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The Criterion Collection presents

The Golden Coach (Le Carrosse d'or) (1953)

"It's better to go and fight savages. You have a chance of winning at least. Trying to win Camilla? That's something else."- Don Antonio (Odoardo Spadaro)

Stars: Anna Magnani, Duncan Lamont, Paul Campbell, Riccardo Rioli
Other Stars: Odoardo Spadaro, George Higgins, William Tubbs
Director: Jean Renoir

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:42m:27s
Release Date: 2004-08-03
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-B+B B+


DVD Review

Director Jean Renoir, the second son of Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir, was born in 1894 and directed his first films during the silent era. In the late 1930s, he directed The Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game, widely acknowledged as classics. After a stay in the United States, he returned to Europe and directed his so-called "trilogy"of The Golden Coach, French Cancan, and Elena and Her Men.

The Golden Coach in question has just been imported by Ferdinand (Duncan Lamont), the viceroy of a colonial outpost in 18th-century Peru. Arriving on the same ship are a troupe of down-on-their-luck commedia dell'arte actors, including their star Camilla (Italian screen icon Anna Magnani). Much to the chagrin of the Viceroy's courtiers, he is immediately captivated by the spirited Camilla, but she's also pursued by fellow actor Felipe (Paul Campbell) and bullfighter Ramón (Riccardo Rioli). Each of her suitors attempts to impress Camilla in his own way, but the Viceroy has the most to offer, and Camilla is delighted when he presents her with the coach. Infuriated by his actions and disdainful of his attraction to the lower-class Camilla, the Viceroy's council of grandees threatens to depose him if he doesn't take back the coach and make the palace off-limits to commoners. It seems as though he can choose either his love for Camilla or his position of power, but Camilla has a trick or two up her sleeve.

In its emphasis on theatricality and artifice, The Golden Coach is a study in contrasts with Renoir's usual realism. Our first hint is in the main titles, displayed against a theater curtain, which is then replaced by a real theater curtain. The curtain opens, the camera moves forward past the proscenium arch, and suddenly the set has become reality. There are more Russian dolls to uncover, most obviously in the barnyard-turned-theatre where the troupe performs, but also in scenes that resemble nothing so much as a stage farce. (One might wish that the less-than-stellar acting in several of the main roles was another means by which Renoir was underlining the artificiality of the film, but that's probably just wishful thinking.) The other films in the trilogy share an interest in the stage (and spectacle), but The Golden Coach, with its onion-like construction, is unique among Renoir's films.

Renoir examines class relations in the film, but this is no fixed class system, where one's birth determines one's ultimate place in society; but rather a more fluid, flexible system. He pokes fun at the aristocrats, who clamber childishly for access to the coach, rather than concern themselves with the colony's war efforts, but he's taking amusement in their actions, not treating them viciously. The Viceroy tells Camilla that she's only a few lessons (and lover of suitable rank) away from being a lady, and once her innate authority is asserted, even the nobles bow down before her. A constant throughout Renoir's career is his humanism (famously, the character played by Renoir himself in The Rules of the Game says that everyone has his reasons), which is reflected here in his treatment of both the upper and lower classes.

Eric Rohmer called The Golden Coach the "open sesame" of Renoir's films, for its contrasts of art and nature, and acting and life. Those who are new to Renoir, or who are familiar only with his realist masterpieces of the 1930s, may be disappointed with the film. Those who are interested in seeing another side of Renoir's talent, a great performance by Anna Magnani, or a film that's visually lush and stylish are well advised to hop on The Golden Coach and take it for a ride.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Renoir carefully chose the color themes of The Golden Coach, so it's a good thing that the image transfer is up to the job. Colors are bright, even vibrant in some scenes, although skin tones often look a bit pale. Black levels are good, but there isn't much shadow detail. As is typical of Technicolor films, whose three-strip negatives may suffer from uneven shrinkage, there are slight shifts in color density and hue, although these only become annoying in one sequence. The restored final few minutes of the film don't look very good, but that's clearly a fault of the source rather than an error in the transfer. There are no compression artifacts, and thankfully no edge enhancement.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The mono sound (in its original English) is good, and the dialogue is clear, although there is a constant low-level hiss on the soundtrack.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Introduction to the film by Jean Renoir
  2. Video introduction by director Martin Scorsese
  3. Jean Renoir parle de son art: Part One of Jacques Rivette's three-part interview with Renoir
  4. Production stills
  5. Twelve-page printed insert
Extras Review: Jean Renoir's 7m:43s introduction to his film is in full frame black and white. In subtitled French, Renoir explains that he wanted to continue his experiments in color, discusses the genesis of the film and his inspiration in the music of Vivaldi, and explains why he prefers the English version of a movie that was filmed separately in three different languages. Martin Scorsese's brief (2m:33s) 1993 introduction to the newly-restored film looks great, and he briefly mentions how Renoir influenced him, the film's theater-like qualities, and Magnani's performance.

Jean Renoir parle de son art is the first part of a three-part interview, spread out over the trilogy discs. Interviewed by New Wave director Jacques Rivette, Renoir discusses his use of multiple cameras, and the necessity for actors to internalize their dialogue in order to act the role and not the moment. Rivette accuses Renoir of bringing acting and cinema down to the level of theater, but Renoir argues (somewhat convincingly) that advances in technique erase the boundaries between the performing arts. It's an interesting conversation, more so in that Renoir has claimed elsewhere that these same technical advances lead to more, not less, realism. The interview, subtitled in English, doesn't look very good, with weak black levels, low contrast and plenty of source flaws, and there's constant hiss on the soundtrack. Although it has a copyright date of 1975, the interview is clearly of an earlier vintage, since Renoir discusses his "next" film, The Elusive Corporal, which was released in 1962.

Ten behind-the-scenes production stills featuring Renoir and Magnani are included. In the booklet, Jonathan Rosenbaum discusses the trilogy and its unplanned nature, compares the three films, and contrasts them with Renoir's earlier films. Andrew Sarris gets a page and a half to briefly synopsize the film, compare its initial poor reception with its current appreciation, and make the case that Renoir was a modernist. All in all, a solid package of extras from Criterion.

Extras Grade: B+

Final Comments

Jean Renoir's first post-World War II European film wasn't received well either commercially or critically, but it's interesting as a contrast with Renoir's earlier films. The transfer is quite good, and Criterion include their usual assortment of valuable extras.

Robert Edwards 2004-08-04