Under the Radar

'Trading Places,' Still Looking Good at 35

Director John Landis' "Trading Places" was released 35 years ago and there's a new Blu-ray reissue to take advantage of the anniversary. Dan Aykroyd is Louis Winthorpe III, a rich financial trader who's forced to swap lives with poor street hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) as part of a cruel bet made by Aykroyd's bosses, Mortimer and Randolph Duke (Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy. 

Is man's destiny shaped by his nature or how he's raised? The Duke brothers think they can find out by seeing if a change of circumstance alters character and make a $1 bet on the outcome. 

Louis falls apart and Billy Ray fits into his new life far better than anyone could've imagined. Once the two men learn they were subjects of a sociology experiment, they look to get revenge on the Duke brothers.

John Landis may have directed some of the most successful comedies of the 70s and 80s (including "Animal House" and "The Blues Brothers") but most of them are a series of comic bits strung together by the barest thread of a plot. "Trading Places" (minus the nudity and profanity) is actually a screenplay worthy of old Hollywood masters like Billy Wilder or Preston Sturges. 

On reflection, "Trading Places" is definitely Landis' best movie and arguably the best one that either Aykroyd or Murphy ever made. And it holds up well today if we can all agree to overlook Dan's blackface disguise as "Jamaican exchange student" Lionel Joseph and a questionable gag about inter-species romance.

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