Perhaps, unlike many, I didn’t grow up with any family tradition of always watching this movie or that sometime during the season. Sure as a kid, me and my brother would always make sure we saw every animated Christmas special that the big three would air. Even the ones we didn’t care for like the weird one with the clockmaker and the annoying mouse with the glasses, but this was the late seventies and early eighties when you watched what the networks aired or looked for pretty patterns in the static. Around ten years ago or so by mutual assent we started a family tradition of watching Christmas Vacation after the family Christmas Dinner on the eve of Christmas Eve, which is how we do it in the Young household. Now this was nice for the first five or six years but as much as I love Christmas Vacation once a year might be a bit too much.
So after doing a little research this year I think I’m going to suggest we mix it up a little bit. Before I announce the winner I would like to hand out a few honorable mentions. First up is Lethal Weapon. The movie that almost defines the buddy cop genre and there is just something surreal about Christmas in L.A. Next up is The Thin Man which has to be the funniest film noir movie ever made. I don’t think William Powell’s character Nick Charles is sober in a single scene, one of the great screwball comedies and a damn fine mystery to boot. Last of the Honorable Mentions is Stalag 17, William Holden and sticking it to the NAZIs who could ask for more? Me for one I guess because it’s just an Honorable Mention.
Now for the winner, Trading Places. There aren’t many movies set during the holidays that embody the lesser-observed Christmas themes of revenge and commodity trading like Trading Places. Made back in the good ole days when Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy were still funny it is set in Philadelphia during Christmas and New Years. Trading Places tells the story of a cruel social experiment by the Duke brothers, two rich, white, privileged, and racist scions of the Philadelphia upper crust. Mortimer and Randolph played perfectly by Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy make a bet to settle the old nature vs. nurture argument once and for all. To do this they frame Louis Winthorpe III, the manager of their commodities brokerage firm and fiancé of their niece and portrayed by Aykroyd, for theft and dealing PCP. They have him kicked out of his home and have all of his assets frozen. Then they install Billy Ray Valentine, a down and out street hustler into Louis’ former home give him Louis’ old job, they stop short of setting him up with their niece however. The story follows the old price and the pauper motif until Valentine overhears the Duke’s plans for him. For me the movie really gets going at this point as Valentine looks up and Winthorpe and they plot their revenge.
Take all that and throw in Jamie Lee Curtis as a financially savvy whore and Paul Gleason as an a villainous corporate fixer. Combine these in a small bowl and then mix in Denholm Elliot as the perfect gentleman’s gentleman. Now sprinkle in the remaining dry ingredients; wonderful cut shots of Philadelphia, strangely entertaining voiceover explanations of commodity trading, unintentionally poignant shots of the World Trade Center, cameos by James Belushi, Frank Oz, Al Franken and Bo Diddley. Pour into a shallow pan and bake at 400 degrees for thirty minutes or until brown. Then let cool and serve with a garnish of gorilla rape and you have the perfect dessert for your Christmas dinner. Be forewarned there are cuss words and some boobies. If your family is like mine though, Dad won’t mind and Mom will most likely be asleep.