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Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Symbolism of Moe Pressman's Pirate Hat

During the past week, I have been thinking mostly about Vivian and Moe Pressman. Five days ago I published an article, The Schumachers and Pressman's were Eastern European Jews, where I opined that they were scammers:
Vivian's essential relationship with Moe might be that they collaborate in cheating rich men at the hotel. Vivian seduces rich men during the week and then persuades them to gamble with Max in card games during the weekend. The rich men do not know that Moe, a professional card shark, is in cahoots with Vivian.

Another possibility is that Vivian is working as a prostitute at the hotel. She seems to be giving sex away for free to the younger male characters, but we do not know that for sure. Maybe she charged Robbie Gould some money for the sexual intercourse he had with her. Maybe she charges on a sliding scale -- less for the younger hotel workers and much more for the rich hotel guests. If one of her clients refuses to pay, then Moe collects the money by threat and force during the weekend.
However, yesterday I happened to reread an article I wrote more than eight years ago, on December 29, 2008, titled Disconnected Women - Penny Johnson, Vivian Pressman and Marjorie Houseman. I had forgotten that in that long-ago article I had opined that Vivian and Moe were innocent of the wrongdoing attributed to them. Their actions were misunderstood by each other, by the other characters and by the movie audience. My argument there was long and complicated, but compelling. A shortened version of my argument follows (the ellipses show where I have removed text):
On the second-to-last night, the night before the talent show, Vivian walked up to Johnny, who was preparing for the talent show, and whispered: “This is our last night together, lover. I’ve got something worked out for us.”

A short time later, Johnny walked by a table where a group of men were playing cards. One of the men, Vivian’s husband Moe Pressman, gave Johnny $100 and said, “I’ve been playing cards all weekend, and I’ve got an all-night game tonight. Why don’t you give my wife some extra dance lessons?”

Obviously Vivian understood that her husband Moe preferred to play cards all night, so she had asked him to pay for dance lessons so that she could have some fun of her own. It’s not clear whether Moe knew and did not care that Vivian was having a sexual affair with Johnny or whether he simply was inattentive and oblivious about her adultery.

By this time, however, Johnny had decided that he wanted to stop his own sexual promiscuity and so he declined to take Moe’s money, saying: I’m sorry, Mr. Pressman, but I’m booked up for the whole weekend with the show. I won’t have time for anything else. I don’t think it’d be fair to take the money.”

Vivian was standing nearby and heard Johnny reject her husband’s money and indicate that he would be too busy preparing the talent show to give any dance lessons. Thus Vivian understood angrily that Johnny would not have another sexual session with her.

Vivian Pressman then arranged to have sex with Robbie Gould instead ... Early the next morning as Vivian Pressman was leaving Robbie Gould’s cabin, she saw Johnny Castle and Baby Houseman coming out of Johnny’s cabin. Johnny and Baby kissed, and so Vivian understood that Johnny had declined Vivian’s arrangements because he preferred to spend the night having sex with Baby.

Later that day, the resort hotel’s owner Max Kellerman fired Johnny for stealing Moe Pressman’s wallet. Kellerman explained that Moe’s wallet had disappeared while he had been playing cards all night. Moe was certain that he still had his wallet at 1:30 a.m., when the wallet was in his jacket that he hung from the back of his chair. Then at 3:45 a.m. Moe found that his wallet was missing from his jacket. Later, after Moe Pressman had reported the disappearance to Max Kellerman, Vivian Pressman told Kellerman that she had seen Johnny Castle walk close by the jacket during that night. Max Kellerman then accused Johnny Castle of the theft and fired him. ....

Lisa Houseman saw Vivian Pressman having sex with Robbie Gould in Robbie’s cabin at dusk, and so Lisa left. In the middle of the night, Vivian must have left Robbie’s cabin and gone to make a public appearance in the place where her husband Moe was playing cards.

Vivian would have made a public appearance at the gambling table for several reasons: 1) to make sure that Moe still intended to play cards all night, 2) to tell Moe that she was going to their hotel room to sleep, and 3) to get from Moe’s wallet the $100 that Johnny had rejected. Vivian then took the $100 back to Robbie’s room, gave Robbie the money and spent the rest of the night in Robbie’s room. ....

Later that morning, when Moe told Vivian that his wallet was missing, Vivian responded that she had seen Johnny standing near the jacket, which was hanging from Moe’s chair. Therefore, Johnny was accused of the theft. ...

Practically the entire audience of the movie assumes that Vivian incriminated Johnny in order to get revenge because Johnny had preferred to spend the night with Baby. I think, however, that a kinder explanation can be proposed. ...

I think that when Vivian went to see Moe at the gambling table at 1:30 a .m., she did not steal the $100 from Moe’s wallet, but rather simply asked Moe openly for the money. Vivian told Moe that Johnny had found time after all, after the talent-show rehearsal, to give Vivian a dancing lesson after midnight. The lesson had just finished, and so she wanted to pay Johnny the promised $100 and then go alone to their hotel room to sleep. Vivian then returned to Robbie’s room and gave the money to Robbie.

Later, when Vivian was discussing the missing wallet with Moe, Vivian confirmed to him that she had seen the wallet in his possession at 1:30 a.m., when he had given her the $100 for Johnny. In order to strengthen her story, she even assured Moe that Johnny too had been with her right there near Moe’s chair, even though Moe had not noticed him. Later when Max Kellerman heard Vivian’s story, he concluded falsely that Johnny had stolen the wallet. ....

The wallet was stolen by the Schumachers, an old couple who regularly visited resort hotels and stealing wallets from other guests. They must watched the card game very attentively and seen Moe Pressman give Vivian Pressman the $100, put his wallet into his jacket, and hang his jacket from his chair. Sometime after that time, 1:30 a.m., and 3:45 a.m., they stole the wallet from the jacket. ....

At the end of the movie, during the talent show, when Johnny took Baby up onto the stage to perform their dance, Vivian Pressman is seen in a front row sitting alone. Next to her is an empty chair, where her husband should be sitting. (Probably he has learned that she lied about Johnny Castle being at the gambling table and receiving the $100.) Vivian looks morose and angry ...
In other words, Vivian might have been unfaithful and untruthful to Moe, but she did not do any wrong to Johnny. Vivian obtained the $100 from Moe on a false pretense that she would give the money to Johnny and she gave the money instead to Robbie. Johnny already had refused the money when Moe had offered it directly to Johnny. Vivian remarked that Johnny was standing nearby when Moe last saw his own wallet at 1:30 a.m., but Vivian did not intend that remark to cause trouble for Johnny. Rather, she merely intended to confirm that Moe indeed still had his wallet at 1:30 a.m.

Moe was not a card shark collaborating with Vivian to cheat other guests in card games. Moe was merely having fun playing cards during this weekends at the hotel.

(If you are interested in this mystery, it would be worthwhile for you to read the entire 2008 article. )


Was Moe Pressman a card shark? Did Vivian Pressman falsely accuse Johnny Castle of stealing Moe's wallet?

Or were Moe and Vivian innocent of those wrongdoings?


A possible solution to my conundrum was offered at the end of my old article by a reader named Louis E. He wrote:
Moe Pressman was on stage in the talent show in his pirate hat,I don't know at what point he might have rejoined Vivian. In a later shot,when the staff dancers have started pulling people out of their seats,she gets up to search for a partner, but I don't recall if she is seen dancing with anyone after that.
I restudied the movie and found that Moe indeed was wearing a pirate hat in the talent show.

Johnny Castle looking at and swaggering toward Moe Pressman,
who is wearing a pirate hat. 
Perhaps the pirate hat was a clever, subconscious communication to the movie audience that Moe was essentially a villain in the movie. In particular, Moe was a card shark, and that key understanding should guide the audience's interpretations of the roles played by Moe and his wife Vivian.


Set aside concerns about the pirate hat. Why was Moe standing on the stage at all? He came to the hotel only on weekends and wanted to spend all his time there playing cards. Would he really spend significant time rehearsing to perform in the talent show?

Moe Pressman wearing a pirate hat as he participates in the talent show
An innocent explanation would be that the story required that Vivian be sitting alone at her table during the talent show, supposedly because Moe was angry at her. Since the actor had to be placed somewhere else, he simply was placed on the stage. The actor was given an eye-patch and a pirate hat so that the movie audience did not recognize him as the character Moe. Ironically, however, the eye-patch and pirate hat only drew the attention of  insightful viewers such as my commenter Louis E.


When Johnny walked onto the stage, he looked at and approached Moe (see the above image). Perhaps Johnny intended to confront Moe and to denounce him to the ballroom audience. Perhaps Johnny intended to declare: "This man here, Moe Pressman, is a real pirate!" We will never know for sure, because Johnny told the ballroom audience instead about Baby.


In recent days I have been sitting on the fence about Moe, but his pirate hat has caused me to come down on the side that says he was a card shark. Furthermore, Moe's main reason for offering Johnny $100 to leave with Vivian was that Moe was bothered that Johnny was standing close behind him and watching him play cards. Moe feared that Johnny would see him cheating, so Moe signaled to Vivian to take Johnny away.

Vivian did manage to lead Johnny away from the card table, but soon they parted ways. Vivian went to have sex with Robbie, and Johnny went to have sex with Baby.

At 1:30 a.m., Vivian returned to the card table and told Moe that she had done a dance lesson with Johnny after all, and so she asked Moe for $100 to pay Johnny. She then took the $100 back to Robbie's room and gave the money to Robbie.

The Schumachers, who were watching Moe win a lot of money at the card game, stole Moe's wallet soon after Moe put his winnings into his wallet. At 3:45 a.m., Moe noticed that his wallet had disappeared.

When Moe informed Vivian that he had won a lot of money but it had disappeared, she was genuinely concerned. After all, she was Moe's collaborator in cheating rich guests out of money. Moe's loss was her own loss. And so, Vivian helped Moe remember when he last saw his wallet.

In this discussion, Vivian and Moe both remembered that Moe still had his wallet in the evening, when he offered Johnny $100. Johnny would be able to confirm that memory, because Johnny was standing nearby and even saw Moe begin to take his wallet out of his pocket.

Further in the discussion, Vivian reminded Moe that he still had his wallet at 1:30 a.m., when he took $100 out of his wallet and gave the money to her. So, they both agreed that Moe still had his wallet at 1:30.

Shortly before breakfast, Moe and Vivian told their story about the missing wallet to Max and Neil Kellerman. The Kellerman's misunderstood the sequence of events and thought mistakenly that Johnny had been standing right behind Moe at 1:30 a.m. In fact, Johnny had been standing there earlier in the evening, when Moe offered Johnny the $100.

Confused about the facts, Max decided that Johnny was the thief, and he showed Neil how to fire a thieving dancer. Johnny departed from the hotel quickly. Moe and Vivian did not see Johnny being fired, and so they did not have an immediate opportunity to correct the Kellermans' misunderstanding.

Later, however, after Baby exonerated Johnny, the Pressmans and Kellermans discussed the matter again and clarified the sequence of events. Indeed, Johnny had been standing right behind Moe earlier in the evening, not at 1:30 a.m. By a process of elimination, the Pressmans' and Kellermans' suspicions now turned correctly toward the Schumachers, who had watched the card game closely until the very end, when Moe put all his winnings into his wallet.


After the Schumachers were arrested, Moe and Vivian argued. Because of Baby had confessed that she had been alone with Johnny the entire night, Moe understood now that Vivian had not given the $100 to Johnny for dance lessons. Moe did not know anything about Robbie, and Vivian could not explain what she had done with the $100.

For the rest of the weekend, Moe gave Vivian the cold shoulder and refused to spend any time with her. Instead, Moe decided to participate in the talent show, where he sang a song he happened to know from Gilbert's and Sullivan's musical Pirates of Penzance.

Moe's singing performance in the talent show served to remind Vivian what a charming and entertaining husband he could be. Thinking about the frustrated maiden characters in  The Pirates of Penzance made Vivian realize that she should not risk her married life with her "old pirate" Moe by sleeping around with young men who never would marry her.

And Moe's pirate hat served to communicate to astute members of the movie audience that Moe really was a rascal.

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