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Golden Coach, The (1952)

Commedia Del 'Arte - I guess the joke's on me
Commedia Dell'Arte - I guess the joke's on me

Genre: Period Romance Drama (France, Italy)

Starring: Anna Magnani (Open City), Duncan Lamont (The Man in the White Suit • Mutiny on the Bounty (1962))

Directed By: Jean Renoir (Boudu Saved from DrowningThe Rules of the Game)

Overview: A Viceroy orders a golden coach from Spain. It arrives with a troupe of Italian actors led by Camille, a woman who captures his heart.

Jean Renoir. It's a name that sends jolts through cinephiles. A cinematic innovator and social critic, he directed 41 movies, 9 of which are in the Criterion Collection, and 5 of which are Films You Must See Before You Die. Damn, he's important. When I popped in his 1952 Le carosse d'or, I half expected a tale of magic and fantasy in an 18th century setting, complete with regal pompous decadence. What I got was a completely awkward film that, throughout, had me wondering what world of context would make a famous French filmmaker direct an English-language Costume Drama about Italians in New World Spanish colonies, and one that actually has very little to do with a horse-drawn carriage made entirely out of gold. Goddamn MacGuffins. Well it seems that Renoir's passions were in making a second colour film, and he directed the first idea puked out by whomever was paying the bill.

For the 99% of you who've never heard of this film, myself included, the story takes place in a small town in a Spanish Colony in the New World. There the Viceroy, Ferdinand, rules as King, and is expecting a coach he had made entirely out of gold be delivered from Spain. When the coach arrives, it is the envy of all royalty and the talk of the town. The ship that brought the golden coach from Spain also brought a troupe of travelling Italians, performers of Commedia dell'Arte. They arrive in this colony with the hope of making a living. Our heroine, Camilla, is the leader of the troupe, and quickly finds that she is wooed by three men, including a young soldier, a toreador and of course, the Viceroy himself. As she is wooed by these men she learns not only of their character, but of her own - the cruel, selfish bitch that she is.

A boring play within a costume drama

A boring play within a costume drama

The Golden Coach suffers from so much, I don't even know where to start. Let's begin with first impressions. One expects the images that are on Criterion collection disks to be, how you say, 'good'. The film opens oversaturated, blurry, and with colours bleeding so badly that I wondered if this was shot in 3D. Thank you emerging technology at the price of quality. Luckily, most of the film doesn't suddenly STROBE GREEN at you, but I was very surprised that Criterion distributed such a low quality DVD. Next comes the acting troupe. After seeing the performances in The Golden Coach, I've come to learn that Commedia dell'Arte is an Italian type of uber-boring theatre with colourfully dressed characters who wear masks, such as 'the old guy', 'the fop', the cute tumbling 4 year old, the pantomiming harlequin, and a couple of chicks. By far those 'plays within a film' should have played out like a busy circus of talent. With musicians, actors and acrobats, even sometimes all occupying the stage at the same time, and with hundreds of years of material, I entirely blame Renoir, who chose to show the audience, or the behind-the-scenes drama unfolding rather than the potential-laden material on the stage before him. Even with the added historical context, potential for dramatically unfolding tales and colourful set design in this era of burgeoning colour film technology, I couldn't even look forward to a moment of escapist enjoyment in this unfunny comedy of terrors. Lame.

The biggest disappointment in The Golden Coach is the mood-killing heroine played by Anna Magnani. To put it simply, she's ugly and petty and a total gold-coach-digger unworthy of my sympathy. The more I learned of her character and motivations, the less I liked her. I found the political machinations of Ferdinand the Viceroy and his displeased nobles far more interesting. This subplot I found almost enjoyable, as they injected moments of 'feels like work' amidst the odium of the acting troupe and their vulturous leader Camille. At least the massive-schnozzed actors playing the Toreador and Viceroy are on par for looks. Talk about bumping uglies.

Itr's impressive, but I recommend you see the exhibit rather than the film.
It's impressive, but I recommend you see the exhibit rather than the film.

Performance: 5 Cinematography: 6 Script: 7 Plot: 5 Mood: 4

Overall Rating: 54% (Fool's Gold)

Based on the 1829 play, Le Carrosse du Saint Sacrement written by Prosper Mérimée, a writer best known for writing Carmen, Jean Renoir took great liberties in his  adaptation, but sadly he kept it as dated and tedious as the original sounds. This film is not only entirely forgettable, but unpleasant, especially when one considers the potential each and every scene had to being a fantastical peek into the past.

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