So, yesterday’s Edward Scissorhands was a very enjoyable film. Setting a film in the past – at least if it’s well done – means that it ages well, so 20 years later, apart from Johnny Depp looking very young, it doesn’t feel dated. In a similar way, British comedy classic Dad’s Army holds up so well due to the fact that it was already old fashioned when it was being screened. Anyway, I’m starting to ramble, which is so unlike me, so I guess it’s time to get to the next film on my Countdown from Halloween to Christmas
And today it’s…
3rd November, Day 4
Trading Places (John Landis, 1983)
As they approach another financially successful Christmas, two wealthy brothers (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche) are arguing about nature versus nurture when it comes to success. Louis Winthrope III (Dan Aykroyd), the young man running their commodeites business, makes them hundreds of thousands of dollars extra on their way into work – but they are still unsure of him, even though he is engaged to grand-nicece. After signing the payroll cheques (in a lavish private members club) they think he is a solid employee, but nothing more than the product of his upbringing. When leaving the club, Winthrope accidentally bumps into con artist Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy, in a true breakout role), and assumes Valentine is trying to rob him. This leads to Valentine being chased thorugh the club, and eventually being arrested.
Valentine catched the attention of the Dukes brothers, who decide upon a wager to prove whether nature or nurtue is the determining factor in a person’s character: they will engineer a change of cirumstances for Winthrope and Valentine. The polite, rich Winthrope will lose his job, fiance, and friends, while Valentine will be given his house, job, and all the opportunities denied to him by his upbringing. One of the brothers asserts that Winthrope will turn to crime when he has lost everything, and Valentine will be succesful in the commodities market.
After a brief, but very funny, spell in jail, Valentine is bailed out by the Dukes brothers, and taken to his new home. At the same time, Winthrope is kicked out of the private club when stolen money and drugs are planted in his pocket, and his credit cards are all cancelled. As he leaves the police station, a prostitute (Ophelia, plyed by Jamie Lee Curtis) runs up and asks for another hit – which is enough to drive his fiance away. With the switch complete, Valentine and Winthrope have to deal with plenty of problems. Valentine finds that having material possesions means that he has to look after them, and his carefree partying soon becomes tiresome. And although Ophelia feels sorry for Winthrope, having thought their meeting outside the police station was a joke, and takes him in, Winthrope finds that he really does have nothing. But with the annual orange yield report due in the New Year, the Dukes brothers have the chance to make more money than ever on the frozen orange juice commodities market – and plan to jettison Valentine as soon as they can. Can Winthrope and Valentine survive the cruel machinations of the Duke brothers?
At first, this film always reminded me of Pygmailian – who am I kidding, My Fair Lady – but in fact it has more of a likeness to Mark Twain’s “The Prince and The Pauper”. The story of two people from opposite ends of the socail spectrum trading places is obviously a good one, but the Christmas setting amplifies this even more. Although his fall from grace is probably fully deserved, Winthrope’s loneliness at Christmas is moving. The scene after he gets off the bus dressed as Santa and, whilst looking straight at the camera, attempts to commit suicide, is an incredibly bleak place for this comedy to go.
Trading Places might be a slight step below Blues Brothers, but it is a great comedy film. It’s one of Dan Aykroyd’s best early roles, and Eddie Murphy is restrained enough to not get annoying, in the way that some young stand up comedians can be when they first break into movies – I’m looking at you Kevin Hart! He truly is a force of nature at times, and this is a step up from 48hrs, his first screen role. Jamie Lee Curtis is fantastic, and Denholm Elliott (of Indian Jones fame) provides excellent support as Coleman, the butler.
For a 30 plus year old film the comedy feels very fresh, and only a few years ago the Wall Street Transparency and Accountability Act (part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act) was passed to make the action towards the end of the film illegal – and it was called The Eddie Murphy Rule! A comedy film that helps to clean up Wall Street? That’s got to be a stronger recommendation than I could ever give! Although simplified, it plays similar to The Big Short, explaining its processes well enough that the ending makes sense.
So, once again, it is a quality, well-made comedy film. Unlike many films of its time, it has aged, technology aside, very well indeed.
Overall, I give this
I’ll be back tomorrow with another Christmas film – well, a “Christmas” film – since it’s BATMAN RETURNS! That’s the second Tim Burton film of the week!
Have a merry Thursday everyone!
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
PS Here’s my list so far: