Movies On The Radio: Rags, Riches And The Root Of All Evil

Jan 24, 2018

Countless films have used money as a central theme throughout the years, from the 1924 silent film “Greed” to recent hits that explore the 2008 financial crisis, like “Margin Call” and “The Big Short.”

Some films offer critical analysis of the lavish lifestyles of the uber-rich; others offer harrowing looks at extreme poverty. And some films make light of the subject entirely, giving audiences comic relief from the real-life seriousness and power of the almighty dollar. Host Frank Stasio talks with Marsha Gordon, film professor at North Carolina State University, and Laura Boyes, film curator at the North Carolina Museum of Art about listeners’ favorite money-themed movies as well as their own. They also talk about the many sub-genres of money movies and how films’ depiction of “the root of all evil” has evolved over the years.

The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948)

Marsha: So often the tales [about money] are about getting it, having that glorious moment, and then trying to figure out how to keep it. Again, the moral of the story over and over again is that you don't get to keep it and you don't get to enjoy it.

Laura: Why do you want it? That's something that often is not reflected upon.
 

Arthur (1981)

Laura: When we're talking about wealth, we often find that the so-called "lower classes" have more authenticity than the wealthy do, and they're held up as a paragon of humanity versus the [people with] money.

Marsha: That idea of the class-crossed romance ... this has been told so many different ways.
 

Trading Places (1983)

Marsha: This was such a runaway hit when it came out ... it's a very, very funny movie, but I think it's also just about how terrible rich people are! And how insane the stock market is.

Laura: It's kind of a cross between "My Fair Lady" and "The Prince and the Pauper."
 

Fargo (1996)

Laura: That "blood and gore" part, I had nightmares about blood on the snow for months after I saw Fargo!

Marsha: This is one of those "everything goes wrong that can go wrong" ... in this not-at-all perfect crime scenario.
 

The Big Short (2015)

Marsha: One of the things I liked about this film, as someone who really does not understand the way these things work, is the explanatory function in this film ... I really liked how it tried to teach you.