Monday, November 26, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Trading Places (1983) ***½

R, 116 min.
Director: John Landis
Writers: Timothy Harris, Herschel Weingrod
Starring: Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Lee Curtis, Denholm Elliott, Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche, Paul Gleason, Frank Oz, Kristin Holby, James Belushi, Al Franken, Tom Davis

Here’s what strikes me when watching John Landis’s 1983 comedy “Trading Places” after having analyzed it’s biting social criticism a few other times before. Why wasn’t Jamie Lee Curtis in more movies throughout her career?

If ever there was an under utilized actress in the history of Hollywood, it was Curtis. Perhaps producers couldn’t get past her parental pedigree. Tony Curtis was at one time one of the biggest names in Hollywood. Janet Leigh put the scream in “Scream Queen” with her turn in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”. Perhaps casting directors resisted Curtis because she was just a Hollywood brat. Perhaps she couldn’t get out from under the Scream Queen title she stole from her mother.

Curtis was first introduced to audiences in John Carpenter’s slasher masterpiece “Halloween”. She got stuck in the slasher genre for a while with a string of them including “The Fog”, “Prom Night”, “Terror Train”, and “Halloween II”. Maybe producers just couldn’t take her seriously in a big budget picture. She got the reputation of having one of the sexiest bodies in Hollywood and did a couple of sexpot roles in “Love Letters” and “Perfect”. She was even known in Hollywood as “The Body.” Perhaps she was just picky, although her involvement in “Virus” would suggest otherwise.

I believe “Trading Places” proves she could’ve been a valuable talent in big budget Hollywood. She’s incredibly charming. She’s attractive. And most importantly, she’s funny. She’s half of one of the few truly successful Hollywood couples. She married Christopher Guest in 1984. Perhaps their marriage has succeeded because she doesn’t appear in his movies, although she’d be an incredible comedic addition to his ensemble. Whatever the reason for that, it doesn’t explain why Hollywood in general never took better advantage of this talented actress. I’m glad John Landis did in this comedy classic.

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