Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, in It Takes a Thief
Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, in To Catch a Thief. Click image to enlarge

By Norm Mort

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Oscar drives a…

Top ten car flicks of all time

Since the earliest days of Hollywood, the automobile has had a long and important role in films. Although it was a long forgotten American-built, up-market Rainier that can lay claim to being one of the first cars seen in an early 1900s promotional film, it was the popular Model T Ford that put the automobile in the spotlight. Where would the Keystone Cops, Buster Keaton, or Laurel and Hardy have been if it wasn’t for the Model T and other cars providing additional comic relief? And it was the automobile in those famous 1920s and thirties gangster movies and serials that provided added excitement with cops and robbers standing on the outside running boards, guns blazing and tires screeching.

Some of my favourite old forties and fifties Hollywood film scenes include “Monkey Business” with Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe in a wild ride in an MGTD and Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in an early Sunbeam Alpine racing through the Alps in “To Catch A Thief.” Big screen memories were “Bullitt” with Steve McQueen in his famous Mustang Fastback chase of a Dodge Charger, and of course those lovable Minis in “The Italian Job.”

Often, cars and even trucks, have been the stars – such as in “Gone in Sixty Seconds” starring Nicholas Cage, “Grand Prix” with James Garner, and the early Spielberg film, “Duel” when Dennis Weaver is relentlessly pursued by an 18-wheeler.

Gary Cooper's Duesenberg
Gary Cooper’s Duesenberg. Click image to enlarge

In the past few years we’ve had numerous new Batmobiles, another Italian Job featuring new Minis, and more recently Diehard 4 with a fighter jet and car going head-to-head. There were also plenty of DaimlerChrysler products in Harrison Ford’s hi-tech, suspense flick entitled “Firewall.”

Over at Ford Motor Company the positive publicity from having their vehicles in films has been a long tradition. Henry Ford established relationships with the film industry when he presented film studios and stars with Model Ts. When the much anticipated Model A Ford debuted, stars such as Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Dolores Del Rio and even Cecil B. DeMille lined-up to take delivery. Most stars had very fancy cars, but some were real enthusiasts. One of the stars in the 1930s that loved cars was Clark Gable who drove a British Jensen-bodied Ford and a Duesenberg. Many other celebrities and enthusiasts drove Duesenbergs including Gary Cooper, Dorothy Sebastian, Tyrone Power, James Cagney and others, while the great Rudolf Valentino in the 1920s drove a French Voisin.

“It’s very important for directors and screenwriters to have the precise vehicle for a film,” said Myles J. Romero, manager, Ford Global Brand Entertainment Group. A Lincoln Navigator played an integral role in the Oscar-nominated film “Crash.” As well as being nominated for Best Picture and Best Director a few years ago, Crash helped Matt Dillon earn his first nomination for Best Supporting Actor. At the time Romero also noted, “Having Terence Howard’s character in ‘Crash’ drive anything but a sport utility vehicle like the Navigator, for instance, wouldn’t have had the same impact. Whether it’s the Keystone Cops driving Model T’s, James Bond saving the world in an Aston Martin or CIA agent Sydney Bristow in a Ford Escape Hybrid on ‘Alias,’ Ford vehicles have been a part of the entertainment world for nearly a century.”

Herbie the Love Bug
Herbie the Love Bug. Click image to enlarge

Having a VW Beetle in the Disney “Herbie” flicks, Minis in the Italian Job, and Aston Martins in most of the on-going James Bond films has helped emphasize the main character’s role and personality in the film. A recent example of this can be seen in the remake of The Pink Panther. The producers of the Hollywood film “The Pink Panther” first became aware of the Smart Fortwo, two-seater microcar on a visit to Europe while scouting locations. They felt the Fortwo was the ideal mobile companion for the bumbling Inspector Clouseau played by Steve Martin. In addition to the 53 actors and 602 crew members, there were a total of ten smart cars present on set.

When the Oscars are presented this year in Hollywood on Sunday, February 24th the best of the film industry will go home with an Oscar. And in some cases that Oscar came to them with the help of the cars and trucks featured in their film.

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