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The Yellow Rolls-Royce

The Yellow Rolls-Royce(1965)


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teaser The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1965)

In 1963, producer Anatole de Grunwald, director Anthony Asquith, and screenwriter Terence Rattigan capitalized on the highly-publicized Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton love affair by co-starring the couple in The V.I.P.s (1963). That film was a revival of the Grand Hotel (1932) formula -- an all-star cast thrown together in unique circumstances, in this case a delayed flight at London's Heathrow Airport. The film was a surprise hit, and the following year, the production team re-united for a variation on this winning formula. Again they had an all-star international cast, but this time there were three separate stories tied together by one glamorous automotive: The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964). The film follows the travels of this luxury vehicle across Europe with three different owners from 1930 to 1941.

The Rolls-Royce, manufactured in Britain, represented the ultimate in luxury, style, and quality. And the film aspired to be the Rolls-Royce of movies: elegant, classy, and discreetly sexy. The Rolls-Royce used in the film was a pale blue 1930 Phantom II Sedanca de Ville, which MGM technicians covered with 20 coats of yellow paint. MGM focused as much publicity on the car as it did on the flesh-and-blood stars. It even produced The Car That Became a Star (1965), a documentary-like promotional short about the making of The Yellow Rolls-Royce, which gave the Rolls top billing.

In the first episode of The Yellow Rolls-Royce, titled British diplomat Rex Harrison buys the car for his French wife, Jeanne Moreau. And while he dallies with the horses at Ascot, she dallies with her husband's colleague (Edmund Purdom) in the Rolls. Parts of this sequence were shot on location at Ascot, and the exteriors of the couple's country estate were shot at Lord Astor's country house, Cliveden. The house had become notorious the previous year as the scene of the real-life escapades which brought down the British government in the sex-and-espionage scandal known as the Profumo Affair.

In the second story, Italian-American gangster George C. Scott tours his ancestral homeland with his gum-chewing blonde moll Shirley MacLaine. When he returns to America to take care of business, MacLaine gets involved with handsome Italian photographer Alain Delon. Art Carney, in his first feature film lead in years after playing Jackie Gleason's sidekick on television, appeared as Scott's henchman and MacLaine's sympathetic chauffeur (Carney had previously appeared in a bit part in the 1941 film, Pot o' Gold).

For Delon, 1964 was his breakout year into international stardom. After seven years in French and Italian films, Delon was France's highest-paid star. He had taken control of his career by setting up his own production company, and by branching out into English-language films. Delon followed up The Yellow Rolls-Royce, a British production, with Once a Thief (1965) opposite Ann-Margret and several international productions such as Lost Command (1966). By the early 70's he was as busy producing as acting.

Omar Sharif had become an in-demand international star in Lawrence of Arabia (1962). The third episode of The Yellow Rolls-Royce teamed him with Ingrid Bergman, playing a rich American widow who uses the Rolls to help Yugoslavian freedom fighter Sharif. A.H. Weiler in the New York Times had few kind words for the film, but did like their chemistry: " Miss Bergman and Omar Sharif manage to give this somewhat improbable {episode} a lift by energetic and humorous delineations."

Besides the charms of the starry cast, The Yellow Rolls-Royce offered other attractions: gorgeous location photography, designer wardrobes, and a catchy theme song, "Forget Domani," which won a Golden Globe Award for best song. In spite of tepid reviews, The Yellow Rolls-Royce performed respectably at the box office. The London Sunday Telegraph summed up the reason why: "anyone willing to be taken for a smooth ride could hardly find a more sumptuous vehicle, star-studded, gold-plated, shock-proof and probably critic-proof, too."

Director: Anthony Asquith
Producer: Anatole de Grunwald
Screenplay: Terence Rattigan
Cinematography: Jack Hildyard
Editor: Frank Clarke
Costume Design: Antonio Castillo, Edith Head, Pierre Cardin, Gene Coffin, Anthony Mendleson
Art Direction: Elliot Scott, Vincent Korda, William Kellner
Music: Riz Ortolani
Principal Cast: Rex Harrison (Marquess of Frinton), Jeanne Moreau (Marchioness of Frinton), Edmund Purdom (John Fane), Shirley MacLaine (Mae Jenkins), George C. Scott (Paolo Maltese), Alain Delon (Stefano), Art Carney (Joey Friedlander), Ingrid Bergman (Gerda Millet), Omar Sharif (Davich).
C-123m. Letterboxed.

by Margarita Landazuri

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