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Cadillac Records

4.4 out of 5 stars 448 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

"Cadillac Records" chronicles the rise of Leonard Chess' (Adrien Brody) Chess Records and its recording artists including Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Little Walter (Columbus Short), Chuck Berry (Mos Def), Willie Dixon (Cedric The Entertainer) and the great Etta James (Beyonce Knowles). In this tale of sex, violence, race and rock and roll in Chicago of the 1950s and 60s, the film follows the exciting but turbulent lives of some of America's greatest musical legends.


An energized and passionate, if selective, telling of the story of Chess Records, Cadillac Records is a worthy entry in the niche genre of movies about rock and roll roots. Adrien Brody plays Leonard Chess, who started Chess Records in Chicago in 1947 and turned the label into an important force for blues, rhythm and blues, gospel and, in time, early rock and roll. Cadillac Records focuses on Chess' relationship with his first significant artist, Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), and the label's rise and expansion with the addition of such talents as Little Walter (Columbus Short), Willie Dixon (Cedric the Entertainer), Howlin' Wolf (Eamonn Walker), Chuck Berry (Mos Def) and Etta James (Beyonce Knowles). Written and directed by Darnell Martin, Cadillac Records captures the scrappy beginnings of an enterprise, and a sound, inventing itself as it goes along. Particularly fun are scenes set in clubs or at Chess' recording facility, where electrified blues never stop pushing the envelope of creative possibility. All the while, danger lurks in shadows or in rivalries between artists; also in the self-destructive streaks of Walter and James, and the sexual fetishes of Berry. But the drama largely centers on the potent connections between all these people, who don't always know where their contribution to a cultural phenomenon is going. One of the film's delights is the way Chess and Waters don't really see rock coming until Berry steps through the door, fusing country music with blues. The film skips over a lot of facts: there's no sign of Leonard Chess' brother, Phil, who co-owned the company, nor is there much hint of Chess' expansion into a lot of other areas of music. None of that is any big deal. But what Cadillac Records is missing is more of a unifying point of view. The story is told as a recollection by Willie Dixon, but in a scattershot way that doesn't tell us who Leonard Chess or Waters really are. Aside from that, the film is well worth seeing. --Tom Keogh

Stills from Cadillac Records (click for larger image)

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Joshua Alscher, Timothy Bellow, Tony Bentley, Tammy Blanchard, Eric Bogosian
  • Directors: Darnell Martin
  • Producers: Sofia Sondervan, Andrew Lack
  • Format: Multiple Formats, AC-3, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: French, English
  • Dubbed: French
  • Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
  • Region: Region 1 encoding (US and Canada only)
    Some Region 1 DVDs may contain Regional Coding Enhancement (RCE). Some, but not all, of our international customers have had problems playing these enhanced discs on what are called "region-free" DVD players. For more information on RCE, click .
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: March 10, 2009
  • Run Time: 109 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (448 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B001P3SA94
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,292 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Cadillac Records" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

So it averages out to 4 stars then.
The music is just great with many key blues performances from Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Etta James, Howlin'Wolf and Willie Dixon recreated. The story is a blend of fiction and fact and one wonders why the half truths and lies had to find their way into the story. Just a few of the "mistruths":
-There were 2 Chess Brothers, not just one and both had a strong involvement in the company.
- Len Chess died 2 months after he sold his company not just after stepping foot outside the door.
-Etta James did not record "I'd Rather Go Blind" in Chicago although she did record her composition for the Chess label.
-Etta had already been a star for 5 years prior to joining Chess.
-Len Chess did actually serve as a session musician if the situation demanded it.
-The Chess company recorded many other musicians and styles during their career.
-Whether Chess ever dated Etta James is debatable. She had a boyfriend who was writing some of her best material at the time.
- Chess operated in a few smaller buildings before moving to 2120 South Michigam Ave in 1955.
A thorough account on what is true and what is not would no doubt reveal countless other mistruths. The question is why does Hollywood have to falsify and dress up the facts when a simple report on the facts would have been so much better. Still, the music in this movie is a blues fan's dream and credit must be given for that.
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An outstanding new book, Ted Gioia's "Delta Blues" (2008) tells the story of "The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters who Revolutionized American Music." Much of Gioia's book is devoted to the blues singers who left the Delta in the late 1940s and relocated to other American cities, including Chicago. With Gioia's book fresh in my mind, I was eager to see "Cadillac Records", a new movie which tells of transplanted blues, early rock and roll, and Chicago -- and of the association of many great blues artists with Chess Records and Leonard Chess. The movie offers compelling portraits of Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf, of the Mississippi Delta, together with Little Walter, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry, guitarist Hubert Sumlin, and Etta James together with its portrait of Leonard Chess. The movie is directed by Darnell Martin.

Gioia writes: "Like Muddy Waters, the Chess brothers were outsiders trying to establish themselves in Chicago." ("Delta Blues, p. 216). Leonard and Philip Chess (born Lijzor and Fiszel Czyz) arrived in the United States in 1928. Leonard progressed from working in his father's junk shop, to opening a liquor store and nightclub, the Macomba Lounge on Chicago's South Side, to establishing the Chess record label to record black artists in the areas of blues, gospel, doo-wop, and rock. Philip Chess does not appear in the movie. But Leonard receives a tough and accurate portrait from Adrien Brody in "Cadillac Records" as a new American determined to make a success of himself.

Muddy Waters was born McKinley Morganfield as a sharecropper in the Mississippi Delta. In 1943, Alan Lomax visited Waters, as he was already known, and made a celebrated series of blues recordings with Waters singing and playing acoustic bottleneck guitar.
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Format: DVD
Cadillac Records is the story of Chess Records opened by Leonard Chess in Chicago in the late 40's, and which quickly became a successful and influential record label (would Rock `n' Roll have existed without Chess?)

The movie is narrated by Willie Dixon (Cedric The Entertainer) and he tells of Chess' (Adrian Brody) beginnings with a bar and a club on the south side of Chicago. The main players in the movies are Muddy Waters (Jeffery Wright) and Little Walter (a standout performance by Columbus Short) who are respectively the best guitar and harp players in Chicago. Chess discovers them when they crash his club and show up the band that is playing. Through the fortuitous burning down of his club Chess opens Chess Records and seeks out Waters, records him, and starts touring him in the south. Chess insures radio airplay with a little payola and Waters career takes off and so does Chess Records. When the money comes rolling in Chess pays Waters with new Cadillac's. New artists join Chess Records, Little Walter, the movie features Columbus Short singing My Babe that is such a standout it would be on MTV as a video if MTV still played videos. Willie Dixon comes on board as a writer/producer for Chess, Howlin' Wolf (Eamonn Walker), Chuck Berry (Mos Def), and Beyonce as Etta James.

The movie is shy about the financial liberties Chess took in paying his artists. Earlier in this review I mentioned that Chess bar burned down and their seems to be the inference that Chess could have done it for the insurance money. Chess' habit also of paying his artists in Cadillac's in lieu of cash, unfortunately he never asked his artists if that's how they would like to be paid. He also kept Waters on a short leash parsing out money to him and keeping him coming back to Chess for money.
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Format: DVD
Cadillac Records is a very good movie that brings to life the early years of Chess Records, the Blues and Rock and Roll. It takes some artistic license with music history. But it succeeds in creating a compelling story that introduces younger audiences to the lives of music legends like Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry and Etta James. Movies based on real events are always a challenge. Problems with timeline continuity may irk those who are already well educated on the music. Yet writer / director Darnell Martin deserves praise for all of the accurate history that this movie succeeds in squeezing into two hours.

For those wondering if they should see this movie, my answer is an unequivocal "yes." Those who are interested in the special features and more details on the history, please read on.


The story of Chess Records hinges on the relationship between two key characters, Len Chess, played by Adrien Brody, and Muddy Waters, played expertly by Jeffrey Wright. When Chess decides to record Waters, the history of music is forever changed and Chess Records is put on the map.

Columbus Short is great as Little Walter, the volatile harmonica player and Blues singer who, at the young age of 17, started playing with Muddy Waters. Even at that age, he was already a master of his instrument having been a street performer before his teens. He first appears on Muddy's recordings but eventually becomes a hit recording artist for Chess Records on his own.

Eamonn Walker also puts in a great performance as legendary blues singer Howlin' Wolf. He clashes with Muddy over women and band members.
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