'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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4. What Do Mozart, Mark Twain And The Three Stooges All Have In Common?
All three are linked to "Trading Places," Mozart’s "The Marriage of Figaro" is about "a day of madness," in which the head-servant conspires to expose his scheming, skirt-chasing employer. Not-so-coincidentally, there are a few allusions to the 18th-century comic opera made in "Trading Places." During the film's opening sequence, "The Marriage of Figaro" overture plays while scanning the morning routines of Philadelphians, ending on Louis Winthorpe III (Aykroyd) being served breakfast in bed. On his way to work, Winthorpe whistles "Se vuol ballare" (the aria where Figaro declares "I’ll overturn all the machinery"), foreshadowing the film's ending where he and Valentine (Murphy) overturn the Duke brothers. How many people actually got that reference during the film’s initial release? Honestly, we'd like to go to a pub quiz with those select few who comprise the intersection of John Landis fans and opera enthusiasts.

Another probable source of inspiration, Mark Twain's short story "Million Pound Bank Note" is about two eccentric millionaire brothers who give a penniless pauper a one million pound note, betting on whether the un-cashable note is useless or if the possession of it enhances the man's life in some way. Two old geezers toying with the life of someone down-on-their-luck, sound familiar? More famously and just as applicable, Twain also wrote the classic American novel "The Prince and The Pauper," in which a prince and a pauper trade places. (See the connection?) When you get a chance, we recommend checking out the 1937 film version with Errol Flynn.

Moving on from the definitive source of American wit to some "whoop, whoop, whoop"-ing slapstick, the "nature vs. nurture" debate is one employed in many Three Stooges shorts, though "Hoi Polloi" stands out in particular in its resemblance to "Trading Places." In the short, two professors wager $10,000 (that sure is some moolah for 1935) on whether they can turn the Stooges into gentlemen, specifically on whether environment or heredity win out (think "Pygmalion" without the romance, which is "My Fair Lady" without the songs). Though shelling out more dough than the Duke brothers' bet of one whole dollar, the old men make no headway with the Stooges. The film concludes with a party in which the society guests end up thwacking and slapping each other silly as the Stooges put on airs, saying, "this is our punishment for associating with the hoi polloi." Although John Landis has not directly quoted this as a source, to our knowledge (feel free to share in the comment section below), the use of the wager and role-reversal in "Trading Places" does bear a striking resemblance "Hoi Polloi" and Landis is a known Stooges fan.

5. Cameos Include Frank Oz, John Landis And Jamie Lee Curtis' Sister

"Trading Places" is a treasure trove for cameos and inside Landis film jokes. Bo Diddley pops up as a pawnbroker, Jim Belushi wears a gorilla costume at the New Year's party on the train, comedy duo Franken & Davis (Al Franken and Tom Davis, fellow 'SNL' alums) are baggage handlers, Kelly Curtis (Jamie Lee's sister) plays "Muffy," one of the girls at Winthorpe's country club, a trenchcoat-wearing, briefcase-carrying John Landis stands near Valentine after he's released from jail, executive producer George Folsey, Jr. is the first man to greet Winthorpe at Duke & Duke…

Frank Oz
's cameo as the police officer checking in Winthorpe's property after he gets arrested is doubly significant as Oz also had a cameo in "Blues Brothers" as a police officer checking Jake Blues (John Belushi) out and giving him back his property. Another fun reference, Winthorpe’s prison number 7474505B is the same as Jake Blues’ in "Blues Brothers."

Speaking of in-jokes, Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche reprise their roles as the Duke brothers in "Coming to America." In that film, the brothers are homeless on the streets. Seeing them in their hobo state, Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) throws the brothers a large wad of cash and Mortimer says to Randolph that it’s enough for a new start.

6. Don Ameche Really Did Not Want To Curse Onscreen

Coming out of a 13-year hiatus for the role of Mortimer Duke, Don Ameche was very old school, as you might expect of the man who played Betty Grable's love interest twice ("Down Argentine Way" and "Moon Over Miami"). With a combination of conservative values and religious beliefs, it took a bit for Ameche to reconcile saying the F-word and N-word onscreen. Not only did he refuse to do more than one take for the end scene (where he shouts, "Fuck him!"), but every time they shot a scene in which his character used vulgar language, Ameche went out of his way to apologize to the cast and crew, even going as far as to show up early to set in order to do so (or at least according to co-star Jamie Lee Curtis, who shared that story years later on “Larry King Live”). As a credit to Ameche's talent, we didn't see this hesitation onscreen, but rather a particular relish when he said those not-so-nice words that thoroughly suited the not-so-nice Mortimer. That cursing was worth it as the role re-launched Ameche's career and he went on to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in his next film "Cocoon," where he played a senior citizen rejuvenated by not-so-kosher means (the fountain of youth meets Atlantis).

7. There's An "Eddie Murphy Rule" (And No, It's Not About Helping Hookers)

No, it's not about helping out poor, unfortunate transvestite prostitutes. The "Eddie Murphy Rule" is about "banning using misappropriated government information to trade in the commodity markets." It took them almost thirty years, but in 2010, the U.S. government finally made it illegal to profit off of ill-gotten information. (Really? Only three years ago?) Commodity Futures Trading Commission chief Gary Gensley actually referenced "Trading Places" on the floor of Congress, "In the movie Trading Places, starring Eddie Murphy, the Duke brothers intended to profit from trades in frozen concentrated orange juice futures contracts using an illicitly obtained and not yet public Department of Agriculture orange crop report." Officially, this law is Section 136 of the Wall Street Transparency and Accountability Act of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, under Section 746. For our time, money and enjoyment, we'd rather stick with calling it the “Eddie Murphy Rule,” just like we'd rather call a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich a BLT.

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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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