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 Belushi 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 HD 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 villains 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 well-paying job at the Duke & Duke Commodity Brokerage. 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. 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 for a comedy this old on Blu-ray. I saw small nuances in this print I never saw on my old DVD Looking Good Edition 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.
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 dialog, 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 too loud, particularly in the film’s hilarious opening shots. A little extra flair. It’s all nice and clean and every bit as immersive as you get from these kinds of films.
The only new extra is a short Filmmaker Focus piece with Director John Landis and a fold-out mini film poster.
Insider Trading: The Making of Trading Places: (18:28) This is a collection of current-day interviews and archive footage with the cast and crew. Both share their memories of making this picture and how it impacted their careers and their lives, a good watch for fans of the movie.
Trading Stories: (7:58) Archive footage from 1983. The cast are interviewed about who they would trade places with if they could, or if they were put into the same situations as their characters. Surprisingly pretty interesting to watch and has a few laughs.
The Deleted Scene with optional commentary by Executive Producer George Folsey Jr: (1:46) One deleted scene that was completely useless to the story arc, really not worth checking out.
Dressing the Part: (6:31) A look into the costumes of the characters, ranging from rich to poor. The costume design is showcased.
The Trade in Trading Places: (5:24) An in-depth look on the exchange floor in the New York Stock Exchange. An interesting look into the hectic world of stock trading.
Trivia Pop-Ups: Interesting tidbits about all things Trading Places that pop up throughout the movie.
Industry Promotional Piece: (4:20) Director John Landis introduces an improvised scene between Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd in the form of a pitch for the movie.
The Duke Brothers were conducting a scientific experiment of sorts. Back when the DVD was released, 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? (and it holds up even better now in Blu-ray): “Looking good. Feeling good!”