"I had the most absurd nightmare.
I was poor and no one liked me. I lost my job, I lost my house,
Penelope hated me and it was all because of this terrible, awful Negro."
Title: Trading Places
Director: John Landis
Writers: Timothy Harris, Herschel Weingrod
Release Date: 8th June 1983
Eddie Murphy - Billy Ray Valentine
Dan Aykroyd - Louis Winthorpe III
Jamie Lee Curtis - Ophelia
Paul Gleason - Clarence Beaks
Ralph Bellamy - Randolph Duke
Don Ameche - Mortimer Duke
Denholm Elliott - Coleman
Kristin Holby - Penelope Witherspoon
Randolph and Mortimer Duke, two old brothers, take a ($1) bet on whether they can transform a street bum into a high flying stock trader or whether it's all in the genes. They plant drugs on Louis Winthorpe III (a successful trader) and thrust Billy Ray Valentine, a beggar, into his house and his job. Billy Ray starts off well enough, before overhearing the Dukes discussing their bet in the bathroom. While this is happening, Winthorpe ends up living with Ophelia, a prostitute, and becomes more and more like a bum himself.
After a while (I'm not sure entirely how, I'm working from memory here), Billy Ray and Winthorpe team up to try and teach the Dukes a lesson. They find out that the Dukes have been cheating on the stock market for years, by getting forecasts before anyone else, and set out to give them false forecasts. Billy Ray, Winthorpe, Coleman (Winthorpe's manservant) and Ophelia all dress up in silly outfits on a train and capture Clarence Beaks, the guy working for the Dukes, and swap the forecasts. The Dukes end up losing a fortune, while Billy Ray and Winthorpe clean up. Everyone lives happily ever after. Except the Dukes, I suppose.
This movie has to be Eddie Murphy's crowning glory. On a high after the success of 48 Hours, his performance in Trading Places shows a very high level of confidence and his cracking partnership with Dan Aykroyd works even better than the good guy / bad guy routine played out with Nick Nolte a year earlier. He would go on to have a wonderfully successful few years with films such as the Beverly Hills Cop series and, another John Landis movie, Coming to America, which even includes the Dukes in a cameo role as a couple of street bums. While this is, without a doubt, Murphy's movie, there are other performances worth a mention. Dan Aykroyd is at his hilarious best, while Jamie Lee Curtis plays the whore with a heart exceptionally well. Paul Gleason and Kristin Holby come off less well, but with much smaller parts, this is understandable.
Trading Places is now 20 years old and has not aged so well. While still very funny, the underlying 'look at that black man being poor and funny' theme is a product of its era and feels somewhat out of place now. Also, seeing the brilliance shown by Eddie Murphy before making Vampire in Brooklyn, Doctor Dolittle and The Nutty Professor is a little sad. The gorilla scene is still great though.
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