'Trading Places': More Than 7 Things You May Not Know About The Film (But We Won't Bet A Dollar On It)

Features
by Diana Drumm
June 8, 2013 10:29 AM
4 Comments
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Thirty years ago, "Trading Places," John Landis' classic comedy, premiered to critical and commercial success. Not only was it the 4th highest grossing film of 1983 (making over $90 million, behind "Flashdance," "Terms of Endearment," and "Return of the Jedi"), but the film also received praise from the likes of Roger Ebert ("This is good comedy") and Rex Reed ("Trading Places is an updated Frank Capra with four-letter words, and I can think of no higher praise than that"). The film is about two beyond-wealthy yet bored brothers (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche) who swap out a well-to-do finance guy in their employ (Dan Aykroyd) with a homeless conman (Eddie Murphy) just to watch the world burn, oh no, we mean to test the good old "nature vs. nurture" debate. Decades later, "Trading Places" is still hilarious, with its cutting commentary on class and race in America (regrettably still topical), legendary comedic performances by Murphy (way before "Triplets" talk and Murphy became the most overpaid actor in Hollywood) and Aykroyd (way before "Ghostbusters 3" talk and Aykroyd opened up about his belief in aliens), and so much more (Jamie Lee Curtis plays a hooker with a heart of gold, the 1% lose out in the end, and more).

To mark the occasion, check out a few tidbits of trivia that you may not know about the film below and keep your eye on the frozen orange juice market. "Trading Places" is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray (we recommend the "Looking Good, Feeling Good" edition in either format), and can be seen on Netflix: what better time to watch than during this summer weekend (there's only so much sunshine and fresh air you can soak up), especially with some freshly squeezed orange juice (take that, Duke brothers!)?

1. It Was Originally Meant To Be A Richard Pryor-Gene Wilder Vehicle Called "Black And White"

After the uber-success of "Stir Crazy" (grossing over $100 million and ranking 3rd overall for 1980, although with mixed reviews), the team of Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder was a hot ticket. With comedic and literal gold in mind, the story for "Trading Places" was born, though with the slightly more blunt title of "Black and White." Too bad "Ebony and Ivory" was already taken. Remember, this was the early '80s and a to-be-rated R comedy, so subtlety and racial sensitivity were not high on the checklist (for some context, check out this landmark 'SNL' sketch).

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depends on how you feel about "Norbit"), Pryor was unable to do the film and the studio replaced him with Murphy. Rather than taking Pryor's reins, Murphy had Wilder re-cast and the rest is history. Being the 22-year-old comedian's second film role ("48 Hours" being his screen debut), Billy Ray Valentine "made him a phenomenon." A few years later, Pryor and Wilder would get the chance to work together again for the third time (first was the moderately-received "Silver Streak") in the critically panned and not-so-classic "See No Evil, Hear No Evil."

2. Other Casting Options Included Ray Milland, John Gielgud And More

Although now we can't imagine anyone else but Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche playing the dastardly scheming Duke brothers, toying with people's lives and likelihoods (ahem *Koch brothers* ahem), the producers had a different pairing in mind. Ralph Bellamy ("The Awful Truth," "His Girl Friday") may have been the first choice for Randolph, but Don Ameche ("The Story of Alexander Graham Bell," "Midnight") wasn't for Mortimer. Apparently, that honor goes to Ray Milland ("The Lost Weekend," "Dial M for Murder"), who had to decline because of being un-insurable due to age and health.

Milland wasn't the only English Oscar-winner up for a role in "Trading Places," Sir John Gielgud was in talks to play Coleman the butler, the part ultimately played by Denholm Elliott. This casting would have made almost too much sense, Coleman being a not-as-biting version of Hobson (the role Gielgud made iconic in the original "Arthur"). The similarities were so apparent that the Pittsburgh Press wrote that "Elliott has what will forevermore be thought of as the John Gielgud part: the effete, efficient and drolly contemptuous English butler." Funnily enough, Gielgud and Elliott would appear together onscreen later that year in the notoriously horrendous remake of "The Wicked Lady," with Gielgud playing the trusty butler Hogarth to Elliott's duped lord of the manor, Sir Ralph Skelton.

In "amazing stunt-casting that could have been" trivia, G. Gordon Liddy was up for the role of Clarence Beeks (the inside trader who helps the Duke brothers get rid of Winthorpe to make way for Valentine). If you don't quite remember your relatively recent U.S. history or "All the President's Men," Liddy is the man behind Watergate. Reportedly, Liddy was on board until he got to the part where Beeks becomes a gorilla's mate. Even without Liddy, they made sure to include an allusion to what might have been in the final copy by having Beeks (Paul Gleason, best remembered for playing the jerk principal in "The Breakfast Club") reading Liddy's autobiography "Will" on the train.

3. There Was Improv (But You Weren't Meant To See It)

Unintentionally, "Trading Places" includes some great improvisational scenes, mostly errors or goofs that were kept in the final cut just because they were so darn funny. For example, the whole bit about Ophelia's accent and outfit not matching on the train (Swedish accent with Austrian/German lederhosen) was improvised due to Jamie Lee Curtis not being able to do the assigned Austrian accent. Luckily for us, Landis kept it in and Curtis got to show her comedic chops (and we're not referring to her cleavage, though you try searching YouYube for clips of her in this movie and you'll rediscover that the Internet is full of pervs), letting her break out of the "Halloween" scream-queen mold.

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4 Comments

  • Nathan | June 10, 2013 12:30 AMReply

    To go along with the G Gordon Liddy anecdote, there is also a framed photo of Dick Nixon on one of the Duke Bro's desks.

  • Griff | June 9, 2013 11:41 AMReply

    At the time, there was some talk in the trade that Ray Milland had turned down the Mortimer Duke role because of the actor's friendship with the late Vic Morrow, who perished in the terrible accident during the filming of John Landis' segment of TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE. At any rate, Milland did continue to act on television until shortly before his passing in 1986.

  • andrew | June 8, 2013 11:00 AMReply

    "This is good comedy." Was Ebert not feeling it that day?

  • JT | June 8, 2013 10:37 AMReply

    1%*

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