Trading Places, the classic comedy starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy is a bit of a conundrum. On one hand, the fact that it’s an 80’s movie dealing with the idea of nature vs nurture put it way ahead of it’s time, on the other hand, there are some really dated moments in this film that were better left in decades past.
The Duke brothers, Randolph (Ralph Bellamy) and Mortimer (Don Ameche), are a couple of rich racist bastards. When their prized employee Louis Winthorpe III (Aykroyd) has a run in with Billy Ray Valentine (Murphy), a homeless man, the two dastardly brothers make a bet. One thinks that Valentine could to just as good at Winthorpe’s job as Winthorpe if given the chance. So the brothers set into motion a plan to ruin Winthorpe’s life and give it to Valentine unbeknownst to the two guinea pigs.
Things seem to be going fine until two important things happen. First Winthorpe meets Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis), a prostitute who decides to help him thinking she’ll get a chunk of change if she does. Second, Valentine overhears the Duke brother’s discussing their bet and figures out what is going on. So three team up, along with Coleman (Denholm Elliott) the butler, to get back at the Duke brothers.
Where Trading Places really gets good is when Winthorpe and Valentine team up, however this only happens in the last half hour of the movie. That’s not to say the first hour and a half isn’t good, it’s just not as good.
Then there are the dated parts. First off, Eddie Murphy cracks two separate derogatory gay jokes, using the F word. In the beginning Valentine is really worried about what the Duke brothers ulterior motives might be in giving him a new house and a job and butler. The idea of the joke in of itself isn’t in poor taste, it’s just his use of the f word that really makes one wince. Then there is the racism. The Duke brothers are horrible old racists dudes, that’s fine. We’re not supposed to like them. But even Winthorpe, who are are supposed to like eventually calls Valentine a “negro”. That’s just not cool, man. Then later Aykroyd goes full black face as a Jamaican. Seriously, what the hell were they thinking? It’s not Mickey Rooney in Breakfast At Tiffany’s bad, but it’s bad.
The film does a great job of looking at how circumstances shape people. At first Valentine isn’t sure what to make of his new fancy home and stuff, and decides to throw a big party, cause why not. But soon he realizes they aren’t respecting his stuff. I think he finally realizes it’s his stuff and soon he’s kicking everybody out. Valentine even does his best to watch his language. He listens to those around him, Coleman, the Duke brothers, etc and begins to emulate the way they talk, ditching most of his street lingo and style from the beginning of the film. The converse of Winthorpe losing everything isn’t as convincing, because in the end, his characters is still pretty much the asshole that he was at the beginning. But he did help stop the bad guys so you kind of like him a little. But you never like him enough to believe that Ophelia actually falls for him, unless she just likes him because he’s rich again.
Looking back on it this was the beginning of a film career for most of the leads. The Blues Brothers was already a few years old and Doctor Detroit had been a flop, Aykroyd was in dire need of a hit to keep his career moving. Murphy had only made 48 Hrs. and that hadn’t been released yet, so no one knew if he had any star power yet. And Jamie Lee Curtis had only done horror films up to this point. She was a scream queen, this film broke her out of that mold. From the making of special feature it sounds like director John Landis had to fight the studio to put together the cast he wanted and it’s a great thing he did.
In the end Trading Places is still a pretty darn funny movie, it just has a few moments that are little dated, and if you’re watching it with someone from a younger generation you might have some explaining to do.
The film is presented in a widescreen format and 5.1 Dolby Audio. The film has never looked or sounded better.
Extras include: Insider Trading: The Making of Trading Places: (18 min.) modern interviews about the making of the film. Trading Stories: (18 min.) vintage interviews with the cast and John Landis from when the film was made. The Deleted Scene: (3 min.), Dressing The Part: (6 min.) a look at the costumes. The Trade in Trading Places: (5 min.) an attempt to explain the big final scene and make sense of it. I was still confused.
I generally don’t go in for remakes, but I think Trading Places could benefit from one. The 1% are richer than ever and the difference between the rich and the poor even greater. Take out all the dated racist and homophobic stuff, throw Keegan-Michael Key and Paul Rudd in the leads and you got yourself a modern comedy classic in the making!
Paramount Pictures presents Trading Places: 35th Anniversary Edition. Written by Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod. Directed by John Landis. Starring: Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ralphy Bellamy, Don Ameche, and Denholm Elliott. Running time: 116 min. Rating: R. Released on Blu-Ray: June 12, 2018.
Tags: Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Landis, Trading Places