Trading Places

Trading Places

Director John Landis rose to the top of his profession on the heels of the talented alumni from Saturday Night Live. He first hit gold in the late 70s with the box office hits, Animal House and The Blues Brothers. Then, in 1983, he paired Dan Aykroyd with big-screen newcomer Eddie Murphy in the socially-conscious comedy, Trading Places, one of his most endearing films to date.

Aykroyd plays Louis Winthorpe III, a snooty commodities broker who works for the Duke and Duke firm in New York City. Life is cozy for Louis until he crosses paths with a street hustler named Billy Ray Valentine (Murphy). Convinced that Valentine tried to rob him, he has the vagrant arrested and put in jail.

Watching this unfold, the Duke brothers, Randolph and Mortimer, debate the idea of “nature versus nurture” and decide to wager a bet to see what would happen if a wealthy businessman and a poor criminal traded places. The subjects of their experiment? Louis and Billy Ray.

Louis is soon framed and arrested, then finds he has lost his job, home, future wife and his millions. Meanwhile, Billy Ray is bailed out of jail and given the cushy position once occupied at the company by Louis. Desparate and destitute, Louis quickly descends the social ladder. He lives on the streets until a kindhearted prostitute named Ophelia takes him in.

Eventually, Louis and Billy Ray cross paths and discover that their respective circumstances are all the result of a bet between the Duke Brothers. The question is – how can they exact revenge in a way that makes them both rich while sending the meddling millionaires to the poor house.

Based loosely on the Mark Twain story, The Prince and the Pauper, Trading Places was full of social criticism but never felt preachy thanks to the brilliant comedic talents of Aykroyd, Murphy and a wonderful supporting cast that included Don Ameci and Ralph Bellamy as the sinister Duke Brothers, and Jamie Lee Curtis as the streetwalking Ophelia.

Released during the holiday season, Trading Places did quite well at the box office, becoming the fourth-highest grossing film of the year and raising Murphy’s star power considerably. The following year, he would star in the blockbuster Beverly Hills Cop and become a household name.

Meanwhile, Trading Places has since become a beloved classic, earning a place on numerous lists for top comedies and top holiday films of all time. It owes its success to the onscreen chemistry of its endearing cast and its thought-provoking exploration of social divides. It also didn’t hurt that it was one of the funniest films of the decade.

If you consider Trading Places to be one of your favorite 80s comedies, we’d love to hear your memories in our comments section below.

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