Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year!

Trading Places (1983)

Trading Places is a film variation of the story The Prince and the Pauper, originally published by Mark Twain.  A variety of memorable performances gelled together to create this witty, funny movie.  Classic actors Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche joined forces with (then) up-and-coming Eddie Murphy, and his costar from the Saturday Night Live cast, Dan Aykroyd.  Although Eddie Murphy does an admirable job, one can't help but wonder how John Belushi, who had been co-stars with Aykroyd in three previous films (1941, The Blues Brothers and Neighbors). as well as years together on SNL, might have portrayed the counterpart to Aykroyd's Louis Winthorpe III.  (Obviously he wouldn't have been playing a poor black man, but that part of it could easily have been changed without losing too much in the tale).  A footnote to this musing is, I read that the original duo that was to be the stars were Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, so that would have definitely been a different take.

Added to the cast were Denholm Elliot, whom if I were rich would like to have a butler/valet/chauffer just like him.  Jamie Lee Curtis comes on board as "the hooker with the heart of gold", Jim Belushi (John's brother) as an overzealous party-goer, and Paul Gleason as one of the most evil villains I've ever seen in a comedy.  (Note:  If you are interested, I did a tribute to Paul Gleason's villain roles in an earlier entry, which you can read here.) Included in some memorable scenes are also James D. Turner and Ron Taylor (who must have had the easiest time in the world memorizing his lines:  "Yeah",  "Yeah" and...oh, yes....  "Yeah".)

I personally feel the movie benefits from the soundtrack, too.  Classical pieces abound throughout the film as background.  The opening score is from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro.  Which is fitting, I think, since wikipedia references some similarities between the movie and Mozart's opera.  In another movie classical pieces may have been viewed with a skeptical eye, but here they fit pretty well.  As the opening credits run and Mozart's composition plays we are treated to a variety of sites in Philidelphia, both in the poorer sectors and in the ritzier sectors to lay a foundation to this tale of switcheroos.

Louis Winthrorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) prepares for his day, with the help of his valet Coleman (Denholm Elliot), as an upper-level stockbroker working for the rich Duke & Duke Investments, owned by Randolph and Mortimer Duke (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche, respectively).  At the same time small time hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) works a scam as a supposedly crippled, blind veteran.

Louis Winthorpe III

Billy Ray Valentine

The Dukes

Billy's ruse is uncovered by two cops, and he tries to get away, inadvertently running into and knocking down Louis as he exits the exclusive club, where Louis has been getting checks signed by the Duke brothers, and Louis drops his briefcase.  When Billy picks it up to hand it back to him, Louis reacts as if he is being robbed.  A panicked Billy runs into the clubhouse but is caught.

The unscrupulous Duke brothers, who had previously been discussing whether an individual's status and bearing have been more influenced by heredity or environment, make a wager in which they plan to discredit Louis and force him into poverty, while at the same time taking Billy and seeing if they can make a classy, well-mannered individual out of him.

Poor Louis

Rich Billy

Neither are immediately transformed (this would be a rather shorter movie if it were true).  Billy treats his new found wealth with all the dubiousness and then extravagance one would expect from someone on the verge of poverty to do, granted a wealth beyond hi dreams.  On the other side, Louis refuses to accept that his circumstances have changed, instead treating everyone with just as much contempt and superiority as he had when he was wealthy.  In the process, he meets up with Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis), the proverbial hooker with the heart of gold, who although doubts Louis' story nevertheless agrees to help him.


A brief period of the movie contrasts the changes as, gradually, Billy becomes more refined, while at the same time Louis sinks deeper into depression and debt.  The transformation seems complete, until Louis, in a cab, happens to pass Billy, with his former valet, in his former limousine.  Louis makes plans for revenge, which will coincide with the Duke & Duke Christmas party.  After Louis' foiled attempt to frame Billy with drugs, he runs out of the building, eventually ending up trying to overdose on the same drugs with which he tried to frame Billy.  At the same time, Billy discovers the real story behind what the Duke brothers are doing, trying to use inside information to corner the market on "frozen concentrated orange juice". (Whether there really is such a commodity, I don't know, but I doubt it.  It would be a disappointment to find out there was, because that's one of the funnier parts of the movie.)

Billy tracks down Louis, and reveals the truth.  Together with Ophelia and Coleman, the four plan a plot to take the classified information, being smuggled to the Dukes via a courier, Clarence Beeks (Paul Gleason).  The whole series of events takes place on a commuter train travelling from New York to Philidelphia, coincidentally with a New Year's Eve Party going on on board.  (and now you know why I chose this movie at this time.)  Seeing Eddie Murphy as an African exchange student, Dan Aykroyd (in blackface) as a fellow African, Olivia as a Swedish girl, and Coleman as a slightly inebriated Irish priest is a hoot.

Beeks w/ Ophelia
Louis and Billy

Coleman as an Irish priest

Confusion and mix-ups ensue.  With confidence that this isn't a spoiler, I will tell you they DO succeed in getting the secret documents.  (But I won't tell you how....)  The ending involves some pretty furious trading on the stock market floor as Billy and Louis run their counter-ruse on the Dukes.  All for a bet of $1....

May the new year bring all the wealth your little heart desires.  Personally for me, I'd settle for just getting Ophelia.



  1. Brilliant comedy from the 1980s, one of the best of the era. Loved the chemistry among the entire cast. My favorite Eddie Murphy film. Looking forward to seeing this one again.
    - Chris

    1. This is one of those movies that, if I catch it on TV, I will watch the rest of it, even if it's half way over already. There are enough scenes in it that I like that it makes it worth it. Thanks.


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