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Film / Tucker: The Man and His Dream

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A 1988 Biopic directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Jeff Bridges as maverick 1940s automaker Preston Tucker, with a supporting cast including Joan Allen, Martin Landau, Elias Koteas, Christian Slater, and Frederic Forrest.

The film follows Tucker as he tries to launch his car company and produce the Tucker Torpedo, and gets investigated by the SEC for stock fraud and questionable fundraising.

Though well received by critics, it was a notorious box office bomb.


  • Author Appeal: Both Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas's fathers owned Tuckers.
  • Author Avatar: Tucker is obviously one for Coppola, in the manner with which how he has his family involved in his work, prides himself as an independent-thinking idealist opposed to larger forces and his lament at the end that large businesses will drive away visionaries.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: How Tucker's critics see his designs. Tucker proves otherwise and shows that his cars and vehicles are functional and operational. During the war, the military rejected the "Tucker Tiger", an armoured Jeep/Tank hybrid on the grounds that the car went faster than specified.
  • Becoming the Boast: The "Tucker Torpedo" was only an idea and specification which Tucker jobbed around before he actually got around to building a prototype, the prototype itself is barely finished in time for opening day at the plant, yet after months of work and tests following on the good-will generated by Tucker excitement, Tucker proudly notes that he built 51 cars that do exactly what he promised at first.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Tucker is acquitted of all charges, but the lawsuits drained his personal fortune and his company goes into bankruptcy. The 51 Torpedoes he produced are the only ones that will ever exist.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Tucker is an incredibly hammy showman and salesman, but he's also a brilliant inventor, engineer, car driver and highly charismatic and intelligent.
    • Howard Hughes knows game when he sees one, and invites Tucker in the middle of the night to an abandoned airstrip where his Spruce Goose gathers dust. Hughes comes off as wacky and spaced-out but offers Tucker invaluable business advice and genuine encouragement.
  • Boring, but Practical: The military rejected the "Tucker Tiger" but they kept the gun turret on top (the "Tucker Turret") because its design was incredibly ergonomic, effective and convenient. As the opening newsreel noted, it saved the lives of many soldiers during the war.
  • Confucian Confusion: Tucker tries to shake off the legal eagles with a quote about shipbuilding he attributes to Confucius.
    Preston Tucker: "Big ships fine," Confucius say. "Rowboats long in tooth, make big noise, go nowhere."
  • Cool Car: The Tucker Torpedo. It even has a very interesting gearshift.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The president of the Tucker Company only cares about getting the Torpedo made fast and sold without any of the additions that Tucker had promised and many clients had already paid for, or following the design as Tucker made it, deeming it too idiosyncratic.
  • Doomed Moral Victor: Tucker won his case and vindicated himself yet his business failed and his product never became a success. Despite this, all his innovations were adopted in later decades and vitally changed the automobile business.
  • Futureshadowing:
    • The senate hearing and presentation by Tucker where he shows grisly images of car accidents and the unsafety of many automobiles was obviously a reference to the crisis in Big Auto in the late 60s and early 70s around the time of Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed. Tucker proposes that his cars have measures that will improve passenger safety and convenience. It would be much later when the other cars followed suit.
    • Tucker's final speech at the Court has him noting that the ability of large corporations to crush independent inventors and entrepreneurs will hold back American ingenuity and knowhow and that eventually Japan and Germany will surpass them in consumer electronics and cars. By the time Coppola made this film in the 80s, this became increasingly true, and it's especially prescient in the 21st Century.
  • Genre Throwback: To 50s advertising and industrial films, as well Frank Capra's movies. Ironically, Capra — who Coppola and Lucas had approached to be involved in the film, since they considered it an Homage — rejected the film because he saw Tucker as a "loser," didn't see him as "little guy against the system" and that it would invoke Too Bleak, Stopped Caringinvoked.
  • Happily Married: Preston and Vera Tucker.
  • Hates Being Touched: Howard Hughes refuses a handshake from Tucker, befitting his famous hypochondriac ways.
  • Historical Domain Character: Tucker, his family, Alex Tremoulis and many other figures are actual people. In addition there is a cameo by Howard Hughes (played by Dean Stockwell).
  • Historical Villain Upgrade:
    • In Anahid Nazarian's own words, "[T]the president of the Tucker Company was a good guy really, but we needed a villain, so we made him a villain."
    • The Big Three are hinted as being threatened by Tucker, when in actuality they couldn't care less about a startup independant car company. They decided to reduce competition by cutting prices in 1953, which ultimately put Studebaker-Packard and Kaiser-Jeep out of business. In reality, Tucker was targeted by an overzealous SEC investigation (see Misplaced Retribution below) rather than rival auto companies.
  • In the Style of: Frank Capra films and old-school "propaganda" films. The movie even opens with a "presented to you by the Tucker Corporation" card. Some critics didn't liked how Tucker was painted like some kind of larger-than-life Messianic Archetype, although they admitted that it would make sense with the format.
  • Leitmotif: Preston Tucker considers "Hold That Tiger" by the Mills Brothers to be this for him, considering that he constantly sings "Hold That Tiger! Hold That Tiger!" throughout the film.
  • Loophole Abuse: Tucker only made 51 cars because it legally showed he had started mass production.
  • Meaningful Background Event: At one point Tucker walks past two large paintings of Nikola Tesla and Robert Goddard, two American geniuses and pioneers whose inventions didn't get attention from the mainstream. Another scene has Tucker and Abe discussing their project before a giant painting commemorating the New Deal's WPA projects, symbolizing a time when America was committed to homegrown infrastructure and innovation.
  • Misplaced Retribution: The SEC was embittered over Kaiser-Frazer receiving millions in grants and squandering almost all of it, so they punished all startup businesses by putting them under intense scrutinization, even Tucker, who didn't take any government money. His biggest innovation, selling accessories for the car before it entered production (which guaranteed them a spot on the waiting list) and selling cars to dealerships before it was produced (for $7,500 to $30,000 each, in a total of 2,000 dealerships), is probably what drew the SEC's attention. It is also probably why the War Assets Administration, who leased him the Chicago Dodge Plant note , denied his bids for two steel mills to supply the steel needed for the cars.
  • The Mountains of Illinois: Scenes set in Michigan prominently feature typical California brown hills in the background.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • Jeff Bridges was allowed by the Tucker family to wear Preston Tucker's rings, and were very involved in the making.
    • Anahid Nazarian's research consisted of several books, over 350 articles, interviews with the family, and hundreds of photographs, home movies and interviews with Tucker.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Anahid Nazarian, Coppola's librarian, mentions "Preston Tucker didn't really have an assembly line; there's one in the film. He actually had five kids; there are only four in the film. Our story takes place in one year; the real story took place over four years." Alex Tremulis, stylist of the Tucker, is shown as the chief designer, while actual chief designer Phillip Egan isn't shown.