I think the best film from his later years is The River (1951), which was made in India. Naturally that didn't make the List.

    1. Mediocre Renoir is better than most movies and this is not a bad one. I just expect more from him.
      The river sounds like a movie I should seek out.

  3. I think you should! I don't know if you've seen any of Sayajit Ray's film's yet (his Apu Trilogy is coming up on the list) but The River is also interesting in that both he and his cinematographer got their starts there.