Gini’s Christmas Classics | Trading Places

The Two Gay Geeks and our Staff are taking a much needed break from Thanksgiving through the end of the year, but we still wanted to have content for you to read during that time. As such we got busy and watched all of our favorite holiday videos. Some are classics and others are off-beat and loosely associated with the holidays. We hope you enjoy our offerings and that you holiday season is safe, sane, and satisfying.

Trading Places

By Gini Koch

Though it’s set between just before Christmas through just after New Year’s, like Bachelor Mother, Trading Places isn’t a traditional Christmas movie. What it really is is a modern – well, modern for the day – version of The Prince and the Pauper. But does it deserve to be a Christmas Classic? Let’s find out…

Randolph and Mortimer Duke (Ralph Bellamy and Dom Ameche) are incredibly wealthy brothers (very likely modeled after the Koch brothers and any other wealthy brothers out there like the Hunts) who run a commodities exchange. They’re also world class jerks (probably also modeled after all those nasty rich brothers). They make a bet with each other – they’ll ruin the man who’s about to marry their grandniece, Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Ackroyd), and put a street hustler, William “Billy Ray” Valentine (Eddie Murphy), in his place. Randolph bets that Winthorpe will turn immediately to crime and that Valentine will immediately become a model citizen and as good at running their firm as Winthorpe is right now, and Mortimer bets against these outcomes.

This bet is made right before Christmas. As in, the worst time to do something terrible to someone, but the best time to do something nice. But the Dukes aren’t doing anything to be nice to anyone, as you learn as the movie goes on. For a moment you might think they’re decent, or maybe one of them is, but you’ll learn that you’re wrong in a variety of funny ways.

In addition to this, the Dukes are also the cheapest men on the planet when it comes to someone, anyone else. They resent paying their employees, the holiday tips they give are hilariously insulting, and their sense of entitlement is to the moon and back. So, they ring totally true. They epitomize why Occupy Wall St. started, over 30 years before Occupy Wall St. was a thing.

The Dukes set it up to destroy Winthorpe – taking his job, his home, his money, labeling him a drug dealer, and forcing his butler, Coleman (Denholm Elliott) to pretend he doesn’t know him. Meanwhile, they bail Valentine out of jail – which they and Winthorpe had put him in the day prior – and give him everything Winthorpe had, including said butler.

Winthorpe’s fiancée is about to forgive him as she bails him out of jail when the bag man working for the Dukes, Beeks (Paul Gleason) pays a just released hooker, Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis) to pretend that Winthorpe is her pusher. This works, and Winthorpe now has nothing and no one. However, Ophelia takes pity on him and brings him home with her.

Ophelia may be a hooker with a heart of gold, but she’s also smart and savvy, and makes a business arrangement with Winthorpe – she’ll help him out and, once he’s back on his feet, he pays her six figures.

Meanwhile, Valentine starts doing what people who had nothing do when they get something – wasting it trying to impress people who aren’t really their friends. But he’s smart and he wakes up to this fast and takes to being respectable even faster.

Winthorpe does take the full fall and Valentine does rise completely to the occasion – both happen really quickly, but it’s a movie, so okay. Right as you think that the Dukes are going to get away with all of this, Valentine overhears what the Dukes are doing, and he goes to find Winthorpe, just in time.

Winthorpe, Valentine, Ophelia, and Coleman combine to figure out a way to ruin the Dukes and get rich themselves via commodities trading.

Hilarity definitely ensues all the way through the movie, and particularly on the train from Philadelphia to New York, where the plan to turn the tables on Beeks first goes awry and then goes hilariously well.

Look for a lot of cameos – Sen. Al Franken and Jim Belushi, just for starters – mostly during the trains sequence but scattered throughout as well. There are some truly hilarious lines, and the comedy still works today. (Sadly, in that sense, since this is a movie about the haves and the have nots.)
This was only Eddie Murphy’s second movie, and when this was cast 48 Hours hadn’t come out yet. So the producers were taking a chance. Now it just looks brilliant, because Murphy is in top form. As time has proven, Murphy needs the right director, and a strong director at that, to really come off well, and he had that with John Landis. Ackroyd isn’t in as desperate need of strong direction as Murphy is, but Landis gets a great, waspy performance out of him as well. For me this is potentially the funniest movie either one of them has starred in, separately or together. (Jamie Lee Curtis, however, starred in A Fish Called Wanda, so while she’s great, this is not her funniest film.)

Sadly, the penultimate sequence, where Winthorpe and Valentine are trading on the floor of the Exchange and it’s an absolute feeding frenzy doesn’t happen like that anymore – everything’s done via computers. On the other hand, the law against Insider Trading is nicknamed the Eddie Murphy Law. The more you know…
This film holds up incredibly well and other than the stock exchange doesn’t feel dated at all. And the stock exchange scene is fun and exciting, so there’s no issues there. It’s from the ‘80’s, so there’s a lot of full-frontal nudity but only of women. Be warned if you’re going to watch this with younger kids or those who can’t handle seeing boobs. That’s the extent of the “scandalous” behavior, though, unless you count what the Dukes are doing, and, really, you should since what they’re doing is far worse than baring breasts.

This is one of the best comedies of all time, and it launched Jamie Lee Curtis’ comedic career – prior to this film she was only know for horror films – and revived Don Ameche’s career in general, giving him Cocoon and a Best Supporting Oscar for it. This movie, combined with 48 Hours, ensured that Murphy would become a crossover, mainstream star. And it showcased Ackroyd in a way he hadn’t been before.

All in all, this is both a great comedy and something that should be trotted out each Christmas, as well. Because laughs during the holidays are great, especially laughs when the good guys win. I’ll never trade Trading Places.

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