Monday, June 10, 2013

77. Trading Places (1983)

Code-name: $1 bet

Director: John Landis
Type: Comedy

[Notable Nominations]
Oscar- Best Score- Elmer Bernstein
Golden Globe- Best Actor (Comedy/Musical)- Eddie Murphy
Golden Globe- Best Picture (Comedy/Musical)

Louis Winthorpe III- Dan Aykroyd
Billy Ray Valentine- Eddie Murphy
Ophelia- Jamie Lee Curtis
Colman- Denhalm Elliott
Randolph Duke- Ralph Bellamy
Mortimer Duke- Don Ameche
Clarence Beeks- Paul Gleason

[Program Note]

To make up for not getting into this list at all last week (but I had a great time with the material I was covering), I'm going into two movies this week.
Both of them happen to be 80's movies.
And anyone who knows me know I LOVE this decade.


This goes on record as one of several movies from the 80's I heard mentioned a number of times because of its significance to pop culture or it came with several references where I had to see the movie to know what people were talking about.
I think in the case of "Trading Places," it was the former... namely, I heard it was one of Eddie Murphy's first big roles and being a huge fan of his work, live-action and voiceovers alike, I had to check into it.

Any true movie buff would point out that "48HRS" was Eddie Murphy's break-out role... defined as his first lead or share of a lead on the billing and the first time a lot of people heard of him outside of his stand-up. 
"Trading Places" got to me first and I enjoyed it so much more.

Looking through the cast, it's giving me the impression that it stars a couple of old guys (Ameche, Bellamy and Elliot, neither of which are with us anymore), helped launch careers of some up & comers (Eddie Murphy) and capitalized on some increasingly big names (Curtis and Aykroyd).

As I'm going through their profiles to verify where they all stand, I'm stunned that I didn't find this out sooner-- Jamie Lee Curtis being the daughter of Tony Curtis... as in THE Tony Curtis from "Some like it hot"... wicked genes there (in another words, you really do learn something new every day).

Not surprisingly, Elmer Bernstein got nominated for scoring this movie. I watched it a few months ago and right away, I felt swept up in this air of refinement. It's the perfect companion to this piece about people of high-class society and how they relate to the lower class.

When we first meet Louis Winthorpe (why the Dukes kept referring to him by his last name is beyond me... it is so droll), he's not exactly the nicest guy. More to the point, he is a snob in every sense of the word, and he surrounds himself with people who act the exact same way. His butler, Coleman, follows suit with every request he asks for him, even when it's throwing away the meal he made for him because he and his girlfriend Penelope are turning in early.
But on the flip side of that, he's a savvy businessman.

He (as part of the brokerage firm Duke & Duke) works in the stock market, telling people whether to buy or sell stocks in commodities (including, but not limited to, pork bellies, coffee, and frozen orange juice).

Then with Billy Ray Valentine, he's a con man living on the streets. When we first meet him, he's passing himself off as a blind, crippled veteran seeking donations. Again, he is really good at what he does.
The only difference is that I enjoy watching him because he's such a smooth-talker.
Winthorpe doesn't have that likability factor.

The dynamic between the Dukes is always fun to watch because they're almost never in agreement about anything. They discuss a topic and each vies for their interpretation of it. Rumor has it they inspired the Muppets Stadler and Waldorf... not sure if there's any truth to that or not.

What brings about the key plot point is the argument of nature vs. nurture.
One reads about it in an article and disagrees with it, but the other happens to agree.
They then decide to bet on which one is right and decide to use Winthorpe and Billy Ray Valentine for their experiment. 

Will Winthorpe resort to crime if we take away his job, home and friends and can Billy Ray Valentine be taught how to be a great businessman under the right circumstances?
Or will Winthorpe prove to be a success no matter where he's at? 

attention: spoilers ahead

Winthorpe's fall of grace ain't pretty... taking into account what I said about him earlier, some of it is fit to be karma he deserved... but after a while, you can't help but feel for the guy. 

Not only is he ousted from the company because supposed "stolen" money was found on him, but they found angel dust on him at the police station... and if THAT wasn't enough, Duke associate/informant Clarence Beeks (played by the good-old no-BS Paul Gleason) pays off a prostitute (Jamie Lee Curtis's Ophelia) to make out with newly released Winthorpe so Penelope, who'd just bailed him out, would abandon him.
When Coleman doesn't let him back into his house, Ophelia takes pity on him and lets him stay at her place.

And of course, Billy Ray Valentine takes to higher class extremely well... although it does take him a while to get used to these fresh new circumstances.

Technically, if you look at all of the facts from both sides, each of the Dukes was right, so technically there is no winner to the bet.
But based on Winthorpe's disintegration alone (you know things are bad when you end up as a drunken Santa Claus), the Duke who vied for "nature" won.

But with Billy Ray Valentine, he didn't become an instant snob when he came into this money. He invited a couple friends of his to a party at his place, but when it got out of hand, he didn't let things give into chaos... he kicked everyone out.
He at least maintained a sense of dignity. The Dukes made their final decision when he made the choice to have Winthorpe arrested when he was at the Dukes' Christmas party and tried to frame Valentine... jumping to the conclusion that he became one of them by making that choice. 

The exact same choice that Winthorpe made the day he met Valentine... they ran into each other on the street, Valentine tried to give the suitcase back to Winthorpe, a chase scene escalated inside one of the offices and he had Valentine arrested for supposed theft... just based on the fact he was a bum from off the streets. the same time, I'm sure some of it was based on predjuice as well...
but then again, it's not often you come across a decent black man on the streets of Philly... or at least that's what all the newstories have you believing.

I grew up in a suburb maybe 30-45 minutes away from Philly and on the evening news, we always saw some kind of crime going on in one of the regions of Philly... 
nowadays, to a point, that's still true, but I'm not going to go ahead and say all blacks from Philly are criminals because you hardly ever seen white guys on the news being arrested for [fill in the blank].
In the Poconos, on the other hand, there's more diversity... sadly a lot of cases that have come up recently were creepy white guys being arrested on child abuse and pornography charges.

They don't come out and say it in the movies, but you can tell in the 80's when characters jump to their conclusion that racial profiling was a big thing at the time.
Eddie Murphy's one cool cat, definitely one of the biggest names to break down color barriers in the film industry... kinda like Prince and Michael Jackson in music... around the same time, oddly enough.

Valentine overhears the Dukes talking about what they'll do about the bet once its resolved.
They want to put Valentine back on the streets and one teases that he might not want Winthorpe back on their firm because he's no better than a criminal now.
There's also talk about frozen orange juice and wanting to rule the market in their favor based on a tip their man Clarence Beeks is getting.

On two occasions, if you're paying attention, you notice that something isn't quite right in the payroll...
Winthorpe asked about a x-amount of money being paid to Clarence Beeks, not knowing who he was.
Valentine found the same discrepancy when he worked on it during the Christmas party...

Aside from being money-hungry businessman, that's another potential factor why the Dukes come to the decision they do.

Luckily, Valentine tracks down Winthorpe and together with Ophelia and Coleman, they come up with a plan to turn the tables on the Dukes.
Beginning with stealing the suitcase with the valuable stock tip from Beeks at a New Year's Eve party... each wearing a different disguise... 

for me, this is around the part of the movie where I mentally start to check out a little bit because it's starting to run long at this point... the last time I watched it, I had no memory of what happened after New Year's comes and goes.

once the party is over and done (Beeks ends up being knocked out and stuffed into a gorilla costume, and in a cage with an actual gorilla... a little over the top, I'll admit), they give the Dukes a bogus tip and head down to the stock exchange.

I'm not extremely savvy when it comes to this sort of thing, so I get lost trying to keep up...

ultimately, the Dukes put their cards on the table... only to find they'd been sent the wrong tip when the official announcement is made over the P.A. system... leaving them flat out broke, and one of them on a stretcher heading to the hospital, leaving the other no choice but to scream at him for screwing up...
and Winthorpe and Valentine make out like bandits... again, it's a little much that they get their own private island and a yacht, but whatever... they deserved it after being used for an experiment...

and by the way, the wager for the bets (Valentine and Winthorpe had one in the final act, betting they could get rich and bankrupt the Dukes at the same time)...
was $1...
it's the usual wager for the Dukes... I assume because they think it's funny to bet a single dollar because they have no use for singles, being so super rich... 

and on two occasions (during one, I staked a claim that Triton was a moon of Neptune instead of Saturn... or something remotely similar... it had to do with a moon being with one planet), I bet my dad a dollar I was right.... and I won both times. 

No comments: