Sunday 13 March 2022

Movie Review: The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964)

A star-infused anthology drama, The Yellow Rolls-Royce features three distinct European-set adventures linked by one vehicle. The stories toil towards stodgy adequacy.

The opening segment is set in London of the 1920s. The wealthy Charles, Marquess of Frinton (Rex Harrison) of the British Foreign Office purchases a brand new yellow Rolls-Royce as an anniversary gift for his wife Eloise (Jeanne Moreau). He is looking forward to fielding the favourite horse at Ascot's Gold Cup, but Eloise is having an affair with diplomat John Fane (Edmund Purdom).

The second and longest story is set in Italy's Genoa area in the 1930s. Mafioso Paolo Maltese (George C. Scott) buys the Rolls-Royce when his moll Mae Jenkins (Shirley MacLaine) falls in love with it. She has no appreciation for culture, but gigolo tourist photographer Stefano (Alain Delon) catches her attention. When Paolo is called back to the United States, Mae and Stefano pursue an affair under the watchful eye of Paolo's right-hand man Joey Friedlander (Art Carney).

The final instalment starts in Italy near the border with Yugoslavia in 1941. Wealthy and influential American widow Gerda Millett (Ingrid Bergman) purchases the aging Rolls-Royce to drive into troubled Yugoslavia and meet the newly installed leader. Partisan Yugoslav commander Davich (Omar Sharif) is aware the Nazis are about to invade his country, and spots an opportunity to slip across the border in the vehicle's trunk.

A British MGM studios production, The Yellow Rolls-Royce labours away with plenty of verbiage yielding relatively limited impact. Writer Terence Rattigan demonstrates a propensity for long paragraphs of irrelevant dialogue, and despite the short length of each segment, the film gets bogged down in long scenes digging away at the obvious. To compensate, director Anthony Asquith makes good use of scenic European locations, and when all else fails, the yellow Rolls-Royce itself adds elegance to any frame.

As expected the format reveals interesting ideas beset by insufficient evolution. The third chapter is energized by the World War Two context and carries the most promise as a potential long-form drama. Finally the Rolls-Royce is put to use for something other than discrete love-making, as Ingrid Bergman's Gerda descends from haughty pretensions and helps partisans re-group in the mountains. 

The middle story is the longest, occupying half the two hours of running time, but remains in middling territory. Shirley MacLaine tries hard as the American hat-check girl and a fish out of water in Italy, Alain Delon the only piece of culture she is interested in. George C. Scott over-cooks his mafia boss into a cartoon character. Art Carney is more circumspect as the aging deputy and driver.

The first story is the weakest, all pomp and circumstance with Rex Harrison in his theatrical element. Asquith stages a lavish banquet then enjoys the Ascot surroundings, leaving limited room for the central illicit love affair.

The common themes across the three chapters include secretive love affairs and characters exposed to both stark realities and trajectory-changing revelations. The Yellow Rolls-Royce is gracefully staid, and perhaps unsurprisingly, never moves out of third gear.

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