Successful commodity brokers, Randolph and Mortimer Duke (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche), have decided to have a 'simple' bet with each other.
You see, they want to know if they can arrange for two completely different people, from two completely different classes of the social spectrum, to successfully swap roles in life, without either of them knowing what is happening to them.
Now their first candidate for this task is young Billy Valentine (Eddie Murphy), who is a urbane vagrant with very shoddy ways. Next, there second candidate for this task, is one of their very own employees, Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd), whom is a well mannered and groomed prick.
OK, so now we know who 'the players' are, and what they want to do, do you think that the ‘Duke and Duke’ will be able to accomplish this ‘swap’? Simple really - yes. Firstly, they plant some drugs on Louis, and then throw him to the cop - with a bit of help from streetwalker, Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis). And secondly, they pick up Billy from the streets, and then ‘educate’ him - with a bit of help from the house-butler, Coleman (Delholm Elliott).
WOW! Isn't that just great? Err? Depending on your perspective of course. For Billy, the Dukes give him a new house to party in, a new job in their firm, and a new direction in life as well. And as for Louis on the other hand, they take away his job, they take away his friends, and they take away his house too.
Ahh! Poor Louis. Whatever is he going to do now? Granted, Ophelia tries her best to look after him in his time of need, and attempts to steer him back on the straight and narrow once more. However, Louis has other ideas. Because he incorrectly directs his 'run of back luck' towards Billy – resulting in him trying to plant drugs in his desk during an office party at gun-point.
Somehow, Louis does not get arrested for this deed, and manages to get away with some tuna-fish and no real reprisals.
Though, come to think of it, this is one reprisal that I can think of. By chance, Billy overhears about the Duke’s ‘swap-scheme’ whilst smoking and hiding in the bathroom. Prompting him to then takes it upon himself to trail Louis back to Ophelia’s apartment, and tell him about his alarming discovery.
Now does Louis listen to him? No. But thankfully, prodded along by both Ophelia and Coleman, Louis comes to realize the truth behind Billy’s words, before they both figure out a way of enacting revenge on the Duke’s.
Ha! I suppose that is why what next transpires begins with an enforcer called Clarence Beeks (Paul Gleason). As monkeys ride trains - tricks implies brains - oranges have pains - and a financial empire wanes.
In my most humble opinion, 'Trading Places' is one of those classic films’ that has impregnated a culture with its charm, its wit, and its approach to storytelling.
Compared to more modern standards, this film is basically a re-elaboration on Mark Twain’s 19th century novel 'The Prince and the Pauper', just with a more jovial and modern tone to it. Not to imply that this picture isn't original in its approach. Oh no. It modernizes its pretext into a more eighties milieu, subverts its foundation into a more seventies fashion, and then boldly spurts all of this out in a very fresh manner.
And do you know what? That is precisely what this film is you know – fresh – and has never really been equalled since. OK, so some of the styles and the joke are dated by now, and the fundamental pretext has been done to death too. Still, that is not to say that it isn't a very watch-able film, which I put down to the cast and the direction that this movie takes.
For a start, the actors make you believe in the characters that they are portraying. Eddie is the street urchin astounded by his luck. Dan is the put upon braggart on the decline. Don and Ralph are the Wiley old men with a game to play. Denholm is the deterred but loyal aide. And Jamie... sigh... lovely tits, and an attitude to match.
Oh! And let’s not forget about the director of this film, John (Blues Brothers) Landis. He is a master at honing the actors talents to fit the story that he is trying to convey. Never do you see Eddie overact in this film as he has done in others. Never do you see Dan give such an emotional performance. And never have you seen an ensemble cast work in such synchronicity.
Though I suppose it has been, huh? Here, check out these filmic-facts for the 411: (1) The original title for this film was labelled 'Black and White'. (2) Dan's prison number in this movie, 7474505B, is the same one he wore as in 'Blues Brothers'. (3) When this project was first devised, it was meant to be a vehicle for Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. But when Richard left and Eddie came on board, Eddie did not want Gene on this flick, because he didn't want people to think he was just trying to be another Pryor. (4) Randolph and Mortimer Duke had a brief cameo in the Eddie Murphy film, 'Coming to America', a few years later. (5) Another inspiration for this flick was the Three Stooges film 'Hoi Polloi', where two rich guys are arguing about what matters most: breeding or upbringing. Prompting one to place a bet with the other one, stating that they can take any bum off of the street and make him into a gentleman. (6) Quite a few actors were considered to star in this film. Ray Milland was the first choice for Mortimer Duke. G. Gordon Liddy was offered to play Clarence Beeks. Plus John Gielgud and Ronnie Barker were offered the role of Coleman the butler. (7) Jamie Lee Curtis was living in Marlene Dietrich apartment whilst making this movie, because she was engaged to her grandson, production designer J. Michael Riva. (8) Don Ameche did not like his last remark 'f*ck him', because of his strong religious convictions. (9) Frank Oz has a cameo in this film, just like John Landis.
Overall, 'Trading Places' is one grand film, and is now considered a classic in eighties comedy cinema. All of the actors associated with this masterpiece cannot seem to escapes its shadow, and are still connected with this movie to this very day. So if you are a fan of period films updated to a more modern pretext, a fan of eighties cinema, or just love any of the actors involved – go on – trade some places today – you won’t be sorry.
THE RATING: A
THE RATING: A