25 January 2013

‘Gangster Squad’ offers a buffet of 1940s classic cars

To those moviegoers who fork over $10 to watch the new Sean Penn film “Gangster Squad” and walk away thinking, “More Emma Stone, please,” we’d like to add this: “More of Emma Stone’s car, please.”

In a movie starring beautiful people (Stone, Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin) and chock-full of stunning classic vehicles, we see way too little – just a glimpse, in fact – of the gorgeous black 1949 Jaguar XK-120 driven by Stone’s character, Grace Faraday. Only five seconds on the screen? Come on. Of course, that’s like complaining there aren’t enough green candies in a package of M&M’s. Rest assured there are plenty of sweet treats in “Gangster Squad” for everyone, both in characters and cars.

On the automotive side, the story of mobster Mickey Cohen’s reign over post-war Los Angeles includes more than 100 vintage American cars … and, of course, at least one foreign beauty in the ’49 Jag. Star cars include a light blue 1941 Ford Deluxe Convertible, driven by Gosling’s character, Jerry Wooters, and the stunning 1949 Packard Super 8 limousine that chauffeurs Penn’s ruthless Cohen. Bullet-nosed 1947 Ford sedans serve as police cars, and we also get to see a very rare 1936 Oldsmobile convertible with tan ragtop, as well as a 1946 Chevrolet pickup in a pivotal Chinatown scene.

Cars from “Gangster Squad” were on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles during January, including that head-turning but little-seen Jaguar XK-120.

“These cars, they’re as important as the buildings and clothing and makeup in establishing the time and place,” Leslie Kendall, Petersen’s chief curator, told the Associated Press. “If you want to lock a movie scene in, use the right car and they will immediately get it.”

The characters discuss the cars they drive only once onscreen, but the banter is typical.

“You should get your wife a Cadillac,” Anthony Mackie, as Rocky Washington, says to fellow Gangster Squad member Conway Keeler, played by Giovani Ribisi. “You drive a Studebaker. She deserves a Cadillac.”

According to the Associated Press, picture car coordinator Tim Woods spent 12 weeks working with “Gangster Squad” director Ruben Fleischer to get the automotive look of 1949 Los Angeles just right. A few of the vintage cars came from Woods’ own personal collection, and he called on Southern California car collectors (and a few local junkyards) for the rest.

Many of the car owners were allowed to drive their own vehicles in the movie, knowing they’d have a better feel for their cars – and would be more cautious with them – than anyone else. Of course, no mobster film could be made without bullet holes and car wrecks, but Woods told the AP that only four 1949 Cadillacs were damaged, along with eight other cars – mostly junkyard finds that were modified for the rough stuff. “We blew them up, crashed them and destroyed them,” Woods said.

Woods said no harm came to those vehicles owned by collectors, however. Those hundreds of bullet holes? All computer generated.

“We never ever shot a hole in a single fender,” Wood said. “Those cars were not even scratched.”

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