Posted by: Jerry Garrett | December 19, 2011

The Cars of THE ARTIST: Pierce-Arrow, Cadillac, LaSalle & Lincoln

James Cromwell, with Penelope Ann Miller and Missi Pyle, arrive at "The Artist" premiere in Hollywood, in a blue 1935 Pierce-Arrow. This is not the car he chauffeured in the film.

[Please note: This post has been updated with new information!]

HOLLYWOOD

The movie “The Artist” takes us back to the dawn of The Talkies Era in Hollywood, from 1927-1932. Unfortunately, the movie’s cars only take us back to the mid-1930s.

The filmmakers tried mightily to re-create that bygone era, with period-correct wardrobe, buildings, furnishings and – notably – automobiles. Close investigation of the cars that were selected raises some eyebrows.

Filming in Hollywood – an area around which there is no shortage of late 1920s and early 1930s automobiles that have been lovingly preserved (the climate helps!) – it should have been fairly easy to find the right rides.

But what did they actually choose?

Fatty Arbuckle's 1919 Pierce-Arrow (Coker Tire)

A successful silent film star of the late 1920s, such as George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), would likely have been able to easily afford the best American automakers had to offer: Cadillac, Duesenberg, Marmon, Packard, Pierce-Arrow and Chrysler. (Most could be had for $6,000-$8,000.) All these models were favorites of the real stars of the day; notorious comedian Fatty Arbuckle had a custom-made Pierce-Arrow that he spent more than $25,000 on – about $500,000 today. (No, it did not actually have an onboard toilet, as rumored.)

But, for the limousine-like sedan that chauffeur Clifton (James Cromwell) drives – supposedly in the years 1928-1932 – the filmmakers apparently decided on what appears to be a 1931 Lincoln Model K.

1931 Lincoln Model K 7-Passenger Limo

(Yes, I did originally say this was a 1935 Pierce-Arrow 12-cylinder sedan probably a Model 1602 – because that is what the stars arrived in, at the AFI Fest premiere of the movie in November 2011). I came to this revised conclusion after re-viewing the movie, multiple times.

Why do we say the movie car was a 1931 Model K, rather than the similar 1929 or 1930 Model L versions? The outboard trunk looks like a 1929 vintage piece, raising the possibility the movie car might have been a model year, or two, earlier than the 1931 Model K. But let’s compare the photos above and below.

George Valentin's car in the movie: '31 Lincoln, yes?

The two-bar grille with a wider, mouth-like gap in the middle of it, was more typical of the 1931 models (although 1929 models with that grille do exist; they may have been a custom order item or replacement. Generally, however, pre-1931 Lincolns had single bar grilles, either side of the mouth-like center. The Standard Catalog doesn’t show the two-bar grille as being offered by Lincoln until 1931).

Notice the long hood with vertical louvers on each car. Identical, aren’t they? Wheels and hubs are the same. Even the small spotlight mounted atop the spare. The twin horns. (The movie car differs only in its optional running lamps.)

Other identifying features of Lincolns of this era? Flat plate glass headlights. Flat radiator shell. And of course, the “greyhound” radiator mascot.

This car first appears in scenes dated 1928.

Having lost all his money in the 1929 stock market crash and imprudent film production,  a new Lincoln – even of the correct era – would have been light-years beyond George’s budget.

Charlie Chaplin's 1929 Pierce-Arrow (subsequently owned by STP king Andy Granatelli)

Especially at a time when he had not paid his chauffeur in a year.

A more appropriate choice for the movie might have been the actual 1929 Pierce-Arrow that Charlie Chaplin owned. (It was offered for sale on eBay in May 2011 by a Costa Mesa, Calif., museum.)

Using as a guide the Pierce-Arrow driven to the movie’s premiere at AFI Fest 2011 in Hollywood, the cut of the front fender – down to a sharp corner behind the wheel – is a notable identifier of the model year. But the only Pierce-Arrow I can find in the film is a 1932 model that drives by at the 1927 premiere that opens the film!

Mr. and Mrs. Hazanavicius and '35 Caddy

In an earlier post here, I discussed the 1935 Cadillac Fleetwood Imperial Convertible Sedan that Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) and her husband, the movie’s director Michel Hazanavicius, drove to the premiere in Hollywood. It’s a lovely car, and about three years too modern for scenes set in 1932. Was that the same car she drove in the movie? Most likely.

But some claim it is not.

Read the comments below.

Here is the movie car, which a reader swears has door hinges only seen on 1934-35 Cadillac

Note the similarities between the movie car and the one driven to the premiere, especially the bumper, lights, grille, wide whitewall tires and mascot.

1932 LaSalle phaeton

A sharp-eyed reader points out a shot in the movie where Peppy is honking the horn in her car – and a LaSalle logo is seen on the steering wheel.

This confused me. Could the movie car be a 1932 LaSalle phaeton, one of the legendary Harley Earl‘s earliest designs?

But, look at the 1932 LaSalle shown at left. That car was not in the movie, folks. was a very close cousin of the Cadillac back then, in General Motors’ pecking order.) It would not have been a 1933 model, as Earl replaced the ’32’s vertical hood louvers with distinctive horizontal ones.

LaSalle's logo

Credit is due to the film makers – the 1932 LaSalle would have been a period-correct choice. But…!

But if a LaSalle like this was in the movie, it appeared only as an extra in group shots, or cutaways like the horn-honking scene.

The car driven to the premiere is so similar to the one used in the movie, I believe they are the same car. I can almost visualize that red Cadillac, with its front end wrapped around a tree. (Of course, it wasn’t really crashed; that was Hollywood magic.)

What is the value of the movie cars, the LaSalle and the Lincoln? Depending on condition, each would be worth $50,000-$75,000. If either of the movie cars were to be offered for auction, each could be expected to sell for the high end of that estimate, because of their unique “star” status! The Cadillac might be worth $100,000 or more.

Al Jolson's 1933 Cadillac Fleetwood 36

During the movie, I thought the filmmakers had used perhaps what would have been the ultimate car for the job – the exquisite 1933 Cadillac V16 Fleetwood Model 36, a five-passenger All-Weather Phaeton, once owned by Al Jolson. How apropos that would have been!

Jolson, as movie buffs know, was the actor whose performance in 1927’s “The Jazz Singer” pretty much singlehandedly killed the Silent Movie era. Or at least Jolson’s performance was the beginning of the end for the silents, and the beginning of the beginning for the talkies.

Jolson became a very discerning collector of classic cars from the Flapper and Depression Eras. His garage was full of Cadillacs, Mercedes-Benzes (most notably, a 1928 Model S), and Packards (including his famous 1932 Packard Twin Six, known as the “Million Dollar Packard” because that is what it sold at auction for in 2011).

Peppy's tour bus (UnderTheHollywoodSign blog)

There were dozens of other old cars that appeared in the movie (reused in multiple scenes), including plenty of Ford Model A and Model T coupes, a delightfully preserved mid-1920s Hollywood tour bus, and even glimpse of a cool race car (possibly a Bugatti, based on the appearance of its “horse-collar” grille) at the beginning of the film.

A great movie – and an unexpected opportunity for some car-spotting.

Jerry Garrett

December 19, 2011

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Responses

  1. Hello,
    I just saw the film last week, I watched with a non-car friend- I had the same feeling. They carefully researched the era appropriate coat hangers…but they used a the wrong cars for the era?

    Would have loved to see a franklin in the background of any of these shots too! 🙂

    Great article!

    • Thanks. Yes, it was somewhat surprising about the cars. In watching the official trailer again, it looks like the ’35 Cadillac was also in the opening shot of the 1927 premiere, with its top down. Oh well. A nitpick. An otherwise flawless two hours at the movies.

  2. I saw also an sportrive-convertible white with red. Could someone which car is it? Thanks

  3. I thought the four door touring car used by the actress toward the end of the movie was a ’35, ’36, or’37 Packard, but the best one was the elegant auto driven by Clifton for the actor in the early scenes: if that was a 1933 Cadillac, it was actually too new for the date they used–I had guessed it was a Lincoln. But, with such gorgeous cars, who cares! Great movie, too…..

    • The selections of the cars for the movie are all exquisite, and a real treat for those who appreciate automobile styling of the 1930s. But all of the cars seem to be 3-5 years too new for the movie. With all the care the director took to make sure everything else in the movie was period-perfect, the selection of the wrong cars for the era was almost too much to believe. But then the stars showed up at the AFI Fest premiere of the movie in Hollywood last November, being driven in the movie cars. The photos of the arrival confirmed what we saw in the movie. Oh well. Minor problem. I don’t think affected anyone’s enjoyment of a brilliant film.

    • The car chauffered by Clifton at the beginning of the film was a Lincoln Model KB. I think it was 1931-33 vintage – way too late for the 1927 period when the movie began. Peppy’s car at the end of the film was a Cadillac, I think 35-36, a convertible sedan or Phaeton. The 1935 Pierce-Arrow at the beginning of this article, was not in the film, as far as I know, nut it MAY be the car that Robert Shaw drove in The Sting – looks like the same color, and that one WAS a 35 Pierce-Arrow. Fabulous movie, but the cars were too new for the period. Fabulous cars, though.

      I’m happy to be corrected as to year and model, but I’m pretty sure about the makes – the hood ornaments (mascots) of the period were quite distinctive.

      • Good eye! I think Clifton drove three different cars in the movie, and I think the third one was the Pierce-Arrow…the one where he was waiting outside George’s apartment after being fired. I remember the hood ornament. But I could be wrong.

  4. Thank you for the information. I ran home to see if anyone could identify Valentine’s car and am not surprised that it is too new for that period. Hollywood is always doing that, and getting away with it, but woe to the write who makes that mistake!

    • *woe to the ‘writer’, that is

  5. It looked to me that the chauferred car was a Lincoln, not a Pierce Arrow. Look at the radiator mascot, it’s a Greyhound not the archer of Pierce arrow. Peppy’s car that she crashes into a tree is a Cadillac.

  6. […] than drives, but then must give his chauffeur Clifton his Lincoln limo in lieu of back payment. The film was criticized for using cars that did not appear until after the time period it attempted to […]

  7. […] than drives, but then must give his chauffeur Clifton his Lincoln limo in lieu of back payment. The film was criticized for using cars that did not appear until after the time period it attempted to […]

  8. I saw the movie yesterday. I went in feeling a little down and came out dancing like the actors. The cars were a dream. I am sorry that they were not of the proper period. I don’t like being duped like that. Thank you for identifying the various models. I have no eye for classics but was so curious what models they were. Were these cars difficult to drive? They are so huge, were they heavy and used up a great deal of gas?

    • They weren’t driven great distances, so not much was required of them. The cars of the 1930s were much easier to drive than cars of the 1920s (which were extremely difficult to operate). So that may have been a key reason why later models were used. It has been pointed out that a few other items, such as cheques, watches and pens, were from a slightly more recent era than the film depicted.

  9. […] Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist « Elvis Leaving Las Vegas’ Heartbreak Hotel The Cars of THE ARTIST: Pierce-Arrow, Cadillac & More […]

  10. The first car, as you note, is a K Lincoln, based on the bumper. I suspected it was a one-year-only V8 ’31 (all other K’s were V12’s) based on the size of the hubcaps, but hadn’t narrowed it based on the bumper bars, so that’s good. As posted here on another of your threads in re. this, the second car is a ’36 K Lincoln, (a ’37 would have had the headlamps fared into the fenders, reminiscent of a Pierce but way more streamlined), NOT a C___ac, Packard or LaS! I don’t know where the B/W shot of that Cadillac above came from, but that is not the car in the movie that made it to theaters. All big convertible sedans of the mid/late ’30’s look more or less alike between the nose and rear deck, and in addition to the nose, the car in the movie most definitely had a smooth trunk, not humped like the Cadillac. Wait till it comes out on DVD. Then you can stop frame and come to the right conclusion.

    As far as the anachronism aspect of a ’36 in a ’32 scene, I took it as artistic license. I think they probably wanted mid-30’s since those are the cars that were in gangster chase scenes. When Peppy drives over to George’s, the Lincoln careens just like they did in gangster movies when the cops are in the big car and the crooks are in the V8 Fords. The crooks make the turn, the cops have to stop and back up to continue the chase.

  11. Just watched the DVD and the horn honking scene reveals just a bit of a Cadillac logo not La Salle. So it was an accurate cutaway after all.

  12. I own the Cadillac used in the film. It is a 1935 Cadillac. This same car was also the car pictured in the article above at the movie premier. The car will be up for auction in January at RM Auctions in Scottsdale, AZ.

    • Wow! Finally, some accurate information. I would love to write a story about your car, if you are agreeable. Please let me know. Thank you so much for writing.

      • I would be more than happy to provide you with any information about the car. Feel free to contact me at my e-mail address.

  13. […] That has been a subject of debate among readers of this blog, since I made a claim that it was, in columns posted here and here in December 2011. Finally, a year later, the owner of the movie car contacted me to […]

  14. I loved the movie “The Artist”! It was wonderful to see all the early cars,and I did notice the 35 Cadillac,but my second thought of it was that it was a concept that she had made to her liking, in 1933!
    I only wish that my Father was alive to see the film. He owned over a hundred cars in his lifetime, and was quite the afficianado when it came to identifying all makes, and models of every car built in those days! His favorite colour? Red! He would have loved the Cadillac for sure and also would’ve been able to correctly point out that it didn’t exist at that time,and did not belong in that movie. Knowing my Father like i do,I am positive that he would have excused the fact that it was in the movie, just because it’s Red!!


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