Trading Places!

Trading Places

Trading Places is an Academy Award-nominated 1983 comedy film starring Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis. It was directed by John Landis and written by Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod. It was produced by Aaron Russo.


The movie's premise features two immensely wealthy and patrician brothers, Mortimer and Randolph Duke (Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy), who find themselves on opposite sides of the nature versus nurture argument. The brothers decide that the best way to resolve the argument is to ruin a successful man's life, dramatically improve the fortunes of a street hustler, and see how they respond. Mortimer believes that regardless of their shifting fortunes, the well-bred subject will rise to the challenge and the riff-raff will fail no matter what opportunities are presented to him. Randolph insists the well-bred subject will unravel in society while the hustler will take full advantage of his new situation and become a changed man. Both satisfied with the plan, the Duke brothers shake hands to seal a wager for their "usual amount."

Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) is a respected senior employee of the Dukes who manages their Philadelphia commodities brokerage firm, Duke & Duke. His bona fides are impeccable, having attended Exeter and Harvard. Louis has reached the ideal level of detached self-satisfaction, complete with the superficial fiancée, Penelope. However, the Dukes arrange to shatter Louis' reputation by having one of their operatives, Clarence Beeks (Paul Gleason), "expose" him as a petty thief. As Louis is processed in jail (in a scene featuring a cameo by Frank Oz), Louis finds that another item has been planted in his clothing — a cellophane bag containing angel dust. Louis does not fare well in jail — by the time Penelope arrives to post bail, he is disheveled, bruised, black-eyed and cut, his tailor-made suit stolen from him. When he finally appears to convince Penelope he has been falsely accused, a prostitute, Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis), lustily kisses Louis and begs him for a dime bag, promising to "do all the things he likes."

Penelope flees in a state of shock, while Ophelia explains to Louis that someone (Beeks) paid her so Louis would enjoy the "prank." His life continues to deteriorate. He soon discovers that his bank accounts have been frozen and he has been locked out of his home by his devoted butler, Coleman (Denholm Elliott), who is unhappily forced to take part in the Dukes' plan since he is technically in their employ. Ophelia takes pity on the broken Winthorpe and takes him back to her apartment. At first she makes him sleep on the couch, as her bed is to be used "for business only." However, he suffers a horrible cold and she does not let him leave her bed, going as far as to cancel appointments for him.

Meanwhile, street hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) had been arrested when he accidentally bumped into Louis (before his downfall), his innocent action perceived as a robbery attempt, with Winthorpe stating he "wants to press full charges." When Billy Ray is briefly jailed, he attempts to intimidate his hulking cellmates with his purported karate abilities, such as the Quart of Blood Technique. The Dukes bail him out and invite him into their limousine, and then into their supposed program that assists underprivileged members of society.

Billy Ray is brought to his (formerly Louis') new house and eventually accepts his new luxury, inviting all of the patrons from his favorite bar back to the house for a party. However, Valentine already starts to show signs that he has been changed by wealth, and is dismayed as the crowd of pimps, prostitutes and hustlers run riot through the house. Condemning his guests as freeloaders, he puts an end to the party. Valentine also begins to form a friendship with Coleman, whom he thanks for his hard work (something which Louis did not do).

On his first day at his new job, the Dukes give Billy Ray a brief primer on their business, explaining the concept of commodities in the simplest possible terms. Billy Ray catches on in that the Dukes "make bets" and invest money on behalf of clients on whether futures will go up or down, comparing them to bookies. Eventually, Billy Ray's real-world perspective proves to be an accurate predictor of a commodity's movement.

Both characters' plights come to a head during a Duke & Duke Christmas party. Much to Mortimer's chagrin, Louis shows up dressed in a soiled Santa Claus costume, attempting to steal food at the buffet and frame Billy Ray by planting drugs in his desk drawer, also brandishing a pistol. When he flees in a drunken stupor, the Dukes see that Louis has hit rock bottom, while Billy Ray has changed completely (he even brands Louis a "criminal," as Louis had called him earlier), and in a washroom conversation, Mortimer concedes defeat in the bet and pays the "usual amount" of their wagers: one dollar. Billy Ray, who was hiding in a bathroom cubicle to smoke a cannabis joint that Louis had tried to plant in his desk, overhears the conversation and learns that the Dukes plan to push him back on the streets, while deciding not to restore Louis to his position, since his actions as a street person disgusted them. The Dukes reveal their true opinion of Valentine, when Mortimer remarks in the washroom: "Do you really believe I would have a nigger run our family business, Randolph?"

Realizing that both he and Louis have been used, simply for the amusement of the Dukes and that, no matter who wins, the two will both be on the streets by the end of it, Billy Ray follows Louis back to Ophelia's apartment. Louis, hitting "rock-bottom" (after people refuse to sit next to him in a bus, look at him disdainfully, refuse to make eye contact, a dog urinates on him and it starts to rain), attempts suicide with his pistol. He even fails at this, as the pistol jams before it can fire, and then discharges when he throws it away. In utter despair, Louis then attempts suicide again, this time with an overdose of pills, and collapses.

Louis is brought back to his original home and is nursed back to health, at which point Valentine, Coleman, and Ophelia inform him of the true nature of the Dukes' nefarious scheme. Louis becomes enraged as he realizes the Dukes abused their power and destroyed his life just for one dollar. The four plan their revenge. At first, Louis plans to shoot them in the knees with a double-barrel shotgun, but is talked out of it by Billy Ray, who theorizes that "the best way to get back at rich people is to turn them into poor people". Billy Ray and Louis have learned of the Dukes' plan to purchase (through Beeks) an advance copy of the official orange crop report, to help them manipulate the orange juice market. Their elaborate scheme to steal this report from Beeks nearly backfires, as Beeks sees through their disguises and holds them at gunpoint, but is knocked out by a gorilla. The four manage to steal the real crop report from Beeks and epoxy him in a gorilla suit and lock him in the same cage as the gorilla. The real gorilla falls in love with Beeks in his gorilla disguise who is unable to speak clearly enough to make anyone listen to him. A false report is delivered to the Dukes. Pooling as much money as possible, including the life savings of Ophelia (who has by now become romantically attached to Louis) and Coleman, the money the Dukes paid for the fake crop report and their own investments, Billy Ray and Louis head to the New York Board of Trade at 4 World Trade Center to execute their plan. With their knowledge of the actual crop report and the Dukes' misplaced trust in the fake crop report, their strategy to short the market goes off with flying colors, resulting in an incredible (undisclosed) amount of wealth for Louis, Billy Ray, Ophelia and Coleman and a $394 million margin call for the Dukes. Approached by the incredulous, indignant, and now-bankrupt Duke brothers, Billy Ray, just to rub in their misfortune, tells them that he and Louis made a wager: Louis believed that they couldn't send the Dukes onto the streets and get rich at the same time, while Billy Ray bet that they could. And Billy Ray says, "I won," and that the wager was one dollar. Distraught at the thought of being duped by a street hustler, and their new found life of poverty, Randolph suffers a heart attack.

Meanwhile, a weary Clarence Beeks is still in the cage with the real gorilla which is being loaded on a ship for Africa.

The movie ends with Billy Ray, Louis, Ophelia and Coleman enjoying a lavish tropical vacation.

Explanation of climactic scene

With the authentic orange crop report indicating a good harvest of fresh oranges, frozen concentrated orange juice (FCOJ) would be less important to food producers and so would be likely to drop in price once traders heard the news. However, by way of a fraudulent report, the Duke brothers are led to believe that the orange harvest would be less successful, necessitating greater demand for stockpiled FCOJ in orange products in the coming year, thereby driving the price up. By capitalizing on this knowledge (and the Duke brothers' missteps) the protagonists are able to profit by manipulating the futures market as follows:

  • Unlike a conventional stock transaction, futures contracts can be sold even when the seller does not yet own any of the commodity. A contract to sell, for example, 15,000 pounds of FCOJ in April at $1.42 per pound, merely indicates the seller's obligation to deliver and the buyer's obligation to purchase the product at the specified price and time. It does not matter how or where the seller gets the product, as long as, one way or another, he is able to deliver it at that price at that time, even if it results in a sale at a loss to him.
  • In this case, Winthorpe and Valentine first sell FCOJ futures at $1.42 per pound, a price inflated by the Dukes themselves. (The Duke Brothers' buying leads other traders to believe that the Dukes are trying to corner the market, causing a buying frenzy.) Then, when the price falls — first as a result of Winthorpe and Valentine's eager selling, then to a much greater degree upon the release of the real crop report indicating a good harvest — Winthorpe and Valentine buy futures for prices between $.46 and $.29 per pound. Thus, for every futures contract they had previously sold at about $1.42, they buy another back (for resale to those who bought the expensive contracts from them previously) for only $.46 to $.29, resulting in a profit of $.96 to $1.13 per pound. In actual markets, price limits – "limit up" and "limit down" – protect the clearinghouse from defaults and would preclude such a drastic price jump.
  • Though it is not stated in the movie exactly how much they make, if they invested roughly $500,000 from a combination of Winthorpe/Valentine's investment, the Dukes' money from buying the fake report from Billy Ray posing as Clarence Beeks, and Coleman's and Ophelia's savings, they would have turned it into over $10 million. It is strongly implied that they purchased additional futures on margin and made dozens (or hundreds) of millions more, since a lesser amount would not bankrupt the Dukes. Likely, the bribe money for Beeks that Valentine received was enough to leverage such a massive loss from the Dukes.
  • At the same time that Winthorpe/Valentine sell their futures contracts, the Duke brothers are rapidly purchasing them, even at high prices, because they incorrectly expect that the crop report (falsely suggesting a greater need for stockpiled orange juice) will create a demand at even higher prices, securing them a profit. When it turns out that the leaked report they were given was fraudulent and the true report is revealed, the price begins to plummet before they are able to sell off their contracts. This leaves them with an obligation to buy millions of pounds of FCOJ at a price more than a dollar per pound higher than they can sell them for, bankrupting them. The legality of Winthorpe/Valentine's actions can be questioned but commodities markets do not have insider trading laws as in the stock markets.



Most of the movie was filmed on location in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Portions were set in New York City, at the World Trade Center and the New York Board of Trade exchange floor at 4 World Trade Center. Additionally, many of the interior office scenes of Duke and Duke were filmed within the historic rooms of the Park Avenue Armory.

The final scene was filmed in Saint Croix, in the United States Virgin Islands.


The film was rated R by the MPAA, for brief nude scenes when Jamie Lee Curtis takes off her top in front of Dan Aykroyd and when several topless women dance at the party held by Valentine. There was also some strong language used in the movie.

Television broadcasts

Some elements are added or removed from the film for television.

  • The only deleted scene, in which Clarence Beeks drugs a security guard and steals the crop report while Sunset Boulevard plays on television, was included in television versions.
  • Occasionally broadcasts of the film will edit out either the entire scene of Louis and Billy Ray walking into the WTC or simply edit Louis' statement about the WTC "In this building it's either kill or be killed" out of respect for the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks. In its September 23, 2007 broadcast (and continuing broadcasts), however, Comedy Central left the remark in.
  • The original film has a scene where Billy Ray cleans out his desk of the drugs (planted by Louis, dressed as Santa Claus) but drops a hand-rolled marijuana cigarette into his coat pocket. Billy then finds an unoccupied stall in the men's washroom and consumes the drug. He is momentarily panicked when he realizes he cannot discreetly exhale the smoke, until he stands on the commode, blowing smoke into a vent in the ceiling. It is during this 'hiatus' that Billy overhears the true nature of the Dukes plan, as they discuss it in the washroom. The "N" word is used by Mortimer Duke in this scene.


  • Curtis and Elliott received BAFTA awards for their roles.
  • The film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Score.

External links

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