A spoiled fat cat and commodities broker
By name, Louis Winthorpe III,
Is living the high life that everyone wants;
He’s pampered, contented, chauffeured.
Meanwhile, an indigent con on the street
Named Billy Ray Valentine lies,
Pretending that he is a crippled war vet,
A less-than-convincing disguise.
We see Winthorpe’s bosses, the two brothers Duke,
Debating what fashions a man,
A decent environment or just good breeding,
And so they develop a plan.
They take Mr. Valentine off of the streets,
Providing a house, job, and slave,
Then put Louis Winthorpe in Valentine’s place,
To see how the pair will behave.
While Valentine grows into Winthorpe’s old job
And earns model citizen status,
His counterpart soon is bereft on the streets,
Realizing that nothing is gratis.
Poor Winthorpe is framed as a dealer of drugs
And scorned by his own fiancée,
And only a hooker he met has the heart
To furnish a place he can stay.
While Winthorpe depends on Ophelia’s good graces,
He plans to avenge his old life.
He tries to get even with Valentine, proving
That man can be molded by strife.
One Duke brother pays up a paltry amount,
Having ruined the star of the corp.,
But Valentine hears them discussing their plan
And tracks suicidal Winthorpe.
Together they plan to take Duke & Duke down;
A crop report’s all that they’ll need.
If they get a fake one, the Dukes will be crushed
By the stock market and their own greed.
They jump through some hoops to obtain the report
And to give the Duke’s false information.
Then, armed with the truth, the two once-guinea pigs
Grow wealthy on stock domination.
The Dukes are soon three-hundred mil in the hole
And losing their power and health,
But Winthorpe and Valentine, with their good friends,
Are basking in pleasure and wealth.

Trading Places is one of those movies on my list that, like Panic Room and Good Will Hunting before it, I do not advise anyone to see uncut. Until this time, I had always seen it cut on TV, and it is much more enjoyable without the myriad F-words and scenes of nudity. The plot itself has drawn comparisons to The Prince and the Pauper, but, unlike Mark Twain’s classic story, the switch is not voluntary but forced. Also, considering that Dan Aykroyd plays Winthorpe and Eddie Murphy plays Valentine, they look nothing alike.

There is so much to love about this movie. The opening is memorable as people around Philadelphia get ready for the day to Mozart’s glorious overture to the Marriage of Figaro (which, as a story about young people scheming against a schemer, is also a potential inspiration for the film). The fish-out-of-water scenes involving Murphy and Aykroyd are well-acted, and the New Year’s Eve train scene, in which they try to swindle the stolen crop report, is alone worth seeing the whole movie. “Beef jerky time!”

Aside from the obvious language issue, one thing that bothers me is that I spent much of the movie feeling sorry for people. While Valentine got the best deal of anyone, Winthorpe just kept sinking lower and lower until he hit rock bottom. He may have been a self-absorbed priss at the beginning, but I don’t think he deserved that much abuse. I even felt sorry for the Dukes’ thug Clarence Beeks, played by Paul Gleason (better known as the principal in The Breakfast Club). If you’ve seen Trading Places, you’ll know why. All that being said, I felt no sympathy whatsoever for the coldhearted Duke brothers, played perfectly by Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche. I suppose I should also mention the decent performances of Jamie Lee Curtis as Ophelia and Denholm Elliott (aka Marcus Brody of Indiana Jones fame) as the butler Coleman, who got off a bit too easily for his part in the Dukes’ scheme.

All in all, Trading Places is an outstanding comedy that could easily have been made without warranting its R rating. With great actors and a socially perceptive script that also tries to actually explain the stock market to its audience (with limited success, in my case), it certainly deserves a place on my list.

Best line (aside from the one referenced above): (Valentine, after breaking something heavily insured) “You want me to break something else?” (everyone else) “NO!”

VC’s best line: (the deep-voiced Big Black Guy) “Yeah!”

Artistry: 7
Characters/Actors: 9
Entertainment: 8
Visual Effects: N/A
Originality: 8
Watchability: 8
Other (language, nudity): -4
TOTAL: 36 out of 60

Next: #256 – Treasure Planet

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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