Trading Places

Trading Places
Trading Places

The theatrical release poster, which calls the film "Some very funny business."
The slogan reads, "They're not just getting rich...they're getting even."
Directed by John Landis
Produced by Aaron Russo
Written by Timothy Harris
Herschel Weingrod
Starring Dan Aykroyd
Eddie Murphy
Ralph Bellamy
Don Ameche
Denholm Elliott
Jamie Lee Curtis
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography Robert Paynter
Editing by Malcolm Campbell
Studio Cinema Group Ventures
Paramount Pictures
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) June 8, 1983 (1983-06-08)
Running time 118 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $90,404,800

Trading Places is a 1983 American comedy film, of the satire genre, directed by John Landis, starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy. It tells the story of an upper class commodities broker and a homeless street hustler whose lives cross paths when they are unknowingly made part of an elaborate bet. The storyline has been commented upon as a modern take on Mark Twain's classic 19th century novel The Prince and the Pauper, which itself was also a satire. Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche, Denholm Elliott and Jamie Lee Curtis also star.

The film was written by Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod and was produced by Aaron Russo. It was released to theaters in North America on June 8, 1983, where it was distributed by Paramount Pictures. The film earned over US$90 million during its theatrical run in the United States, finishing as the fourth highest earning film of the year and the second highest earning R-rated film of 1983.

Denholm Elliott and Jamie Lee Curtis won the awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Best Actress in a Supporting Role, respectively, at the 37th British Academy Film Awards. The film was nominated for several additional awards including Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy at the 41st Golden Globe Awards.



Duke brothers Randolph (Ralph Bellamy) and Mortimer (Don Ameche) own Duke & Duke, a successful commodities brokerage in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Holding opposing views on the issue of nature versus nurture, they make a wager and agree to conduct an experiment switching the lives of two people at opposite sides of the social hierarchy and observing the results. They witness an encounter between their managing director—the well-mannered and educated Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd), engaged to the Dukes' grand-niece Penelope (Kristin Holby)—and a poor street hustler named Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy); Valentine is arrested at Winthorpe's insistence because of a suspected robbery attempt. The Dukes decide to use the two men for their experiment.

Winthorpe is publicly framed as a thief and drugs are planted on him when he is arrested. He is fired from his job, his bank accounts are frozen, and he is denied entry to the Duke-owned town-house where he resides. He befriends a prostitute named Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis) who allows him to stay at her apartment on the condition of receiving a reward once he re-establishes himself in society. Winthorpe soon finds himself ostracized and abandoned by Penelope and his former friends. Meanwhile, claiming to operate an assistance program for the underprivileged, the Dukes bail Valentine out of jail, install him in Winthorpe's position at the company and give him use of Winthorpe's home. Valentine quickly becomes well-versed in the business and acts well-mannered, even applying his street smarts to the job.

During the firm's Christmas party, Winthorpe is caught planting drugs in Valentine's desk in a desperate attempt to get his job back. After Winthorpe flees, Valentine hides in a bathroom stall to smoke a joint he took from the desk. The Dukes enter the bathroom and, unaware of Valentine's presence, discuss in detail the outcome of their experiment and settle their wager for $1. Valentine overhears this exchange, also learning that the Dukes have no intention of keeping him in the job, apparently merely due to his skin colour so Valentine decides to seek out Winthorpe.

Having unsuccessfully attempted suicide by shooting himself with a semi-automatic pistol (which fails to go off till after he throws it away) he had bought in a pawn shop, Winthorpe again attempts suicide, this time by overdosing on pills. But he is again unsuccessful. Valentine, Ophelia and Winthorpe's former butler Coleman (Denholm Elliott) nurse him back to health and inform him of the Dukes' experiment. On television, they learn of a Clarence Beeks (Paul Gleason) transporting a secret report on orange crop forecasts. Winthorpe and Valentine recall large payments made to Beeks by Duke & Duke and realize that the Dukes are planning to obtain this report to corner the market on frozen orange juice. The group agrees to disrupt their plan as revenge.

Learning of Beeks' travel plans, the four get aboard his train (aboard which a New Year's Eve costume party is also being thrown) to switch the report in Beeks' possession with a forgery. Beeks uncovers their scheme and attempts to kill them. He fails, because of the interference of a drunken partier in a gorilla costume, and is subdued, and the group dress him in a gorilla costume and lock him in a cage with a real gorilla. The forgery is then delivered to the Dukes, while Winthorpe and Valentine head to the World Trade Centre to buy out the Dukes, Coleman and Ophelia providing the necessary money.

On the commodities trading floor, the Dukes commit all their holdings (Randolph doing so against Mortimer's advice) to buying frozen concentrated orange-juice futures contracts; other traders follow their lead, inflating the price. Before the real crop report is declassified, Valentine and Winthorpe sell futures heavily at the increased price. After the forecast that the orange crop will be normal, the price of orange-juice futures plummets. Valentine and Winthorpe successfully cover their short sales, turning a profit of more than three hundred million American dollars. The Dukes fail to meet a margin call and are ruined, being left owing three hundred and ninety-four million American dollars for futures now worth a fraction of what they contracted to pay. Valentine and Winthorpe explain to the Dukes that they had made a wager on whether they could get rich while making the Dukes poor simultaneously. Valentine collects $1 from Winthorpe (who had believed their revenge plan would fail) while Randolph collapses holding his chest, a heart attack having seized him, and Mortimer shouts angrily at his brother about their failed plan.

Beeks and the gorilla are last seen being loaded onto a ship headed to Africa, while Valentine, Winthorpe, Ophelia, and Coleman relax on a luxurious yacht in an un-named tropical locale.


The storyline of Trading Places—a member of society trading places with another whose socio-economical status stands in direct contrast to his own—often draws comparisons to Mark Twain's novel The Prince and the Pauper.[1][2][3][4][5] First published in 1881, the novel follows the lives of a prince and a beggar—both of them of adolescent age—who use their uncanny resemblance to each other as a premise to switch places temporarily; the prince takes on a life of poverty and misery while the pauper enjoys the lavish luxuries of a royal life. Parallels have also been drawn between Trading Places and Mozart's 18th century comic opera The Marriage of Figaro in which a servant (Figaro) foils the plans of his rich master who tried to steal Figaro's bride to be.[6][7] The music from The Marriage of Figaro is used as a cinematic narrative in the film when the viewers are introduced to the daily routine of protagonist Louis Winthorpe's privileged life with the opera's overture playing in the background.[8][9]

David Budd, in his 2002 book Culture Meets Culture in the Movies, writes about the experiences of characters when the expected roles of races in society are sometimes reversed. The 1995 fiction film White Man's Burden and John Howard Griffin's factual book Black Like Me are used as a foundation to show how different the experience of white people can be when subjected to the prejudices faced by black people. In that respect, Budd proclaims Trading Places as "uncannily illustrative if heavy-handed". Beginning from the premise that, in the film, the "expectations of the races also stand upon their head", Budd states that "through even a highly comedic vessel a message loudly asking for a reassessment of prejudice, and for level playing fields, is heard."[2]

American philosopher and professor at Harvard University Stanley Cavell wrote about Trading Places in his 2005 book Cavell on film. Cavell postulates that film is sometimes used as a new technology in the production and experience of an opera. He explains that this axiom asserts its importance not in the fact that "our time" sees an increased expectation of new operas being developed but, rather, in the fact that there is an increased expectation of "new productions of operas." Cavell draws a comparison of themes between Trading Places and the opera The Marriage of Figaro, stating that "what Trading Places wants from its reference to Figaro is mostly the idea of resourceful and sociable young and poor overcoming with various disguises the conniving of the unsociable old and rich but with no sense that the old may be redeemed by a recognition of their faults and no revolutionary desire to see the world formed on a new basis."[6]



Box office performance

Trading Places was released theatrically in the United States on June 8, 1983, earning over US$7 million during its opening weekend and finishing the weekend as the third highest earning film behind only Superman III—debuting the same weekend—and Return of the Jedi.[10] The film continued to perform well in the following weeks and months, remaining in the top ten highest grossing films until its 18th week of commercial release and recording an increase in week-to-week earnings during its fourth and 13th weeks.[11] It went on to earn over $90 million during its theatrical run in the United States finishing the year as the fourth highest earning film of 1983, outperformed only by Return of the Jedi, Terms of Endearment and Flashdance.[12] Flashdance was also the only R-rated film of 1983 that had higher earnings than Trading Places at the US box office.[13]

Critical response

As of October 4, 2011, Trading Places holds an 89% "Fresh" rating on aggregate review website Rotten Tomatoes.[14] Another aggregate website, Metacritic, records a rating of 66 as of the same date, classifying critical response to the film as "Generally favorable reviews".[15]

Author and critic Richard Schickel of Time magazine called Trading Places "one of the most emotionally satisfying and morally gratifying comedies of recent times". While admitting Aykroyd's success in demonstrating "perfect prissiness as Winthorpe", Schickel commented on Murphy's performance as Valentine calling Murphy "a force to be reckoned with" and stating that he "makes Trading Places something more than a good-hearted comedy. He turns it into an event."[16] Film critic Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film three and a half stars out of four while offering that the film resembles Tootsie and comparing it to comedies of Frank Capra and Preston Sturges. Ebert stated "This is good comedy", he commended the character development in the film calling the characters "wonderful comic inventions" and explained that its comedic success is because the film "develops the quirks and peculiarities of its characters, so that they're funny because of who they are." He further commented on the cast by favorably commenting on acting as "engaging", stating that "Murphy and Aykroyd are perfect foils for each other", that they're both capable of being "specifically eccentric", that "they both play characters with a lot of native intelligence" and concluding that "It's fun to watch them thinking." Commenting on Bellamy and Ameche in the roles of the Duke brothers, Ebert called their involvement in the film "a masterstroke of casting."[1] Janet Maslin of The New York Times repeated some of Roger Ebert's sentiments stating that "Preston Sturges might have made a movie like Trading Places - if he'd had a little less inspiration and a lot more money." She, again, also commended the cast by calling it "well-chosen", commenting on Murphy and Aykroyd as "the two actors best suited", stating that the Duke brothers were "played delightfully" by Ameche and Bellamy and—concluding that "the supporting cast is also quite good"—praising Curtis for managing "to turn a hard-edged, miniskirted prostitute into a character of unexpected charm."[17] Jay Carr of The Boston Globe called it "easily the best of the movies I've seen by the various Saturday Night Live alumni."[18] Empire magazine awarded the film a rating of four stars out of five, classifying Trading Places as "Excellent" per the magazine's star rating system, stating that "Murphy and Ackroyd are the show-stealers."[19] A review of the film published by Variety magazine called the film "a light romp geared up by the schtick shifted by Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy." The review gave further commendations to supporting actors, stating that Murphy and Aykroyd "couldn't have brought this one off without the contributions of three veterans - Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche and the droll Englishman, Denholm Elliott" and calling the presence of Jamie Lee Curtis "enjoyable."[20]

"The Eddie Murphy Rule"

Almost 30 years after its release, the plot for the movie was part of the inspiration for new regulations on the financial markets. On March 3, 2010 Commodity Futures Trading Commission chief Gary Gensler stated, in testimony he gave to the 111th Congress, "We have recommended banning using misappropriated government information to trade in the commodity markets. In the movie Trading Places, starring Eddie Murphy, the Duke brothers intended to profit from trades in frozen concentrated orange juice futures contracts using an illicitly obtained and not yet public Department of Agriculture orange crop report."[21]

The "Eddie Murphy Rule," as it came to be known, later came into effect as Section 136 of the Wall Street Transparency and Accountability Act of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, under Section 746, which dealt with insider trading.[22]


Bellamy and Ameche would reprise their roles as the Duke Brothers, now homeless, in a cameo appearance in Murphy's 1988 film Coming to America.


Trading Places
Soundtrack album by Elmer Bernstein
Released October 11, 2011
Genre Soundtrack
Length 48:00
Label La-La Land Records

A score album was released by La-La Land Records on October 11, 2011 and was limited to 2000 copies.[23] The album features Elmer Bernstein's Oscar-nominated score, as well as the source material that he wrote and arranged, including traditional Christmas carols that appear in the film. A significant portion of Bernstein's music is based on Mozart's music from The Marriage of Figaro.

Track listing

  1. Main Title (4:01)
  2. Your Breakfast Sir / Good Morning! / Dukes (3:42)
  3. The Club / Bump (1:44)
  4. Wager (1:05)
  5. Moving Out / Plots (1:59)
  6. Philly / Ploy (0:56)
  7. Discovery / Bed (0:49)
  8. Revelation / The Goods / Train (1:46)
  9. Heroes (2:55)
  10. Kicking Ass / Cards (2:11)
  11. Dessert (2:43)
  12. Louis Winthorpe III Blues (1:39)
  13. Jamaican Bye-Bye (1:32)
  14. Andante Cantabile from String Quartet, K. 165 (1:25)
  15. Jingle Bells (2:53)
  16. Joy to the World (1:32)
  17. Silent Night (2:01)
  18. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (1:14)
  19. O Little Town of Bethlehem (2:36)
  20. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (slower version) (1:49)
  21. Good Morning! (alternate) (1:55)
  22. Bump (alternate) (1:06)
  23. Ploy (alternate) (0:38)
  24. Ploy (alternate 2) (0:37)
  25. Train (promotional LP version) (1:34)
  26. Kicking Ass / Cards (alternate) (1:37)



See also


  1. ^ a b Ebert, Roger. Trading Places, Chicago Sun-Times, June 9, 1983. Accessed April 12, 2010.
  2. ^ a b Budd 2002, p. 210
  3. ^ Min 1999, p. 167
  4. ^ Childs 2006, p. 44
  5. ^ Truby 2007, p. 133
  6. ^ a b Cavell 2005, pp. 309–311
  7. ^ Monahan, Mark. Must-have movies: Trading Places (1983), The Daily Telegraph, May 20, 2005. Accessed April 13, 2010.
  8. ^ Chatman 1990, p. 8
  9. ^ Freedman, Richard. "'Trading Places' Is a Hilarious Account of a Bet That Backfires", The Vindicator, June 30, 1983. Accessed January 26, 2011.
  10. ^ June 17-19, 1983 Weekend, Box Office Mojo. Accessed April 12, 2010.
  11. ^ Trading Places - Weekend (1983), Box Office Mojo. Accessed April 12, 2010.
  12. ^ 1983 Domestic Grosses, Box Office Mojo. Accessed April 12, 2010.
  13. ^ 1983 Yearly Box Office by MPAA Rating - All R Rated Releases, Box Office Mojo. Accessed April 12, 2010.
  14. ^ Trading Places, Rotten Tomatoes. Accessed April 12, 2010.
  15. ^ Trading Places, Metacritic. Accessed April 12, 2010.
  16. ^ Schickel, Richard. Cinema: Down the Tubes, Up the Ladder, Time, June 13, 1983. Accessed April 12, 2010.
  17. ^ Maslin, Janet. Trading Places (1983), The New York Times, June 8, 1983. Accessed April 12, 2010.
  18. ^ Carr, Jay. "Trading Places", The Boston Globe, June 9, 1983. Accessed April 12, 2010.
  19. ^ Trading Places, Empire. Accessed April 12, 2010.
  20. ^ Trading Places, Variety. Accessed April 12, 2010.
  21. ^ First The Volcker Rule, Now The Eddie Murphy Rule!, Market Beat, a part of The Wall Street Journal. Accessed September 7, 2010.
  22. ^ Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, OpenCongress. Accessed September 7, 2010.
  23. ^ La-La Land Records Product Details
  24. ^ a b Film Nominations 1983, BAFTA. Accessed April 9, 2010.
  25. ^ The 41st Annual Golden Globe Awards (1984), Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Accessed April 9, 2010.
  26. ^ Nominees & Winners for the 56th Academy Awards, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Accessed April 9, 2010.


  • Budd, David (2002). "Classic Encounters of Black on White". Culture Meets Culture in the Movies: an Analysis East, West, North, and South, With Filmographies. McFarland & Company. pp. 210. ISBN 0-7864-1095-7. 
  • Min, Eungjun (1999). "Images of the Homeless in the Motion Pictures". Reading the Homeless: The Media's Image of Homeless Culture. Praeger Publishers. pp. 167. ISBN 0-275-95950-3. 
  • Childs, Peter (2006). "Pop Video". Texts: Contemporary Cultural Texts and Critical Approaches. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 44. ISBN 0-7486-2043-5. 
  • Truby, John (2007). "Moral Argument". The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. Faber and Faber. pp. 133. ISBN 978-0-86547-951-7. 
  • Cavell, Stanley (2005). "Opera in (and as) Film)". Cavell on Film. State University of New York Press. pp. 309–311. ISBN 0-7914-6431-8. 
  • Chatman, Seymour (1990). "Narrative and Two Other Text-Types". Coming to Terms: The Rhetoric of Narrative in Fiction and Film. Cornell University Press. pp. 8. ISBN 0-8014-9736-1. 

External links

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