The Golden Coach Blu-ray Review: Jean Renoir’s Tribute to Theater

When a traveling theater company rolls into a rich Peruvian town, the star actress named Camilla (Anna Magnani) quickly attracts the attention of three local suitors. One of those men is a wealthy viceroy who receives an elaborate golden coach and decides to regift it to Camilla to prove his affection. The other two men don’t have expensive gifts, but have their own merits. One is a young Spanish officer eager to settle down, while the other is a torero willing to share his glory with her.

Buy The Golden Coach Blu-ray

Director Jean Renoir frames the film as a live theater event, with the most interesting shot happening right at the beginning when the story opens as a staged piece. Renoir moves his camera through an actual theater and up onto the stage, before expanding the world into real exterior locations and extensive soundstage sets. He also utilizes the music of Antonio Vivaldi to further establish the concept that we’re watching a classic play enacted on a sweeping canvas, even as he abandons the physical trappings of the proscenium stage for the balance of the film.

Renoir’s ode to theater has a simple structure offering little opportunity for character growth. The three men flit about the object of their joint affection, each taking their shot as she decides if she’s even interested in leaving her traveling troupe. The golden coach is seen briefly and then largely ignored, just an added bargaining chip for the viceroy’s proposal to win the romantic contest. With a limp story, flat character arcs, and little chemistry between the stars, there’s not enough to make this a must-see film, although the new restoration grants it a fresh coat of paint.

Interestingly, although the film is an Italian/French co-production set in Peru, it was filmed mostly in English. This was likely a concession to international appeal, but one that gets a bit dicey with the mix of non-English actors contributing their line readings with varying levels of comprehension: both theirs and ours. 

Magnani was an esteemed international star, and was destined for Oscar glory in a few years with her win for The Rose Tattoo (1956), but I had problems with her in this role. As the object of affection for three men, she simply overpowers all of them, seeming and sounding more like a tough, mature gypsy lady than a fawning ingenue looking for her Prince Charming. Since the whole film hinges on her character, it’s difficult to believe her attraction to any of the men, and vice versa, making for central relationships that never ring true. The male actors are all forgettable and interchangeable, not helping the situation. With such a vast power imbalance between the leads, the film remains entirely Magnani’s vehicle, unfortunately at the expense of its central plot authenticity.

The new Blu-ray features the results of a new 2K restoration from the original Technicolor trichrome negatives. Images are sharply defined and clear of major defects, retaining fairly washed-out color grading and light film grain. The 2.0 mono soundtrack has a bit of hiss, but is mostly crisp and clear. The disc includes an audio commentary track by a film critic, and an alternate French audio track, but no bonus features.

The Golden Coach rolls onto Blu-ray on February 27th.

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Steve Geise

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