Aykroyd Suffers Valentine Heartache
Just over 100 years after Mark Twain's "The Prince and the Pauper" was first published "Trading Places" was released, an 80s comedy which borrowed heavily from Twain's story. I wonder what Twain would have made of this comedy which sees two wealthy brothers mischievously meddle in the lives of a businessman and a street hustler, getting them to switch places. Whether Twain would have like it or not doesn't really matter because like so many 80s comedies "Trading Places" is a memorable piece of fun be it Dan Aykroyd dressed as a Santa Claus eating salmon through a filthy beard to Eddie Murphy living it large when he is given a mansion and who can forget the scene where Jamie Lee Curtis goes topless as Ophelia who takes pity on Aykroyd's character.
Wealthy brothers Mortimer (Don Ameche - Heaven Can Wait) and Randolph Duke (Ralph Bellamy - The Professionals) decide to have a little wager as Randolph believes he can turn a common con man into a successful business man and at the same time turn a successful business man into a common criminal. So they fire Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd - I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry), the manager of their company, and set him up so that he loses everything whilst replacing him with con man Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy - 48 Hrs) giving him the luxury life that Louis has just lost. Fortunately for Louis the attractive Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis - Halloween II) takes pity on him and gives him a roof over his head whilst Louis sets about ruining Billy Ray believing he's stolen his life.
As already mentioned "Trading Places" borrows an idea from Mark Twain's "The Prince and the Pauper" but it also borrows from another Mark Twain story "The Million Pound Bank Note" as we have brothers laying a wager but here rather than make everyone think one man is wealthy we have two people changing places. Whilst it borrows from Twain's literary works it creates a fun storyline from them, a simple and ultimately obvious story but an entertaining one none the less. I say simple because the majority of the fun in "Trading Places" comes from the pompous Louis forced into a life of crime whilst con artist Billy Ray Valentine gets taken off the streets and turned into a successful stock broker. And you know that with these changes in circumstances being down to the wager and manipulation of the Duke Brothers that at some point Louis and Billy will learn the truth, unite and get their own back. But being simple works and allows for the comedy to run thick and fast.
Now you have to say that the casting of Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy is a master stroke because of the comedy they bring to the movie. Aykroyd is just marvellous at being naive and pompous yet is even more amusing as we watch his life being ripped apart leading to that memorable scene with Aykroyd dressed as Santa Claus a grubby one at that. It's a brilliant scene but then Eddie Murphy has just as many good scenes from the street smart con artists who we meet trying to swindle people as a Vietnam vet. through to the way he takes to suddenly being rich. It means that every single scene has an element of comedy and it never becomes all about Murphy or all about Aykroyd.
But Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy are not alone as Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche are brilliantly cast as the Duke brothers bringing plenty of gentle humour with their bickering and manipulative ways. Plus there is Jamie Lee Curtis who seems to be drawing on Liza Minelli's performance in "Arthur" as she makes friendly hooker Ophelia a memorable character. Okay so Curtis is memorable because she goes topless in a scene or two but she is also brings comedy and warmth to Ophelia as she helps Louis pick up the pieces of his life.
The thing is that for the most the comedy in "Trading Places" is inoffensive. Yes there are those scenes which feature a topless Jamie Lee Curtis and some swearing but it's not trying to shock but make you laugh which it succeeds in doing. Listening to Murphy trying to be a gentleman and cut out his usual expletive ridden language is purely amusing and also quite clever. And so whilst there are elements of comedy which end up dating "Trading Places" it is a lot less shocking that those movies which would follow, especially for Murphy.
What this all boils down to is that "Trading Places" still after 30 years is a wonderful comedy. It may be simple and ultimately obvious but it is exceptionally funny with not only Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd putting in brilliant performances but all the cast which includes Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche, Jamie Lee Curtis as well as Denholm Elliott and Paul Gleason.
Tags: Christmas Movies