WINNER: TOP 25 LIBERTARIAN FILMS
The Big Three automakers use government influence to crush a competitor. Based on a true story. [Dir: Francis Ford Coppola/ Jeff Bridges, Joan Allen, Martin Landau/ 111 min/ Drama, Biography/ Creator as Hero, Unions & Monopolies]
Preston Tucker produced just fifty cars before his company was shut down by the federal government on the basis of SEC violations. Although he was subsequently vindicated, the legal battle cost him his savings, and he died several years later. The destruction of Tucker’s company is especially unfortunate because his revolutionary automobile design stressed (then unusual) safety features, including—seatbelts, pop-out safety glass, and a padded dashboard.
Tucker is portrayed here as bigger-than-life, a man whose energy and optimism create a can-do atmosphere among his employees. He has a vision of a great new type of car, and it’s a car the public is clamoring to buy.
However, there’s a problem. Tucker doesn’t have the financial resources to start a car company, or even to build a proper model of the car for the purpose of attracting investors. So, he builds a makeshift model out of old car parts, just a mock-up to show the world, so he can get the money to build his car for real. It’s not that he’s a cheat; it’s just that he has a breezy optimism that it doesn’t matter whether the car is for real today, because he has every intention of building it when he has the money. And indeed, as soon as the money starts coming in, Tucker does build his dream car.
That’s when the trouble starts. The last thing the Big Three automakers want is a competitor, so they pull political strings to get the SEC to go after him. Tucker is arrested for alleged fraud, wins the trial, but loses everything else including the company and his reputation.
Of course, there is an irony here that will not be lost on libertarians. The very safety features that made Tucker’s car unique were the same ones adopted much later by the Big Three under pressure from consumer activists and government. So, first the government shuts down the sole producer of safe cars, only to realize (many automobile deaths later) that for some odd reason the remaining automakers don’t feel under any competitive pressure to make cars safe. Then it must intervene again to force safety features into cars. Ah well, nobody ever said Big Brother was bright.
Tucker’s story, told here in a sympathetic light, is a good example of the creator-as-hero theme. It’s also a compelling illustration of the tendency for big government to operate on behalf of entrenched companies to the disadvantage of new entrants. The film’s energetic 1940s theme music is catchy, and there are some good performances. Martin Landau is outstanding as the crotchety finance man, and Jeff Bridges makes a likable Tucker.