Cadillac Records


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

It is difficult enough to script a biopic of one famous person because it requires shoehorning a lifetime of notable achievements into two hours. If that were not enough, it also must make that lifetime somehow cinematic, and not just something left over from The History Channel. If one life represents a writing challenge, imagine how difficult it must be to do a half dozen. Now imagine how difficult it would be if those six were musicians, and one's film also had to present a representative sampling of their music, thus eating up half the running time.

So much to do, so little time.

There's not much time left for character development, but despite the inherent limitations defined by the scope of its ambitions, Cadillac Records does a pretty damned good job at looking at each of these musical giants in turn: Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Howlin' Wolf, Etta James, Little Walter, and Leonard Chess. Huh? Who's that last dude? He's the white man who built the tiny recording studio which would eventually make the others famous.

Big story. In many ways the obscure Leonard Chess (and his brother Phil, who is still alive, and whose existence was purged from the record for this film) invented Rock 'n Roll. Oh, it would have happened someday anyway, but Leonard is the guy whose machinations got the great black musicians on the air and even got their songs played on white stations. Those songs in turn got covered and stolen by lots of white boys, and those covers were great hits for Elvis, the Rolling Stones, and even The Beach Boys, whose Surfin' USA was an unlicensed note-for-note lift of a Chuck Berry song. OK, maybe Len didn't pay everyone the royalties they had coming, but he made them all famous, and together, to paraphrase Rimbaud, they invented the future.

Given only time for short impersonations and/or characterizations, the main actors all do an excellent job of evoking the singers they play. Every last one of the actors is excellent, and every one of the legends comes to life: the proud and intimidating Howlin' Wolf, the calm Muddy Waters, the effusive Little Walter, the fun-loving Chuck Berry, and the angry Etta James. Considering that those actors had to be good enough singers to impersonate musical legends convincingly, it is downright impressive that they are all such good actors! Of course, we all know that Beyonce can sing, but the one who surprised me the most was Columbus Short as Little Walter. I had never heard of the guy before, but he not only does a great job acting the film's most complex role, but that mofo can flat-out sing, as he proves in a silky smooth rendition of My Babe. I don't suppose that could actually be him playing the harmonica, but he sure as hell faked it convincingly.

Anyway, the reason to see the film is really the music. There are snippets from several songs, and some numbers are even sung from start to finish. (Producer Beyonce made sure that actress Beyonce had plenty of time on screen to do what she does best.) Is that so much music that it gets in the way of the excessively ambitious story? Yes, there is some merit to that argument, but the screenwriter had to ask "What's important here, the depth of characterization or the music that changed the world?" She chose to hit only the highlights of the story and to flesh the film out with the music instead of with the drama of their lives. It's an entertainment picture, with just a tiny hint of education hidden inside of it.

Right choice.

Only one regret. Aretha Franklin also recorded with Chess Records, but for some reason the film consigned her to the wrong side of the ropes. Sorry, Aretha, you're not on the list. No r-e-s-p-e-c-t.

Blu-Ray Sound Track


3 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
65 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
65 (of 100)


6.6 IMDB summary (of 10)
B+ Yahoo Movies


Box Office Mojo. Opening weekend: $3.5 million in 700 theaters (9th place overall). It will finish around $10 million.



Although the film is rated R, the only nudity is this brief and dark look at a jumbo-breasted white groupie engaged in some hanky-panky with Chuck Berry (Mos Def) and some other white girls.

Emmanuelle Chriqui did a sex scene with Adrian Brody, but absolutely nothing is visible.

Beyonce may have shown a hint of a wisp of a suggestion of a hint of some areolae. Or not.


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


Great music, solid performances, but a typically schmaltzy Hollywood-type storyline.  Worth a watch for its positives, assuming you like the featured musical styles.