"You Can Use the Duesenburg."

When Mame Dennis bribes Brian O'Bannion with the use of her Duesenburg to entice him to attend a party in Auntie Mame (1958), I figured it was an expensive car, but I had no idea the specific connotations of that brand name.

Yours truly has recently stumbled across Jay Leno's Garage, an internet program where the famed talk show host gives the history and specifications of his many automobiles. He has even reviewed his restored 1931 Duesenberg Model J Town Car,

Leno's  Duesenburg was first owned by a wealthy New York family (just like Auntie Mame's) who is purported to have escorted a President of the United States in it. There's a separate section for a chauffeur in front. This is a top-of-the-line automobile meant for old money. This gives Mame's story a new layer for me.

I realized that I had seen this kind of four-square car before - in old comics, in old photographs and in the movies.  Emerging from it there would almost always be a man in a tux and top hat and a lady in a taco shell-shaped fur coat (a style which was very big in the '20s and '30s) going to the theater.  
Rosalind Russell in Publicity Still for Auntie Mame

Production of the Duesenburg began in 1913 and stopped production in 1937. When Mame makes her bribe it has been years since she's been through the 1929 stock market crash. Mame is always on to the next new thing, so mentioning a Duesenburg puts that scene in the mid- to late 1930s. (As do the costumes and other things.)

Don't you just love a script that gives layers of information about a character in a toss away manner? Forces you to rewatch the film for what else you've missed.


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