“On week-ends,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of Jay Gatsby, “his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past midnight…”
Okay, we know the mysterious tycoon and party host Gatsby owned a Rolls-Royce, probably a 1922 model, and one big enough to serve as a bus. Fitzgerald doesn’t spell it out in so many words, but it was probably a Silver Ghost. Later we learn it was a rare creamy yellow one.
“It was a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hat-boxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of wind-shields that mirrored a dozen suns,” Fitzgerald noted.
Perhaps Fitzgerald was envisioning something like the Rolls-Royce model (actually a Phantom) in the famous “Best Car In The World” art deco poster.
Knowing all that, in the Baz Luhrmann re-make of “The Great Gatsby”, why is Gatsby (Leonardo diCaprio) driving a 1929 Duesenberg? Alas, it’s not even a real Duesenberg – it’s a fake one, made in Wisconsin in 1983. It has a plastic body and a Ford V-8 engine and Lincoln driveline.
At first, I thought it might be because the film was made in Australia, and perhaps classic cars from the 1920s are a little hard to find Down Under. You take what you can get, right? Actually, no. The filmmakers went to the trouble of buying two Duesenberg II replicars from the Volo Auto Museum in Volo, Illinois – near Chicago – and shipping them to Australia for the film.
Luhrmann could have used the yellow Rolls-Royce Phantom I that Robert Redford drove in the 1974 film version of “The Great Gatsby.” But those filmmakers didn’t get it quite right either – Redford’s Rolls was a 1928 model. Still about six years off.
That car – a real Rolls, by the way, still exists. It sold at a Bonhams auction in Greenwich, Connecticut, in 2009 for $236,000 (its value was perhaps lessened a bit because its original color was changed for the movie, and its saddle leather seats were dyed green). Those Duesenbergs bought for Luhrmann’s film – if real – would have cost exponentially more than that Rolls-Royce. A source close to the production said using real cars would have been prohibitively expensive, all but impossible to insure against damage or loss, and difficult for the actors to drive. The replicars drive like 1980s cars.
Before filming started, a call went out from the prop department for “left-hand-drive” cars of the Roaring Twenties (cars are right-hand-drive in Australia, since they drive on the left there). If they were looking for a left-hand-drive 1922 Rolls-Royce, they would have come up empty, though. All Rolls-Royce cars were right-hand-drive until 1925, according to a Bonhams specialist!
That screen grab at the top of this story? It shows DiCaprio’s Duesenberg being pursued by a 1930 Buick. Other driving scenes are rife with American cars of the 1929-31 model years: Packards, more Buicks, Ford Model A’s and even a 1933 Auburn. Hopeless. (For what it’s worth, it seems supercharged Duesenbergs – albeit real ones – were also used in the 1949 Alan Ladd version of “Gatsby”.)
Luhrmann and his crew seemed to go out of their way to flout authenticity.
Did they even read the book?
The point of having Gatsby owning a Rolls-Royce in the book, and having a closet full of clothes from England, was to help sell his fantasy girl Daisy Buchanan on his lie of having gone to school at Oxford.
The original Duesenberg was made in Indiana. Would Daisy, a society belle from Louisville, Kentucky, have been impressed with a Hoosier?
Once again, Hollywood has gotten “The Great Gatsby” terribly, laughably wrong.
April 3, 2013