Note: In the following joint DVD review both John and Dean provide their opinions of the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Thoughts.
The Film According to Dean:
There was a time when Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy and Jamie Lee Curtis were very big names in Hollywood. Eddie Murphy continues to be a bankable box office force, but Aykroyd has slipped into obscurity and Jamie Lee Curtis has been in career decline since 1994's "True Lies." They were just beginning their ascents to fame when John Landis and Eddie Murphy collaborated for the first time in 1983's "Trading Places." Curtis was a favorite of John Carpenter, and her role in the first two "Halloween" films cemented her status as a scream queen. Aykroyd had already starred in "The Blues Brothers" and had made a name for himself on "Saturday Night Live." Eddie Murphy had only "48 Hrs." on his filmmaking resume but was a fellow cast member with Dan Aykroyd on "SNL." After "Trading Places," all three actors would find raises in their paychecks.
This hilarious film has Dan Aykroyd starring as successful commodity trader Louis Winthorpe III. He has helped the Duke brothers Mortimer (Don Ameche) and Randloph (Ralph Bellamy) become quite wealthy by running their business, Duke & Duke. He has a beautiful fiancée and is on top of the world. One day, the Duke brothers decide to make a little bet and bail a homeless street con, Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) out of jail and into the life of Louis. They give Valentine the home, job and butler of Louis and frame Louis to look like a drug dealing cretin who does not deserve their friendship. By switching Louis and Billy Ray, the Dukes try to discover whether or not culture and surroundings have anything to do with how well a person performs in society.
Billy Ray initially has troubles settling into his new rich lifestyle, but quickly finds his calling working at Duke & Duke and becomes a successful business man. He makes a lot of friends and begins to feel very good about himself. On the other hand, Louis has been beaten, jailed and ridiculed by those he loves. His fiancée has dumped him and the only person that will help him is a young prostitute, Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis). Ophelia believes Louis' story that he is wealthy and invests in him to pay her back in six figures if she helps him get back on his feet. When Valentine discovers the bet, he tracks Louis down and they combine forces against the meddlesome Duke brothers.
"Trading Places" is another highly entertaining early comedy by Eddie Murphy. This was his second film and the actor's comedic talents are readily apparent in this early work. Working alongside fellow Saturday Night Live alum Dan Aykroyd is a benefit to Murphy in this film as the two men are both versatile in their acting skills and easily breathes life into characters that must face life on both sides of society; the rich and the poor. John Landis is one of the great comedy directors and having Murphy and Aykroyd in front of the camera must have been tremendously beneficial for the director. This is another 'fish out of water' film for Murphy, where he portrays a character of one status who is quickly thrust into another social status. Jamie Lee Curtis utilizes her incredible assets in this film and they are in full display in this film. Her acting skills aren't half bad either. Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy are great as the tightwad, meddling Duke brothers.
Eddie Murphy was on a hot streak during the early Eighties. The very next year after "Trading Places," he would star in "Beverly Hills Cop" and become a bona fide box office superstar. What has always made Eddie Murphy great is his crude humor and way with words that is only fully realized with an R rating. Early Eddie Murphy was certainly the best Eddie Murphy and he was only getting started in "Trading Places." Alongside the almost-forgotten-to-modern-audiences talent of Dan Aykroyd, this is a very funny film, and there are plenty of reasons to sit back and enjoy this picture. Murphy did some of his best work working with John Landis, and "Trading Places" is testament to that fact. The film reminded me again how much I enjoyed Eddie Murphy's older movies, when he was a fresh talent and not responsible for "Pluto Nash" and other catastrophes.
Dean's film rating: 8/10
The Film According to John:
In 1881 American author and humorist Mark Twain published "The Prince and the Pauper," a story about a rich young nobleman trading places with an impoverished young boy who looks just like him. It provided the author with a good vehicle for commenting on the conditions of the social classes. Then, in 1893 Twain wrote a short story called "The £1,000,000 Bank-Note," in which two rich men make a bet that they can give a bum a bank note for £1,000,000, and he can live like a king without his ever having to cash it. Again, we see Twain taking aim at the hypocrisy of our world.
I mention Twain because it seems to me that the screenwriters of "Trading Places," Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod, may have had Twain in mind when they wrote their script. Certainly, there are elements of Twain obvious throughout the picture, my only quibble with the film being the silliness of the entire closing sequence.
Up until about a half an hour before the end of the movie, the plot is running along smoothly, the writers and director John Landis showing us their contempt for the rich upper classes who appear to control the rest of the country. Then we see the pawns in the tale turning the tables on their tormentors, and the story loses credibility, relying on too many coincidences, far-fetched absurdities, and even slapstick for its humor.
That aside, I enjoyed Eddie Murphy's zany, hip, fast-talking con man, a forerunner, no doubt of his voice characterization of Donkey in the "Shrek" movies. Once in a position of wealth and power, however, he does make a rather too-sudden turn for the good that defies believability. Likewise, Dan Aykroyd is fine as the pompous, pampered executive but he, too, makes his turn for the worst rather abruptly. Jamie Lee Curtis proves once again her worth as a comic actress, as well as a most-comely one; but best of all, I think, is Denholm Eliott ("Raiders of the Lost Ark," "The Last Crusade") as the butler, turning in a well-nuanced performance that almost transcends the material.
"Trading Places" has its ups and downs, mostly ups so it's worth a look if you haven't already seen it or haven't seen it in a while. It's also worth a look for the many familiar faces who show up in the cast: Not only Murphy, Aykroyd, Curtis, and Eliott, but veterans Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy, plus brief appearances from Jim Belushi, Bo Diddley, Alfred Drake, Al Franken, Robert Earl Jones, director John Landis, Frank Oz, and others. It's a fun-filled film all the way around.
John's film rating: 7/10
The Paramount video engineers provide excellent picture quality, maintaining the film's 1.85:1 aspect ratio in an anamorphic transfer. Although the video is in standard definition, the object delineation is among the best you'll find for a live-action movie, with superb detailing. Colors, too, are quite natural, bright, rich, and deep without being in any way gaudy; and flesh tones are as realistic as you'll see in any film. Indeed, there is an almost crystalline clarity to some scenes, imparting a kind of three-dimensional effect to the image. It's all most-pleasing to the eye.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio does its job but little more. It presents a fairly decent front-channel stereo spread but hardly touches the rear speakers. Listen closely and you'll hear a touch of musical ambience in the surrounds; you'll have to turn up your volume to do so, though. Otherwise, the sounds offers a smooth, clear, clean, warm midrange response. There is no need for a deep bass or an extended high end, so don't expect them.
As far as I can determine, this is the fourth time the folks at Paramount have released the film on DVD, plus once on HD DVD and once more on Blu-ray. So they're getting a lot of mileage out of one movie. The main change with this newest, limited edition is that it comes in a fancy slipcover celebrating Christmas, a slipcover with a lenticular picture on the cover. Otherwise, it seems to be the same "Looking Good, Feeling Good" disc the studio issued in 2007. I guess if you missed it the first time around or the second or....
Things begin with the behind-the-scenes featurette "Insider Trading: The Making of Trading Places," a little over eighteen minutes; made a few years ago, it includes comments from the cast and crew.
Next is "Trading Stories," eight minutes, a collection of interviews from the time of the film's production in 1983 wherein the interviewer asks cast members who they would most like to trade places with. After that is a deleted scene, with optional commentary, lasting all of about two minutes, followed by "Dressing the Part," six minutes with costume designer Deborah Nadoolman. Then there are trivia pop-ups you can access during the film, wherein dollar-bill icons show up with fun facts about the movie; another featurette, "The Trade in Trading Places," five minutes on the real Commodities Exchange; and, finally, an industry promotional piece used for a Las Vegas trade show before the filmmakers had finished the movie.
The extras conclude with twenty scene selections; a series of trailers at start-up and in the main menu; English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish spoken languages; and English subtitles.
Dean liked "Trading Places" a little more than I did, but I certainly enjoyed it as well. It doesn't hold quite as many laughs for me as it does for other people, I suppose. In any case, if you're interested, the folks at Paramount are not only making this film available again on DVD with a lenticular cover for the holidays, they have limited editions out for "Scrooged" and "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," the latter being my favorite of the three.