80’s Rewind: Trading Places

Updated: July 23, 2012

A 1983 film that features Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd putting up great comedic performances, Trading Places is a movie that I still take in when I see that is on HBO or Comedy Central.  Due to the characters involved and prevailing themes, this movie is an outstanding watch that still stands up today. 

The film centers on the converging paths of Louis Winthorpe III (Aykroyd) and Billy Ray Valentine (Murphy).  Winthorpe is employed as the managing director of Duke & Duke, a commodities brokerage house in Philadelphia run by Randolph and Mortimer Duke, while Valentine is a hustler on the street who first see on screen pretending to be a blind cripple.  The pompous and entitled Winthorpe has Valentine arrested after Billy Ray bumps into him and supposedly takes his brief case.  It is after this event that the Duke brothers decide to play out a social experiment and alter the fates of the two men – Randolph believes that Winthorpe is merely a product of his environment and that Valentine could succeed if allotted the same opportunities, while Mortimer thinks that Winthorpe is genetically disposed to succeed and that if he were placed in Valentine’s situation he would still rise to the top.  The Dukes put their plan in action, leading to the destruction of Winthorpe’s life and Valentine obtaining success and good fortune.  When Valentine overhears the Dukes plan while hiding in a bathroom stall (enjoying some cannabis at the time), he joins forces with Winthorpe to go after the Dukes. 

This is an enjoyable file throughout due to a handful of reasons, such as:

The performances of Murphy and Aykroyd:  Filmed in between his roles in 48 hours and Beverly Hills Cop, Murphy was right around the height of his powers at the time of Trading Places, turning out hit after hit.  He carried most of the scenes he was in, with the jailhouse scene and his dealings with the Dukes being a few of my personal favorites.  Aykroyd managed to make an inherently annoying character likeable as the file progressed, and his derailment at the Duke & Duke Xmas party was a bit of a precursor to some of the Bad Santa behavior seen on screen in more recent times. 

Vintage 80’s scene:  Nothing screams 80’s like the party Valentine holds at his (Winthorpe’s) home, with people rocking spandex, cowboy hats, and the song “Do You Wanna Funk” blaring in the background accompanied by some bad dancing.  It might be one of more random scenes ever, especially when a few ladies at the party make the decision to just to go for it. 

Clarence Beeks:  Paul Gleason made a career out of playing unlikeable characters, and in his role of Beeks he gave us all a hint of what was to come in his later performances in The Breakfast Club, Die Hard, Not Another Teen Movie (classic), and Van Wilder.  He had some great lines in this one, none more so than “Hey.  Back off!  I’ll rip out your eyes and piss on your brain”.     

The Duke brothers:  Randolph and Mortimer thoroughly enjoyed watching their experiment play out at the expense of Winthorpe and Valentine.  Coupled with their underhanded tactics with Beeks and they perfectly depict a pair of rich old men who still are still greedy for more.  While they gave me my first lesson in the commodities market years ago (anyone else not realize pork bellies were such a big trading hit?), their shady dealings and overt racism throughout makes them natural villains.  Mortimer’s tirade at the end movie while his brother is experiencing chest pain is another highlight.         

Ophelia and Penelope:  Played by Jamie Lee Curtis and Kristin Holby respectively, these ladies have a few big moments on screen and meet most people’s classification of “80’s hot”. 

Memorable quotes:  Too many to list, but here are a few:

  • It ain’t cool being no jive turkey so close to Thanksgiving.
  • Where are your bitches, Mr. Big-Time Pimp?
  • Yeah!  The phone in the limo was busted.  What is ya, ignorant?
  • You know, you can’t just go around and shoot people in the kneecaps with a double-barreled shotgun ’cause you pissed at them.
  • Think big, think positive, never show any sign of weakness.  Always go for the throat.  Buy low, sell high.  Fear?  That’s the other guy’s problem.  Nothing you have ever experienced will prepare you for the absolute carnage you are about to witness.  Super Bowl, World Series – they don’t know what pressure is.  In this building, it’s either kill or be killed.  You make no friends in the pits and you take no prisoners.  One minute you’re up half a million in soybeans and the next, boom, your kids don’t go to college and they’ve repossessed your Bentley.  Are you with me?


And of course, the ending lines of “Looking good Billy Ray” and “Feeling good Louis” that are still recited to this day. 

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