“Breeding, Randolph — same as racehorses; it’s in the blood.”
Corrupt millionaires Randolph (Ralph Bellamy) and Mortimer (Don Ameche) Duke plot to reverse the fortunes of a hustling black con-artist (Eddie Murphy) and a privileged white stock broker (Dan Aykroyd) — all for the sake of a one-dollar bet about nature versus nurture.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Big Business
- Don Ameche Films
- Eddie Murphy Films
- Living Nightmare
- Race Relations
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “very funny modern-day Prince and the Pauper variation” — directed by John Landis, and scripted by Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod — remains a “sweet-tempered screwball comedy in the finest tradition of those memorable social satires of the thirties and forties”. He points out that Landis “borrows from Capra (the triumph of the little man over rich, corrupt robber barons) [and] Preston Sturges (a poor man’s fortunes can change overnight), and adds a dash of absurd humor that is characteristic of his own comedies and the work of his two stars”. He notes that while the film is ostensibly about the triumph of “environment over heredity”, it is “actually about loyalty, faith, and respect within friendships”, which are “the major determining factors in how a person winds up”.
The cast members here are all at the top of their game. Murphy (early in his career) is both infectiously charismatic and consistently hilarious, while Aykroyd is appropriately priggish as his entitled yet ultimately sympathetic foil. Supporting the comedic protagonists are Jamie Lee Curtis (playing an archetypal “kind-hearted prostitute”), who projects just the right mix of moxie and casual sexiness; Denholm Elliott (as the distressed butler bullied into turning against his employer, Aykroyd), who invests his minor role with significance; and Bellamy and Ameche (how fun it is to see these veterans on screen together!), who project hiss-worthy villainy. [Kudos to the screenwriters for not shying away from presenting their venally racist attitudes.] Despite the silly appearance of men in gorilla suits late in the game (a personal pet peeve with comedies), Trading Places remains a “true crowd-pleaser” and a cult favorite, one you’ll almost certainly enjoy revisiting.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Fine performances by the entire cast
- Excellent use of authentic Philadelphia locales
- A smart, witty script
Yes, as a cult comedy favorite.