Trading Places (1983)

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So Mike’s Take on the Movies and I were discussing unconventional Christmas movies we love, and this is one we both quote and mention a lot. It’s rude and crass and mean, and totally hilarious and classic because its heart is in the right place, and for all the nudity and objectionable language it’s still sentimental and sweet and plays like The Prince and the Pauper adapted by Capra.

The two corrupt Duke brothers, Randolph and Mortimer (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche), are commodities brokers who spend their free time arguing about Randolph’s pet theory that people are products of their environment. At Christmas a golden opportunity arises to test this theory, when their annoyingly smug, entitled manager Louis Winthorp (Dan Aykroyd) wrongly accuses a bumbling hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) of a mugging. The Dukes bet one dollar that they can make a successful broker out of Billy and a lowlife of Louis, just by switching their surroundings.

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Through frame-ups and public disgrace they reduce Louis to poverty. His stuffy girl leaves him and he’s taken in by Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis), a hooker with a brain and what else but a heart of gold. Meanwhile, Billy does wonders at Louis’ job, enjoys his lush life, becomes friends with his wise and wisecracking butler Coleman (Denholm Elliott), leaves his own freeloading friends behind and starts caring about “his” new possessions and goals. At the moment Louis has lost all hope and tries to kill himself, Billy discovers this has all been a horrible prank, so he and Louis, Coleman and Ophelia team up to turn the tables on the Dukes and take their place as the idle rich.

It’s a simple plot with lots of chaotic, outrageous farce, and it hits all the racist and political stereotypes you can imagine, but develops the jokes beyond predictable cliches and creates characters you can like no matter how offensive their behaviour. It’s perverse fun watching Bellamy and Ameche bicker, drop the F-bomb and gleefully destroy people’s lives for kicks and it’s highly satisfying watching them get their devastating comeuppance. There’s also a memorable double-cross of the Dukes’ ruthless inside man (Paul Gleason) during a drunken New Year’s Eve party on a train, thanks to some ridiculous costumes and a gorilla. 

I’ve been quoting lines from this one for years: money isn’t everything Mortimer, here’s your dollar, beef jerky time, I’ll have you know this is a Rochefoucauld, help me with my rucksack, cultural director at the Haile Selassie Pavilion, and so on. “You didn’t think I’d forget your Christmas bonus, did you?” says Bellamy, proudly handing a private club employee five whole dollars; “thank you sir, I can go to the movies…By myself!” When the Dukes explain stocks to Billy in terms he might understand, like a BLT, Murphy shoots a deadpan look straight at the camera and thirty years later it still looks fresh. Murphy and Aykroyd at their best, plus memorable bit parts for Bo Diddley, Jim Belushi, Al Franken, Stephen Stucker and Frank Oz. This movie is still “looking good, feeling good,” and an unconventional Christmas classic. Now go check out Mike’s thoughts on it

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16 thoughts on “Trading Places (1983)”

  1. We nailed this one! It’s almost like we were ghost writers for each other. haha. This was fun to revisit after a few years and I really believe it’s the old boys that make this so memorable.

    1. No kidding, I’m chuckling as I read yours, similar right down tot he hooker with a heart of gold, haha! I had such a great time revisiting this one, laughed out loud all the way through.

      Here’s your dollar, and Merry Christmas!

  2. I’ve always felt a bit guilty about liking this film – it’s not exactly high-brow. But happy to hear my appreciation is in good company – it’s a totally legitimate Christmas watch 😉

  3. I saw TRADING PLACES at a special preview.
    The short film that was on the same bill put me in
    a good mood. It featured the group Madness and was
    filmed at East Finchley Swimming Pool where I spent
    many happy hours in my youth.
    Then came the main feature,I thought the film was
    dreadful beyond description.
    The capacity audience laughed their butts off
    throughout.
    I then had the feeling that this is what Hell must be like,
    trapped forever in a cinema watching TRADING PLACES
    for eternity!

    Sorry to be so Bah Humbug on Christmas Eve,Kristina,

    Please don’t let your wonderful blog go too “upmarket”
    in 2016,I hope there will still be a few items for a dedicated
    trash addict like yours truly. 🙂

    1. Haha at the upmarket comment! Not to worry, I taste from all the platters at the movie buffet and still enjoy my cheetos. I’m impressed at the movie featuring Madness! Loved them at that time. All the best to you and Merry Christmas! 😀

  4. You and Mike have inspired me to revisit this one – Haven’t seen it since its initial release! I’d also forgotten the great cast. Hopefully I’ll see it before *next* Christmas!

    1. Me too. It’s hilarious, and not cliche or predictable. Now, it’s extra fun to see everyone so young! I forgot to mention how funny Eddie’s jail scene was, with the “quart of blood” move and Giancarlo Esposito. Cheers

    2. I totally agree about the chemistry between the characters. I totally didn’t expect it but it just catches you right from the start. And Murphy is absolutely hilarious. What’s interesting is how comic actors can do drama just as well. Both Aykroyd and Murphy have done both very well and so have classic actors like Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

      Tam

  5. I’m actually not a huge fan of 1980’s comedies, but I happened to catch this once and really liked it. Dan Aykyrod and Eddie Murphy are such opposites that it works well for comedy. Jamie Lee Curtis is also great and so are classic film actors Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche.

    Tam

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