Directed by John Landis
An upper-class commodities broker and a poor street hustler are made the subject of an elaborate bet to see how each man will react when their circumstances are swapped in a test of nature versus nurture.
This film was early in Eddie Murphy’s career. Only his second feature in fact. Murphy was all manic energy here as Billy Ray Valentine. Murphy plays the character with the same energy level as a toddler jacked up on espresso and candy. And it is glorious to watch. That energy has since gone away in later performances but here it is just what the part needed.
Dan Aykroyd is one of the great comedy performers of our time. He can play characters like Ray Stantz but because of his voice he is especially good at the stuck up rich individual. He was at his most stuck up the butt best here. And the dissent of his character was just gloriously ridiculous in a way only Aykroyd could do.
Trading Places was my first exposure to Jamie Lee Curtis. I did not see the original Halloween until many years after I saw this (sorry!), but she was just fantastic here. The woman has great comedic timing as well as giving the ridiculous material a serious edge that works well in this screwball comedy.
How good is she? The bit on the train where Ophelia is dressed up as a Swedish exchange student wearing German lederhosen bit was improvised. Curtis could not do a German accent but could do a comical Swedish accent. Speaking of improvisation, Murphy improvised some of his lines because he felt two white writers could not write good dialogue for an African American.
Denholm Elliott is Winthorpe’s butler Coleman. The man was an excellent actor that rarely got the attention his abilities deserved. He is best known for this and his work in the Indiana Jones series but he did plenty of other stuff.
And what are heroes without villains to overcome? Ralph Bellamy (no relation to Bill Bellamy) is Randolph Duke with Don Ameche as his brother Mortimer. The Duke brothers are great comedy villains. They are not campy or goofy. They are just soulless characters completely devoid of compassion for whom people are toys. They think nothing of ruining lives over a bet.
Ralph Bellamy was the first choice for Randolph. Originally Ray Milland was to be Mortimer but when he could not pass a physical, Don Ameche got the part after they agreed to pay him what Milland was going to get. Aykroyd was not high in the studio’s choices but he got the part after agreeing to a pay cut. Jamie Lee Curtis got cast against studio wishes as they viewed her as a scream queen. This cast could have easily looked so different and the movie would not have been as good or memorable. We dodged a bullet.
The whole basis of this film is role reversal. It is tried-and-true territory that has been done in literature and done in film and even television hundreds of times before this movie came out. The thing is most times it has only been done just okay. They would go through the motions and not try to really do much with it. They did not try to do something original or just simply have fun with the concept. Here they went crazy and had fun.
Their plot that is featured in the film’s climax is a financial scheme to manipulate the orange juice market. It is a stupid sounding idea but one that was apparently serious enough in the real world that rules were made to prevent it from actually being employed. Not with orange juice but in any market.
It is worth noting that this film exists in the same universe as the later made film Coming to America. The Duke brothers, homeless and destitute by that time, are given a small (to the Prince Akeem) sum of money. It is clear it is them. There is no mistaking it. I bring this up because in a brief scene with only a handful of lines, two movies were linked. Now in order to link movies they have central characters from other films show up for the majority of a different film in order to link the two universes. You can do it with a cameo brief cameo or even a handful of lines. Just have to say it whenever I get a chance.
This film has a decent number of cameo appearances by either SNL alumni or just talented individuals. Jim Belushi plays a New Year’s Eve partygoer on the train though I am not sure if this was done just before his time on SNL or during. Aykroyd’s former Saturday Night Live colleague Al Franken shows up as a baggage handler.
My favorite though is Stephen Stucker who appeared in Airplane! as Johnny Henshaw-Jacobs. He does not do anything outlandish here, but he is still very good, and he was a talent that left us way too soon.
This is definitely a holiday movie but what holiday it is I am not quite sure. If feels like it should come on during Thanksgiving weekend but there is also the Christmas elements in it. Regardless this movie is regular holiday viewing for me. Then again, it is a classic so you can watch it at any time.
This film is not afraid to take jabs at just about anybody or anything. I guess you could call it brave comedy. I think most comedies have lost a step or two these days as they are a little afraid to take a jab at the risk of offending someone. Not all but far too many. This could not have been made in today’s climate.
Trading Places is a hilarious comedy. It is a classic film from the 80s that you cannot go wrong by watching. It is a must see.