In 1935, Charles Darrow, au unemployed salesman from Philadelphia, got a patent on Monopoly, a board game ostensibly inspired by another named The Landlord. The original had been invented over three decades earlier by a Quaker named Lizzie Phillips as a means of illustrating capitalism's tendency to enrich property owners at the expense of impoverishing renters.
But Darrow's version of the game was more a celebration than an indictment of an evil economic system. It even featured Rich Uncle Pennybags as is mascot, an exuberant, tuxedoed character sporting a top hat, cane and handlebar mustache reportedly modeled on filthy-rich financier J.P. Morgan.
The rights to Monopoly were acquired by Parker Brothers which started mass producing the game. Soon thereafter, the game caught fire among millions of the discouraged desperate to rekindle the American Dream as they struggled to survive the Great Depression. Its popularity has persisted uninterrupted over the intervening years to the point where it has been translated into dozens of languages and is presently being distributed in over a hundred countries around the world.
Furthermore, Monopoly today is as much a brand as it is a game, with the name being licensed for use by McDonald's, gambling casinos, lotteries and so forth. Meanwhile, it has also become a part of the nation's very cultural fabric, as witnessed by the countless references to the game made in movies and on television shows.
All of the above is chronicled in Under the Boardwalk, a delightful documentary directed by Kevin Tostado which is certain to delight any Monopoly fan. For besides disseminating some fascinating historical info, the movie is kept lively by chronicling the goings-on at both the United States and World Monopoly Championships of 2009.
Coming from all walks of life, the only thing the colorful entrants have in common is an obsession with playing the endlessly-entertaining board game that has captured their imaginations since childhood. As for the key to winning, the participants seem to agree that despite the incredible amount of strategy necessary for a serious shot at the title, a lucky roll of the dice might ultimately decide the outcome.
Advance token to Boardwalk!
Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 88 minutes
Distributor: Rhino Films
To see a trailer for Under the Boardwalk, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lA7OYnxeNJE