Lately, Francis Coppola has been unable to give full rein to his talents —b.ut with Tucker he returns to form. And the new filn offers telling parallels With his own career. Trevor Johnston reports.



In a way. Tucker: The Man And His Dream is a most unlikely project to ecape from today‘s formula-dominated llollywood. A $23 million biopic of a barely remembered l‘)-l()s‘ car manufacturer is hardly the sort of


Preston Thomas Tucker was born in Michigan in 1903 and spent his early careerworking on the Ford assembly line, and in sales positions of increasing importance with Studebaker, Dodge and Pierce-Arrow. With the reputation of a marketing wizard, he began to dream of making his own vehicle, and in 1937, planned a high-speed combat car for the US army. The military authorities however, adopted only the plan forthe gun turret, which was soon rushed into production. Eventually, as America entered the Second World War, the government was to confiscate Tucker’s patentforthe war effort.

thing you see every day. Especially when you consider that Preston 'l‘uckcr. the auto engineer in question. only ever managed to produce fifty of his ‘(‘ar of 'l‘omorrow 'l'oday‘ model before his operation disappeared beneath a

He remained undeterred though, and in 1947 he unveiled ‘The Car of Tomorrow Today'. The Tucker Torpedo, whose aerodynamic low-slung lines meant it lived up to its name, held many innovations: a single push-button for central locking; a moveable cyclops headlight; disc brakes; a fuel-injected engine; and a number of safety devices that included a pop-out windscreen. In terms of design it was far in advance of anything the major Detroit manufacturers had to offer, and was priced for the average family pocket too.

Yet only 50 Tuckers ever left the factory. In 1948, after much chicanery between big business and the political powers that be, the Securities and Exchange Commission investigated Tucker on charges of improper stock

welter of trumped-up corruption charges. fabricated at the behest of the major Detroit motor corporations.

Starring the always reliable Jeff Bridges in the title role. Tucker: The Man And His Dream marks a

A -~,- activities and massive mail frauds to

raise funds for a car he never intended producing. Although Tucker was

eventually to be acquitted in 1950, the bad publicity had broken his company had crushed his dream.

He was written off as a con man and died of cancer in relative obscurity in 1956.

6 The List 9 22 December 1988

welcome return to form after a few years of career doldrtnns by Francis Coppola. one of the American cinema‘s most gifted contemporary mavericks. It‘s a project he first considered over twenty years ago. and a movie that both recalls his earliest memories and provides a number ofintrigning similarities to his own progress in the film industry.

In 1947. (‘oppola’s father Carmine. a concert flautist and now screen composer for his son‘s movies. took his boy l’rancis to see a New York exhibition of the latest in affordable automotive technology. The prototype ‘l‘nckcr 'l'orpedo so impressed (‘oppola Sr with its futuristic lines and engineering innovations that he soon placed an order for one. However. the instigation of legal action against l’reston 'l‘ucker meant that (‘armine was never to receive the car. ()nly many years later was successful film-maker l’rancis able to ftilfil his father's wishes by purchasing the first of two roadworthy ’l‘uckcrs he nowowns. Forty-six oftlic original fifty cars are still in working condition to this day.

But the current movie is not merely the creative offspring of the sincerest kind of brand loyalty . There are significant parallels bet‘. :en the Preston 'l‘ucker story and the film career of l’rancis ( ‘oppola himself. Like the car manufacttn'er. the movie-maker had gone through a