Back in 1969, Robert De Niro was a mere glimmer in the eye of the film industry as his career in the arts was still in its infancy. With the help of director Martin Scorsese, the actor would soon reach astonishing heights throughout the start of the 1970s, appearing in Mean Streets, The Godfather: Part II and Taxi Driver, back-to-back from 1973 until 1976. Yet to find his feet, the now-iconic actor began working on the first rungs of the acting ladder, appearing in everything from short films to car commercials.
“It doesn’t take a lot of money to buy a 1970 ambassador, it just looks like it does,” the narrator for the AMC car commercial bizarrely states in a self-deprecating opening line. Making its way into the bustling New York setting, the car passes by a group of excited children playing by a burst fire hydrant before arriving at its destination. “Hey mar, pa, Joey’s got a new car!” a small boy announces, to which a working mother and father emerge from their grocery store and congratulate their son, a fresh-faced Robert De Niro.
Donning a plain white suit and black tie, De Niro presents himself as a stereotypical New Yorker, briefly playfighting with his dad before leaning into the car window and telling his younger brother to ‘get his sneakers off the seats’. It all feels like a hammed-up version of what would make De Niro rather successful in the future, presenting several caricatures of Italian America to the extent that it feels like a strange deleted scene from Once Upon a Time in America.
Showing off his new wheels to friends and family on the New York streets, De Niro plays a smart and confident college graduate in the short 40-second commercial that ultimately feels like a strange precursor to the actor’s future career. The first of the actor’s ‘gangster roles’ wouldn’t come until a year after the release of the commercial, with The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight released in 1971, featuring the actor in an albeit bumbling role. Two years later, however, his relationship with Martin Scorsese would blossom and his true acting potential would be revealed to the world.
Though it’s bizarre to consider that despite Mean Streets, Goodfellas, and Once Upon a Time in America, Robert De Niro’s first foray into little Italy may have actually been a car commercial.
See the clip, below.