The Initial Release (1983)
Trading Places is directed by John Landis and features an all-star cast of Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Lee Curtis, Denholm Elliott and Don Ameche, among others. The setting of the film takes places around the holiday season, but was curiously released in the month of June in 1983. The film was created as a modern spin on the classic story, The Prince and The Pauper. Setting the scene for this interpretation is Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd standing at different ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. In the fast-paced and business driven time of the 1980s, we find a structure that mirrors the stance of royalty and peasants of the medieval age displayed in The Prince and The Pauper.
Given John Landis‘ penchant for comedy, Eddie Murphy was selected to be the leading man, due to his prior relationship working on Saturday Night Live. It became a double-billed vehicle for two stars when Dan Aykroyd decided to take the role as the uptight wall street mogul to Murphy’s downbeat beggar. Trading Places was a widely regarded comedy that broke 90 million dollars at the box office. In its year-end, it finished only behind Flashdance, Terms of Endearment and Return of The Jedi in the highest grossing box office standings of 1983.
My Experience(1983 – 2015)
This one was not supposed to be for kids. Coarse language and nudity were expected in early Eddie Murphy features and that was unfortunately the kind of hook that drew kids in. The rules that our parents set out for us in childhood form a notion of taboo in our minds, almost forcing us to take up the challenge of bending them just to see what happens. That was certainly how I took it anyway.
Trading Places was the first movie I ever went out of my way to disobey my parents to see. It was near Christmas and snow had been falling (for once) in the often rain drenched winters of Ireland. The typical tradition my family had of collecting the same VHS each year was becoming something of a routine for me. I was given money for It’s a Wonderful Life with the hopes of bringing that family togetherness (that the film was known for) into our home. A good choice, but one that would grow stagnant by virtue of the amount of times I had to make that journey to the store to get it. So, one day I decided that instead of using the christmas cheer money for my family film night, I would use it for my own adolescent desire to hear lots of curse words in a movie. A perfect alibi was in place when I was invited to my friend’s house that night, where I claimed beforehand that the rental store did not have It’s a Wonderful Life and that I was going to spend the money on buying pizza at my friend’s house. It was foolproof.
Trading Places, upon my first experience, was a tense affair given that I was constantly on the edge of my seat ready to turn off the TV should my friend’s parents walk in. Upon reflection, the movie itself is not as crass and bold as it seemed back then, but the novelty that it provided was something that I will never forget. Additionally, neither my friend or myself could understand a single joke being thrown our way outside of the occasional swear. It was a memorable movie for me, because of the circumstances surrounding it.
Today, I watch Trading Places and it holds a special place in my heart, due to the nostalgia I feel when watching it, but also because it’s a genuinely wonderful comedy.
It’s a story of overcoming adversity and bridging the gaps between two backgrounds that are so very different. It illustrates the ideal that money can change you if you let it and beautifully shows that true wealth is determined by the people you are surrounded by, not by the amount in your bank account. We have our scheming villains Mortimer (Don Ameche) and Randolph (Ralph Bellamy) believing that they can skew the lives of those around them because of their vast riches. These nasty misers are a bad influence on our two leads, Louis Winthorpe (Dan Aykroyd) and Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy), as they take it upon themselves to mentor both at different intervals at the expense of the other. Through the titular action of Trading Places, the two leads both find an appreciation for the life they previously led and an admiration for the other in the sense of walking a mile in their shoes. Putting their differences aside is what brings them to the notion that they are better off as a unit that utilises the strengths of each other in order to become better, more rounded people.
On top of this message hidden in the narrative, we have moments of genuine hilarity as Eddie Murphy in his prime brings home one of his best performances. Naturally, this is not to undersell Aykroyd, but this is very much an Eddie Murphy centered movie. The supporting cast bolsters Jamie Lee Curtis with her iconic nude scene and on-point chemistry with Aykroyd‘s character. Her talent for comedy can be seen early on in this endeavour as a working girl who seems to go out of her way to help those less fortunate than her, despite her disdain of who they are as a person. Curtis doesn’t miss a beat in this film, showing that she is a veteran of the arts even at this relatively early stage of her career.
The Christmas themes presented in Trading Places lend it as a movie suited for December rather than the release date that was chosen. We are taught that good nature is not relative to all, although it is relative to those who you wouldn’t expect. It teaches that being in a position of power can make you forget the important and simpler things in life which, if neglected, will disappear. Following suit from The Prince and The Pauper, Trading Places tells a rags to riches story in a heartfelt and charming way that is really not to be missed.
If you are looking for an alternative this xmas, check out Trading Places!