Soundtrack artwork chosen because it contains the true star of the movie front and center.
The Yellow Rolls-Royce is not a car movie in the traditional sense; it’s barely about the car itself. It’s about the circumstances surrounding the life of a yellow 1930 Rolls-Royce Phantom II (2JS) sedanca de Ville by coachbuilder Barker, who was the silent witness of the choices of three of its owners made while in ownership.
Fresh off the flatbed delivery truck (Rolls-Royce aficionados get a kick out of that scene, and are quick to point out its subtle discrepancies), the yellow Rolls-Royce is bought by British aristocrat Lord Charles Frinton (Rex Harrison) as an anniversary present for his wife Eloise (Jeanne Moreau), after talking with the dealer sales rep. about some of its features. After finding Eloise and her lover making out in the yellow Rolls-Royce, Lord Frinton decides to keep the wife, but get rids of the yellow Rolls-Royce; its presence reminded him of the very unpleasant event that not even his racehorse’s win could dampen the blow. This is the shortest story in the movie. Fans of Mr. Harrison and Ms. Moreau will get the short end of the stick.
Many miles later, the yellow Rolls-Royce is now in Italy for sale, now considered a clunker. It’s said that a previous owner, a Maharajah, lost it in a bet in a casino. Mae Jenkins (Shirley MacLaine) takes a liking to the yellow Rolls-Royce, and convinces his fiancée Paolo Maltese (George C. Scott) to buy it so they could tour Italy in it. Shirley would tour Italy… but with bodyguard Joey Friedlander (Art Carney), while Paolo went back to Miami for… business. Shirley’s mood picks up when she befriends street photographer/gigolo Stefano (Alain Delon). They visit the sights, fall in love, go through the is-this-right/is-this-wrong motions (she’s pretty much with Paolo because she feels she owes him), make out in the yellow Rolls-Royce, etc., much to Joey’s chagrin. He later shows Shirley the nature of still-her-fiancée’s business: gang work. Fearing for Stefano’s life, she breaks up with Stefano, without telling him the real reason.
Years later, near the Yugoslavian border, the yellow Rolls-Royce now sits in a small, dirty repair shop, waiting to be used again. A rich, widowed North American woman – Gerda Millet (Ingrid Bergman) – and her dog buy it to tour Europe, which would’ve been nice…if it wasn’t for those meddling German troops and their bombs. The yellow Rolls-Royce gets commandeered by resisting forces, led by Davich (Omar Sharif). Strong-willed Gerda insists on helping nearby villages, using the yellow Rolls-Royce as rescue/recruitment vehicle. The yellow Rolls-Royce gets driven up and down mountain passes, filled with passengers up to its battered fenders and running boards, trying to out run German bombers. This is the yellow Rolls-Royce’s swan song. Despite falling in love, Davich convinces Gerda to go back to the U.S. and use her influence to tell what’s going on in Europe. She does that, taking the battle-scarred yellow Rolls-Royce with her. In the end, the yellow Rolls-Royce is seen in better shape driving down North-American streets.
The differences between the two (maybe even three) Rolls-Royces used are MUCH more subtle that the contrasts of environments experienced within the story. The above car is the Barker-bodied 2JS. There’s confusion as to whether the car below is a Thrupp & Maberly-bodied 29JS or 54GN, or a Park Ward-bodied 29JS.
This movie is said to have been inspired by the 1947 German movie In Jenen Tagen/In Those Days (also known as Seven Journeys), where a car looks back in its life and tells seven stories about the people it’s been with. I’ve read that despite its flaws, it’s passable. I’d watch it.
This particular movie is said that it wasn’t so successful. My biggest critique was that it did feel pretty long, though I blame the second story for this, not because the movie lasts a little over 2 hours. I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one that wanted to see more of the Phantom II instead of souring relationships onscreen indirectly caused by it (maybe this is why I liked the third story: there’s still hope for that particular couple. That and my soft spot for Omar Sharif). It wouldn’t be the last time that a film sells a machine as a main protagonist in the traditional sense (a lot of screen time, relevance, etc.), when in fact it isn’t. At least the Rolls-Royce Phantom II grabs your attention (the yellow paint helps in that area), with its presence strongly felt as it silently witnesses the people and events around it. I don’t think a ’32 Ford could’ve pulled it off quite like the Rolls.
It’s cool if you watch the movie for the star-power (I’m counting the Rolls as well), but I’ll give another reason: the scenery. It’s GORGEOUS!
There was a small black-and-white behind-the-scenes promotional documentary called The Car That Became a Star, about the history of the car and how it was used for filming and promo material. It doesn’t get too technical, but I’m sure that many might find it a bigger treat to watch than the actual movie.
Oh, and the Rolls, you ask? While there were a couple used for film duty, one of them -the Barker-bodied 2JS- is known to have been restored, last seen making a cameo appearance on a Motor Trend video review.
Opening pic: www.soundtrackcollector.com
Final pic: YouTube printscreen