LOS ANGELES — To bring the story of mobster Mickey Cohen’s reign over post-war Los Angeles to life, the director of this year’s Gangster Squad employed Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and more than 100 irreplaceable vintage American cars.
There’s the light-blue 1941 Ford Deluxe convertible that Gosling’s character drives; the bulbous, bullet-nosed 1947 Ford sedans that served as police cars; the gorgeous black 1936 Oldsmobile convertible with a tan ragtop; and the regal 1949 Packard Super 8 limousines that carried Cohen.
These rare beauties are stars themselves, bringing an authenticity and aesthetic charm to the screen that no computer graphics can match.
“These cars, they’re as important as the buildings and clothing and makeup in establishing the time and place,” said Leslie Kendall, the chief curator of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, which put three cars from Gangster Squad on display. “If you want to lock a movie scene in, use the right car and they will immediately get it.”
Picture car coordinator Tim Woods spent 12 weeks working with director Ruben Fleischer to get the automotive look of 1949 Los Angeles just right. A few of the vintage cars came from Woods’ personal collection. He called on Southern California car collectors (and a few junkyards) for the rest.
Most of the cars in the movie were lovingly loaned by private owners, many of whom drove the priceless vehicles during filming.
“It’s always good to have the owner of the vehicle to drive the car, because it’s their baby,” said Woods, 50, whose 1946 Chevy pickup, 1947 Ford sedan and (Gosling’s) 1941 Ford Deluxe convertible play roles on screen.
Garvin Kotzin, 63, loaned two of his babies, including that rare 1936 Olds (only 32 made). The L.A. native started collecting cars at 16, when he took out a loan to buy a 1927 Franklin for $800 that he fixed up and drove to school.
1941 As his terrarium-manufacturing business grew, he invested in other vintage vehicles: a 1934 Packard, a cherry red-and-white 1958 Cadillac convertible with fins, and his favorite, the 1936 Oldsmobile, which also appeared in Hoover, Changeling and The Aviator.
Kotzin insists on driving the cars himself, and he spent several weeks driving his and a dozen other vehicles on set during the filming of Gangster Squad.
Dressed alternately as a chauffeur and a deliveryman, Kotzin rolled in a 1947 Cadillac limo, a 1940 Cadillac and a 1937 Chrysler. He drove a taxicab, a police car and a diaper-delivery truck.
Owners of movie-star cars get paid around $300 a day, he said.
As the picture car coordinator, Woods has to do wrecks. They wrecked four classic 1949 Cadillacs in “Gangster Squad,” along with eight other cars.
“We never ever shot a hole in a single fender,” he said. “Those cars are down here in my office and they’re not even scratched or hurt. All bullet holes were CG (computer-generated).”
That’s good news for Kotzin, who draws the line at “no dancing on the hood.”