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The Yellow Rolls-Royce

The Yellow Rolls-Royce(1965)


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1964's The Yellow Rolls-Royce features an all-star international cast in the MGM tradition of Grand Hotel. The script is by playwright Terence Rattigan, the author of the oft- filmed The Winslow Boy, The Browning Version and Separate Tables. Rattigan, director Anthony Asquith and producer Anatole de Grunwald had just enjoyed a hit with The V.I.P.s, another multi-star rally that teamed Liz Taylor and Richard Burton.

Much of the film is filmed on picturesque European locations. Unfortunately, the seven top stars are thrown together with little thought as to screen chemistry, and much of the show just doesn't come together. The Yellow Rolls-Royce's only really lasting contribution is Riz Ortolani and Norman Jewell's bouncy pop tune Forget Domani.

A black & yellow luxury automobile is the narrative focus linking three otherwise unrelated romances. Each of the episodes recounts an ill-fated love affair. Diplomat Lord Frinton (Rex Harrison) buys the new Rolls-Royce as an anniversary gift for his wife, the Lady Eloise (Jeanne Moreau). But Eloise uses the car to conduct an affair with one of her husband's employees, Edmund Purdom. A number of years later the Rolls turns up in Naples. Vacationing Yankee gangster Paolo Maltese (George C. Scott) buys it to tour Italy with his fiancée Mae Jenkins (Shirley MacLaine). When Paolo returns stateside to rub out a gangland competitor, Mae falls for Stefano, a handsome gigolo (Alain Delon). Ten years later, American philanthropist Gerda Millett (Ingrid Bergman) acquires the Rolls to take her from Italy to Yugoslavia, even though she's been warned of an imminent German invasion. Undaunted by bombs and threats, Gerda smuggles a freedom fighter named Davich (Omar Sharif) across the frontier. Gerda then volunteers the car for wartime use, shuttling Davich's Yugoslav partisans to the front line.

The Yellow Rolls-Royce's three stories not only don't connect, they don't cohere in theme or purpose; this isn't a Motor Trend version of La Ronde. None of the actors do bad work, but neither are they taxed in any way -- the short story format allows time to establish characters, but not to develop them. Jeanne Moreau's faithless wife isn't very appealing, and Shirley MacLaine's gangster's moll is the kind of part she can do in her sleep. Ingrid Bergman gives her society adventuress a good try, but her romance with Omar Sharif doesn't progress past the introductions phase.

The handsome Sharif makes almost no impression. George C. Scott resists hamming it up; his racketeer sings O Sole Mio on the street but can't get his dime-store girlfriend to appreciate the leaning tower of Pisa. Alain Delon's "simple street hustler" character seems phony from the get-go. Working hard at being British and fussy, Rex Harrison fares the best. We momentarily care for his feelings when he realizes he's being cuckolded. A few supporting characters stand out just as strongly. Art Carney shows promise as the gangster's buddy, who becomes MacLaine's watchdog when she strays. Joyce Grenfell made a career of playing addled Englishwomen with funny voices. Here she affects an American Southern accent. Popping up too briefly in Ingrid Bergman's episode is the always-welcome Wally Cox. If Bergman had snubbed Omar Sharif for an affair with the ex- Mister Peepers, the movie might have yielded some surprises.

The show certainly does not lack for production values. In England we watch the Queen's ceremonial guards and spend an afternoon at the Ascot Racecourse. Italy is a procession of postcard views of Naples, Florence and Rome. But it's disturbing to see many scenes blocked and directed to minimize the production time on location for the film's seven stars. Most of their work takes place on studio sets, shots inter-cut with handsome footage filmed at the racetrack or in the Italian mountains. Ingrid Bergman's segment is basically a road movie, but she appears in only a couple of exterior locations. When Bergman delivers Sharif to his enthusiastic comrades, she's seen only in cutaways almost certainly filmed weeks before or after, on a studio's back lot. At least ten minutes of The Yellow Rolls-Royce are second-unit views of the stately title car cruising through the countryside or racing down narrow mountain roads, and we quickly realize that the name actors aren't really present.

Warners' attractive disc of The Yellow Rolls-Royce is a colorful enhanced transfer of a show that's perfect for film fans with an interest in its truly stellar cast. The mono track is clear and bright. Composer Riz Ortolani's wife Katyna Ranieri sings the Golden Globe-winning song Forget Domani. Ortolani's rise in the ranks of international film composers began with his surprise hit song More, from the wildly successful pseudo-documentary Mondo Cane two years before. The only disc extra is the original trailer.

For more information about The Yellow Rolls-Royce, visit Warner Video. To order The Yellow Rolls-Royce, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson