Tucker: The Man and His Dream
by Jonathan Walker
Dreams and the harsh reality of life are always at odds. When they come in contact, one must give way to the other. If the dream is to win, it must be carried by an indomitable spirit-full of optimism. Dreams are powerful things. They can convince people; they can challenge people. They can change the world. Preston Tucker had a dream for a new kind of car.
Preston Thomas Tucker (Jeff Bridges) is an ideas man. Anticipating World War II, he develops a light mechanized unit for the army. This bullet-proof vehicle was “too fast,” and therefore rejected. But, the military did like his turret. After the war, Tucker saw his chance to reach his dream of building an innovative car. It would have safety glass, seat belts, disk breaks, and (his personal favorite feature) a rear-mounted engine. He sold the idea to the whole country-even before his prototype was built. But, creating such promises was a threat to the powerful car manufacturers and the machinations started to rise against him.
Tucker is a light film with the infectious optimism of Preston himself. Preston has a flare for marketing. He talks big and refuses to say die, even when the harsh realities of politics stack against him. Abe Karatz (Marin Landau) and Preston Tucker contrast each other perfectly. While Abe continues to say, “You got no chance,” Preston’s catchphrase is a song, “Hold that tiger.” Preston converts Abe through the infectious nature of his dream, but Abe always has one foot in harsh reality.
The director, Francis Ford Coppola made the film as light and infectious as Preston himself. He used fun transitions keep the film moving from one sequence to the next and creative split-screens which bring people together. Additionally, there is a lush feel for the time when people dressed up just to go out, when marketing jingles filled the airwaves, and when the car was another member of the family.
Coppola brought the world such richly dark cinematic experiences as Apocalypse Now and the Godfather series, so it’s a bit surprising that there is something rather simplistic, shallow, and even old-time B-movie-like about the machinations against Tucker. People don’t talk like this: “This man Tucker doesn’t know business…” “We need to get rid of him for a while…” “We’ve got trouble, they actually built the car…”
It’s not believable to think that Coppola simply couldn’t see the absolute cheesiness of the dialogue. After all, this man won an Academy Award for writing the screenplay to the subtle and powerful film Patton. No, something else is going on. On the surface, Coppola is playing with the era (1940s) and the kinds of stories that were in American cinema and the black-and-white nature of the storytelling. It is something of a tribute to that era.
But, that’s not all. Coppola is an ideas man like Tucker. The financial troubles that have plagued Coppola’s production company, American Zeotrope, show that he is more Tucker than Karatz. Naturally, the powers which move against the innovators of the world would be staid, flat characters lacking in imagination. The contrast between the dialogue of Senator Ferguson (Lloyd Bridges) and Tucker’s emotions becomes one of the keys to the film.
Abe explained that his mother told him in the “old country” to not “get too close to people, you’ll catch their dreams.” Later, Abe realized that she had said that you would catch their “germs”-not dreams. But both messages are apt for the film. Ideas are what drive the imagination and progress of humanity. To those static souls who can only survive in the status quo, the ideas people are the germs that must be kept at bay.
After his dream seems dead-when you would most expect an ideas-man to hit rock bottom-Tucker retains his optimism. For him, the endeavor wasn’t about whether thousands of cars were made or millions of dollars earned. It was about the ideas embodied in the cars. “It’s the idea that counts.” The ideas will change the world. They eventually changed the car industry.
There is a powerful message here.
Throughout history, the most influential shifts in culture have come through ideas. Someone had an idea. Whether it was the teachings of Christ, humanism of the Renaissance, democracy in a world of absolute monarchs, or the perspective of Einstein, ideas change the way people think, act, and believe. Every significant shift in history has followed an idea.
While ideas are powerful, that doesn’t always mean that the person with the idea will win. After all, the world has a way of bringing the baggage of risk, obstacles and challenges with it. Just as Preston is warned in the film, “You can’t have Falstaff and have him thin.” When you take the world, you take it all. Sometimes it’s resistance is more than one can handle. At that point, one can either give up, or one can find hope in something else. Preston finds that there is always one more challenge on the horizon.
When you watch Tucker, be careful. You might catch his dreams.
Warning: Tucker does have a bit of “television language” (profanity that you would find on television).
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.