“Who been putting out their Kools on my floor!”
I was a floor trader for ten years and the only positive role model I ever had was Eddie Murphy in Trading Places. He’s the definition of joyful cool as he delicately picks among a group of hyped up white men desperate to sell him orange juice futures, after having made a fortune and gaining revenge on rich white America with an equally dapper Dan Aykroyd in by far his best post Blues Brothers career. I was maybe seventeen when this came out and my only real justification for majoring in Economics at Northwestern was so I could figure out how the hell they made all that money at the end of the movie. I understood that they knew the price of orange juice was going to plummet, but I could never figure out how they were allowed to sell the orange juice without owning it first. I eventually learned about the concept of short selling so I suppose my educational career was in a way successful.
This was yet another movie in which growing star Eddie Murphy was forced to pair off with a white co-star, a situation that would reach a silly peak with Dudley Moore in Best Defense. In that classic the lazy studio made one movie with Eddie and one with Dudley and desperately tried to piecemeal them together. According to Eddie they paid him tons of dough and he got to do his first love scene so he felt well compensated for the sell out. It looks pretty racist looking back, but in reality it just made his early movies that much stronger. Because Eddie doesn’t have to carry the whole movie, he is free to make every word that comes out of his mouth infinitely appealing and bad ass hilarious. Lately, he has had to play straight man as often as not because he must be the star of the movie. One look at his brilliance in Bowfinger shows how funny and sly he can be when he has someone of equal stature to play against.
Trading Places is kicked into gear when the super rich Duke Brothers, Randolph (Ralph Bellamy) and Mortimer (Don Ameche) decide to play a little god to decide which is more relevant environment or heredity. They take their brilliant young executive Aykroyd and destroy his life. He gets disgraced as a thief and a drug dealer and all his money, friends and women disappear. In turn, Eddie Murphy gets the biggest affirmative action assistance of all time. The Dukes bail him out of jail and put him in charge of their commodities firm. When the two pawns find out what happened to them, they decide to get even. Luckily for us this is after the tailspinning Aykroyd gets to wander around smashed drunk in a Santa suit with a big Salmon stuffed under his beard.
The movie’s middle third gets a little silly with it’s apes, costumes, trains, and Franken and Davis’ stoner morons, but its still fun and probably remains Jim Belushi’s best role ever as the life of the New Year’s party. Special mention must also be made for Paul Gleason as the wonderfully evil and mysterious Clarence Beeks. Apparently John Landis told Jamie Lee Curtis she could be in this movie if she got her breasts done and showed them off a couple of times. The world thanks him.
Trading Places was the start of a big comeback for Ameche, which would eventually culminate in his Oscar winning role in Cocoon as a break dancing codger. Traders love to quote the end of this movie when they have had a bad day. Bellamy passes out and Ameche pleads to the gods of high finance the immortal phrases “Get those brokers back in here. Turn those machines back on! Turn those machines back on!”” Duke fans should look carefully at the bums in the Landis-Murphy follow up Coming to America, probably Eddie’s best movie and the film where he proved once and for all that he could carry a movie alone without it taking place in Beverly Hills. Indeed look for the dad from Beverly Hills 90210 here as a prison guard.