Scen.: Arnold Schulman, David Seidler. F.: Vittorio Storaro. M.: Priscilla Nedd. Scgf.: Dean Tavoularis, Alex Tavoularis. Mus.: Joe Jackson. Int.: Jeff Bridges (Preston Tucker), Joan Allen (Vera), Martin Landau (Abe Karatz), Frederic Forrest (Eddie), Mako (Jimmy Sakiyama), Dean Stockwell (Howard Hughes), Christian Slater (Junior), Nina Siemaszko (Marilyn Lee), Marshall Bell (Frank), Peter Donat (Kerner). Prod.: Lucasfilm Ltd., Zoetrope Studios. DCP. D.: 110’. Col.
One of Francis Ford Coppola’s long-simmering passion projects, Tucker explores the themes of nostalgia, entrepreneurial self-promotion, and maverick masculinity that define much of his work. The film was originally conceived as a musical. While producer George Lucas convinced Coppola to rethink this idea, it helps to explain the prominent score, the color-saturated mise-en-scene, and the flamboyant scene changes in this 1980s take on the postwar industrial boom.
Coppola has traced his interest in the story back to his childhood, when his father took him to see a Tucker Torpedo prototype at an automotive show. Carmine Coppola was one of the many small investors in the company who lost their investments and never received their cars. As an adult, Francis was drawn to this story of a ‘great enterprise’, undertaken by a fast-talking, media manipulator against the sensible advice of industry insiders.
While Preston Tucker may have reminded Coppola of a combination of himself, P.T. Barnum, and Charles Foster Kane when he was developing the project, watching the film again in 2018 offers a fresh historical vantage point. The American automotive industry, and the cities that emerged from it, have transformed dramatically from the postwar boom represented in the film, as well as from the tense competition from imports in the 1980s (a future to which the nostalgic film continually alludes). And given the current celebration of disruption in the automotive industry, one cannot help but notice the affinity between Preston Tucker’s popular futurism and the savvy market manipulations of celebrity capitalists like Elon Musk.