Entertainment Magazine

Tucker: The Man and His Dream

Posted on the 27 January 2016 by Christopher Saunders
Tucker: The Man and His DreamTucker: The Man and His Dream (1988) mutated from musical to biopic over its 15 year gestation. Francis Ford Coppola couldn't find backing until George Lucas offered to produce. It offers a glossy portrait of Tucker as a little man fighting the System. Accurate or not, it's one of Coppola's better '80s movies.
Preston Tucker (Jeff Bridges) designs automobiles and military equipment in 1940s Michigan. After World War II, he pushes his idea for a "dream car": the Tucker Torpedo, a streamlined, safety-conscious design flying in the face of convention. The Big Three auto companies reject it, so Tucker enlists financier Abe Karatz's (Martin Landau) support. Tucker builds his own company in Chicago, garnering tremendous publicity. However, Senator Ferguson (Lloyd Bridges) and his business allies work to suppress him, indicting Tucker for fraud and targeting his business.
Old-fashioned doesn't begin to describe Tucker. Coppola offers an unusually wholesome throwback, scrubbed of "adult content," with Vittorio Storaro's glossy photography (alternating with striking monochrome) heightening the nostalgia. Coppola goes for broad humor, with Tucker driving his kids in an armored car to get ice cream, or showing accident victims to a roomful of CEOs eating roast beef. Joe Jackson's jazzy, playful score complements the story's boundless energy.
Tucker makes an appealing libertarian fable, with its businessman-hero fighting entrenched interests and government oversight. His harangue lauding free enterprise seems more Ayn Rand than Frank Capra. Tucker's certainly a defense of creative individuals, evinced by Tucker's unlikely alliance with Howard Hughes (Dean Stockwell), also shunned by conventional businessmen. Why are innovators mocked, scorned or beaten into line? No doubt Coppola, reduced to sellout pictures like Peggy Sue Got Married, sympathized.
An opening credit cheekily identifies Tucker as a promotional film, and the portrait's resolutely positive. It doesn't question Tucker's dubious business practices or investment irregularities. Conversely, the film envisions a conspiracy between Federal authorities and the auto companies, who in reality didn't pay Tucker much mind. Coppola further stacks the deck with cartoon villains, like Dean Goodman's deceitful bigwig and Peter Donat's slimy prosecutor. Such discrepancies don't bother Coppola, more concerned with celebrating his hero than asking probing question.
Jeff Bridges's assured performance that makes Tucker work. His cheerfulness and boundless energy sells the flawless, all-American hero concept. Joan Allen gives snappy support, supporting her husband and telling off corporate rivals. Martin Landau's endearing performance engaging earned him an Oscar nomination. A young Christian Slater plays Tucker's teenaged son. Coppola hands Dean Stockwell, Frederic Forrest and Peter Donat appear in supporting roles; Mako and Elias Koteas are among Tucker's employees.
Tucker: The Man and His Dream is so aggressively nostalgic, so hagiographic in its portraiture that many viewers will be put off. But Coppola's infectious enthusiasm overcomes most objections: it may not be accurate or nuanced, but it sure is engaging.

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