Italy’s Favorite Traditional Christmas Movie Is ‘Trading Places’
If I had to guess which European country would be the most enamored with John Landis’ 1983 hit comedy Trading Places, I probably would have picked France, seeing how much they love their S-Car Go.
That assumption, however, would be incorrect. As it turns out, in the land of Italy, the Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd vehicle isn’t just a classic comedy — it’s a Christmas tradition. Here in America, countless households gather around a fire and a flatscreen every Christmas Eve to watch movies like It’s A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, or for the families that are big Will Ferrell fans, Elf. However, in the country that produced such masters of cinema as Federico Fellini, Sergio Leone and Michelangelo Antonioni, when Christmastime rolls around, Murphy trumps them all.
Yesterday, Wanted in Rome, a monthly magazine for English-speaking expats in Italy, explained an important part of Italian Christmas celebrations to recent immigrants. As they say, every Christmas Eve since 1989, the Italian TV station Italia 1 airs Trading Places, or, as they call it, Una Poltrona per Due (which translates to “One Chair for Two”). The annual screening is so popular that Trading Places has a cult following of Christmas-lovers who see the Italian version of sugar plums dancing in their heads every time they hear the line, “Those men wanted to have sex with me!”
It’s easy to see where the appeal lies for an Italian audience — the heightened comedy of a rich man and a poor man swapping status evokes the memory of Commedia dell’arte. However, when Trading Places premiered in Italy in 1984, it barely made a ripple, finishing at #13 at the year-end box office for The Boot. It wasn’t until TV stations picked up the film in the latter half of the 1980s that its cult following began to form as the stations decided that airing repeat viewings of the films to which they already had the rights was more fiscally responsible than purchasing new ones.
Three and a half decades later, millions of Italians tune in on every Christmas Eve to watch the story of a commodities broker and a street hustler who are pitted against each other by billionaire a-holes, only to band together to destroy their tormentors. There’s even a Facebook fan page devoted to the annual airing, with memes about orange juice and five-dollar bills making the rounds every year.
It’s unclear, however, if the stars of Trading Places themselves are included in the cult tradition, or if Italy’s interest in Aykroyd and Murphy starts and ends on Christmas Eve. I can’t imagine the Beautiful Country coming together to watch Coneheads every Easter.