Sunday, December 19, 2010

Underrated Movie #100: Trading Places

It's Christmastime in the city!
Title: Trading Places
Year: 1983
Director: John Landis
Writers: Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod
Stars: Dan Ackroyd, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche, Paul Gleeson, Denholm Elliott, Senator Franken

The Story: Two wealthy brothers decide to reverse the fortunes of a preppie commodities broker and a homeless man, just to settle a bet about nature vs. nurture. After the bet is over, the targets of their manipulation team up to get revenge.

How it Came to be Underrated: Ackroyd, Murphy and Landis all have reputations that have long since been tarnished, so it can be hard to remember now how tremendously talented, daring and appealing they were in this early period.

Why It’s Great:

  1. Anyone expecting a goofball farce will immediately have their expectations upset by the beautiful opening montage showing the different social strata of Philadelphia waking up in the morning. This was a movie that actually had a lot to say about rich and poor in America, at a time when the former were quietly declaring war on the latter. I’m glad to see somebody noticed.
  2. Bellamy and Ameche clearly delight in the chance to play such smugly loathesome villains, after their long careers of playing nice guys. Murphy had a great line while promoting the movie: “this is Edward Bellamy’s 99th movie and Don Ameche’s 49th movie and my 2nd movie, so between the three of us, we’ve made 150 movies!”
  3. Puncturing the idea that traders are super-talented geniuses deserving of exorbitant salaries, Murphy is plucked off the streets but he quickly gets the hang of it. “Basically you guys are just a bunch of bookies!” But it’s sadly sweet that it takes both him and Ackroyd so long to realize that the firm is really just a criminal enterprise, even after everything that’s been done to them. Only when it’s almost too late do they finally put two and two together: bookies only make real money when the fix is in.
  4. Warning: though it’s very much a product of its era, the appeal of the movie for the most part hasn’t “dated” except for one painfully unfunny sequence on a train, involving a gorilla suit, that feels like it comes from an entirely different movie. Everything comes back together afterwards, so you might just want to skip from about 1:27 to about 1:37 when you watch it.

If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: I’m a sucker for the gag-a-minute absurdity of an early Landis effort, the anthology film The Kentucky Fried Movie.

How Available Is It?: It’s available on a bare-bones DVD.

Today’s Post Was Brought To You By: Hoodlum-Filled World!


rams said...

And if memory serves, #5 would be Jamie Lee Curtis with her shirt off. You get points for not featuring it, but I don't think anyone who saw it ever forgot it.

Anonymous said...

I was John Landis' Assistant Director on that picture. It was great fun, and all but one were a joy to work with. Senator Franken was a very, very nice guy. Denholm Elliot could open a door and get three laughs. Those were the days; those were the pictures!

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Anonymous said...

One of my all time favorites, easily in my top 10 to top 15