“As long as I was riding in a big Cadillac and dressed nice... that's all I cared about,” said legendary soul singer Etta James in a statement that summarises the enduring appeal of the Detroit-founded luxury automobile manufacturer. Sleek, spacious and, above all, stylish, Cadillacs have long found favour among the world’s most glamorous icons, from artists and actors to monarchs and musicians (think: Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Elvis Presley and Fred Astaire). Unsurprisingly, they also feature frequently on the silver screen, often garnering as much attention as the stars themselves.
It’s exactly this Hollywood appeal which is the driving force behind A Series of Short Journeys, a new four-part set of narrative shorts directed by up-and-coming filmmaker Sam de Jong which plays on Cadillac’s storied history in cinema to celebrate the newest in its elevated range of vehicles. The films wittily riff on the characters and scenarios that populate modern life, each centred around a different contemporary Cadillac and its unique features, from the Escalade to the XT5. Here, in celebration of the series’ launch, we spotlight five of the best Cadillac moments on film; from the plum-pink convertible in True Romance to Harold’s hallowed hearse in Harold and Maude.
1. True Romance (1993)
When it comes to iconic onscreen characters, Quentin Tarantino and Tony Scott’s 90s cult crime drama is hard to beat. From Christian Slater’s comic-book-loving Clarence Worley and Patricia Arquette’s badass, bubblegum chewing Alabama Whitman; to Christopher Walken’s ‘anti-christ’ mobster Vincenzo Coccotti and Gary Oldman’s white Jamaican pimp Drexl Spivey. Its leading automobile is no exception: a pink 1974 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado. While most would opt for a more discreet car in which to make their getaway, after doing away with a drug-dealing pimp and accidentally making off with his stash, mutually besotted newly weds Worley and Whitman beg to differ. And there’s no disputing that it cuts a cool dash, perfectly complemented by Whitman’s bright and bold Americana ensembles (including a pair of leopard print leggings in the same rosy hue). As with the best of street castings, Scott knew he’d found his favoured Fleetwood as soon as he saw it cruising down a Hollywood boulevard. He tracked down the owner, purchased the car and shipped it to Detroit for filming, and when the shoot was over, he gave it to Arquette as a gift.
2. North by Northwest (1959)
As well as possessing one of the most thrilling storylines of Alfred Hitchcock’s myriad mysteries, the director’s 1959 masterpiece North by Northwest also boasts some of the most envy-inducing luxuries that the late-50s could offer. It is the tale of Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant), a Madison Avenue advertising executive who is mistaken for a government agent by a cryptic criminal organisation and subsequently pursued across the United States by train, plane and automobile. It was a big budget movie and Hitchcock knew that his audience sought satisfaction in splendour. As a result, no expense was spared: from the lavish Bergdorf Goodman wardrobe of Eva Marie Saint in her role of beguiling spy Eve Kendall, to the Mount Rushmore-topping and Modernist eyrie of Phillip Vandamm, constructed specifically for the production in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. Equally, when Thornhill is kidnapped at the start of the film – from under Everett Shinn’s revered murals in the Plaza Hotel, no less – it is a slick, pale grey 1958 Fleetwood Series 75 limousine into which he is bundled. Vandamm may be one of film’s most foul villains, but he sure had style.
3. Harold and Maude (1971)
One of the most brilliantly unconventional love stories in the history of cinema, Hal Ashby’s 1971 classic Harold and Maude also features one of the most unusual choices of car, courtesy of its oddball protagonist. Harold is a wealthy and self indulgent teenager, who spends his days obsessing about death, scaring his mother with elaborate fake suicides and attending strangers’ funerals for fun. His preferred mode of transport? A 1959 Cadillac Superior 3-way hearse of course. The car plays a hilarious role in Harold’s second fateful encounter with lively septuagenarian Maude, a fellow funeral fanatic with a penchant for pinching other people’s cars. Maude unknowingly breaks into Harold’s hearse, pulling up alongside him after a burial to offer him a ride. Bewildered but intrigued, Harold accepts and a hair-raising drive ensues, interrupted by Harold’s revelation that the car is his and a delighted Maude’s insistence that he takes her home instead. A bizarre and beautiful start to a mad and marvellous romance.
4. The Godfather (1972)
Movie gangsters and covetable cars go together like coffee and cream. So it comes as no surprise that The Godfather, perhaps the most celebrated and certainly the most visually arresting mobster film of all time, is punctuated by some of the finest motors imaginable. Naturally, 40s and 50s Cadillacs play a starring role: from the black, 1940 Fleetwood Series 60 Special favoured by Marlon Brando’s formidable and immaculately presented Vito Corleone, to the whole host of sedans and limos that gather for the meeting of the Mafia dons after Sonny Corleone’s death (a not-so-subtle nod to Cadillac’s esteemed status). Further proof if any were needed of Don Corleone’s devotion to the American motor can be found in three Cadillac flower cars selected for the Godfather’s funeral procession. His youngest son Michael goes on to take up the family mantel in terms of both title and transport, selecting a Series 75 limousine as his ride of choice after his long-awaited return from Sicily to New York.
5. A Mirror to the Heart (2017)
The second of de Jong’s evocative shorts, A Mirror to the Heart will strike a chord with even the most devoted couples. A young man waits impatiently in his chic Cadillac XT5 – a charismatic vehicle which combines roomy interiors with modern luxe silhouette – on the phone to his dawdling girlfriend who seems in no great hurry to get to his mother’s house for dinner (the result of questionable cooking on the part of the matriarch, perhaps?). As an argument starts to escalate, the man spots a another lover’s tiff unfolding across the street, employing the car’s James Bond-worthy, high resolution Rear Camera Mirror to better spy on the heated pair. The ensuing comedy of errors and eventual reconciliation proves there’s no better way to evaluate your own behaviour than to see it mirrored in the actions of others.
To see the full range of Sam de Jong's A Series of Short Journeys series celebrating the Cadillac, see the dedicated YouTube channel.