Golden Coach, The (1952): Renoir’s Masterpiece Starring Anna Magnani

 

The late Francois Truffaut proclaimed that this work, a profound meditation on art and life, illusion and reality, may be Renoir’s masterpiece, though other critics may come up with their own list of Renoir masterpieces (I, for one, prefer Rules of the Game”), since the French maestro directed so many sublime films.

“Golden Coach” boasts many commendable merits, both artistic and biographical. It’s one of the greatest, most poignant films about acting in generaland actresses in particular. The film also illustrates the stunning use of color.

The first film after Renoir return from Hollywood (not a particularly fruitful era) and from India, where he shot the amazing classic “The River,” “Golden Coach” is seen by most critics as a personal film that represents his best qualities as a humanist filmmaker.

Shot at Rome’s famous Cinecitta studios, the tale stars the great Anna Magnani as Camilla, a grand, moody commedia dell’arte performer, who arrives in Peru with her company to launch a new theater.

In due time, she is courted by three men: Felipe (Paul Campbell), Ramon (Riccardo Rioli0, a bullfighter, and the Viceroy (Duncan Lamont), who’s swept away by her abundant charm and even attracted to the vulgar manners that are alien to his aristocratic upbringing and current experience.

As a tribute to his love, the Viceroy gives Camilla his prized golden coach, a vehicle that up until now has been used only for royal business.

As are the conventions of these melodramas, Camilla can’t separate her life on stage and off, or what’s theatrical and what’s real. Different with each of her suitors that are vying for her love, Camilla has different influence on them. The Viceroy learns how to feel “common” emotions, whereas Ramon learns a lesson a bout his manliness, and Felipe, undeterred by the competition, invites Camilla to live with him in the wild country, amongst “noble savages.”

Unfolding as a colorful, amusing spectacle, “Golden Coach” begins and ends with a theatrical number, a stage curtain. Renoir, following Pirandello, and preceding Jacques Rivette, presents the confusion between life and fiction with grace and love. As always, Renoir refuses to judge any of his characters, letting the viewers decide for themselves.

In later years, Renoir said that what he remembered most about making the film was Anna Magnani. Her performance is so charismatic and ebullient that the screen can hardly contain her, and the three men, good as they are, simply exist to service her. Indeed, as the temperamental and narcissistic Camilla, Magnani shines, dominating each and every scene she is in. In a few years, she will be brought to Hollywood and make “The Rose Tattoo,” based on Tennessee Williams’ play that was written for her, as well as other, lesser efforts, such as “Wild Is the Wind.” The former picture brought an Oscar Award as Best Actress, and the latter a second Oscar nomination.

Recently restored in all its Technicolor glory, “Golden Coach” was shot in three versions, in Italian, French and English, though Renoir favored the English one.

The prestigious French magazine Cahiers du cinema voted “Golden Coach” one of the three greatest French films made since WWII.

I began with a quote from Truffaut, and will end with one form his contemporary, Jean-Luc Godard: “It’s one of the five or six films in the history of cinema which one wants to review simply by saying, ‘It is the most beautiful of films.'”

Credits

Running Time: 105 Minutes

(Le Carosse D’Or)

Italy/France
Panaria/Hoche Production

Produced by Francesco Alliata.
Director: Jean Renoir.
Screenplay: Jean Renoir, Renzo Avanzo, Jack Kirkland, Ginette Doynel, Giulio Macchi, based on the play, La Carosse du Saint-Sacrement by Propser Merimee.
Camera: Claude Renoir (Technicolor).
Editor: Mario Serandrei, David Hawkins.
Music: Antonio Vivaldi.
Costume: Maria DE Matteis.

Cast

Camilla (Anna Magnani)
Viceroy (Duncan Lamont)
Don Antonio (Odorado Spadaro)
Isabella (Nada Fiorelli)
Harlequin (Dante)
Martinez (George Higgins)
Duke of Castro (Ralph Truman)
Marquise Altamirano (Gisella Matthews)
Chief Justice (Raf de la Torre)
Duchess of Castro (Elena Altieri)