Eddie Murphy has a ton of films under his belt. If you’re like most folks, his antics have long ago become tired and worn out. Come with me now to a time when Murphy was young and full of energy. Trading Places was really only Murphy’s second film after 48 hours. In Trading Places, we get vintage Eddie Murphy. You can tell he was still hungry. Today he simply calls too many performances in. Dan Aykroyd was also at a turning point in his own career. It hadn’t been too long since he lost his longtime partner Jim Belu…hi to a drug overdose. He was just learning to stand on his own. Put these two guys together today, and there’s not much chance you’d get the solid gold that was possible in 1983. Fortunately for us there is this DVD release of Trading Places, when both actors still felt they had something to prove. The cast was brilliant all the way around. Jamie Lee Curtis displayed her obvious assets for the first time in a film. Known mostly as a scream queen at that time, Curtis was a choice the studio was not at all happy with. The Wolf Man’s own Ralph Bellamy, along with fellow veteran actor Don Amechi, played the Duke brothers to perfection. Finally, Denholm Eliott added his own understated brilliance as Coleman, the butler.
Trading Places was originally written as a vehicle for Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. That team had had great success with a few films already, and it was felt they were the only ones capable of pulling off this kind of a film. I’m not sure how that might have worked. Certainly it still might have been a funny outing, but somehow I think everything worked out for the best. Trading places broke many conventions of the time. The black and white stereotypes were a concern, as were other elements. Having a hooker play such a pivotal role was questioned. The studio even expressed some problems with the fate of Mr. Beaks. A little gorilla love went a long way toward the poetic justice these kinds of villians often require. John Landis stood his ground the entire time, refusing to budge. Remove any of these elements, and who knows what we might have ended up with.
Winthorpe (Aykroyd) is a wealthy man from a prestigious family. He has a good paying job at the Duke & Duke Commodity Brokarage. He’s engaged to the niece of his two bosses. He lives the life of luxury, and it has made him the perfect snob. All the while Billy Ray Valentine (Murphy) lives from scam to scam on the cold streets of Philadelphia. It’s an understatement to say he’s not feeling any of that brotherly love. The Dukes (Bellamy/Ameche) have an argument over the age old question of what makes the man, genetics or environment. To settle their $1 bet they decide to frame and ruin the life of Winthorpe and invite Billy Ray to step into his shoes. Winthorpe befriends a hooker (Curtis) paid to drive away his fiancee. Billy Ray begins to develop a sense of responsibility and thrives in his new position, until he overhears the Dukes and learns of the bet. He teams up with Winthorpe and company to get even with the Dukes. When you tell it that way, it all seems so ordinary. Watch the film, and you’ll be surprised at just how extraordinary ordinary can get.
Trading Places is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. They call this the looking good edition, and that phrase aptly describes the picture quality. It’s not likely you would guess this was a nearly 25 year old film. Colors are fantastic and close to reference. Detail is what impressed me the most. It was striking. I saw small nuances in this print I never saw on my old laser disc or in the theatre. Aykroyd’s drunk Santa was a perfect example. When he’s eating the fish, and half his beard, on the bus you’ll see every hair on that salmon. Someone dedicated a great amount of care to provide this print. I never saw the earlier release so can’t compare it to that.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is not near as impressive as the video. Still, it does a more than adequate job given the material. There aren’t any explosions or rumbling engines to fuel an aggressive mix. Mostly all we have is dialogue, and it comes through just fine. There are some noticeable improvements in places like the train sequence where rear channels provide a little more width to the film. I think the music might have been mixed a touch to loud, particularly in the film’s hilarious opening shots.
“Insider Trading: The Making of Trading Places” Pretty much all of the major players participated in this fact filled look at the film. Of course, Bellamy and Ameche are gone, but we still get to hear some wonderful stories about them. My favorite is when Landis explains how reluctant Ameche was to swear. What comes off the most is how warm these people still feel toward each other and the film. Aykroyd, perhaps correctly, assesses it as his finest film.
“Trading Stories” This shorter piece contains interview clips from 1983 about the film. As captivating as some of this was, I can’t shake the image of Murphy nervously biting his nails as he’s asked questions. Many of the questions are more of the Actor’s Studio kind than actually related to the film. You have to remember that in 1983 these were not so much household names.
“Dressing The Part” Deborah Nadoolman was the costume designer on the film. I found it interesting that she theorizes that good costuming is invisible. Actually, a couple of Curtis’s almost were.
“Deleted Scene” I was hoping here for more. I’ll just bet a lot of funny stuff didn’t make it to the final film. The only one we get here is one showing us how Beaks gets the OJ crop report.
“The Trade in Trading Places” This is a short real life look at the hectic commodities trade. Landis admits to being just as confused about the film’s resolution as some of you might have been.
“Trivia Pop-Up You can use this option to allow pop-up screens to provide little tidbits throughout the film. Mostly it’s just distracting.
“Industry Promotional Piece” This not family friendly piece was added to a reel for the ShoWest convention where films are shopped to theatre owners. The idea is to get them to pick up your film to play in your theatre. Murphy and Aykroyd talk nonsense in a men’s room. I guess it must have worked. It features an intro from Landis.
The Duke Brothers were conducting a scientific experiment of sorts. I decided to sit down with a couple of friends and we conducted an experiment of our own. Could a 25 year old film for which we each had great memories, we wondered, still be as funny today? We meticulously assembled the essential equipment. Cola? Check. Chips and crackers? Check. Comfortable seats? Check. We needed to conduct our experiment under controlled conditions in a controlled environment. The Reel World had been constructed for just such cases. The walls were carefully plied to make them sound neutral. The back seats were raised on a platform which also served to work with the subwoofer to vibrate the room. We used nothing but state of the art equipment. And so on Tuesday night at approximately 8:00 P.M. we conducted the experiment. Our findings? “Looking good. Feeling good!”
Special Features List
- Insider Trading: The Making of Trading Places
- Trading Stories
- Deleted Scene
- Dressing the Part
- The Trade in Trading Places
- Trivia Pop-Ups
- Industry Promotional Piece