I know, I know. The girl who recently posted several posts about obscure silents and snobby foreign films is now posting about a popular eighties comedy. Is she now trying to appeal to the masses? Is she trying to get some of those internet lurker that have more affection for old style Eddie Murphy than Ingmar Bergman? I stick my tongue out at you. I am writing about this film because I just watched it for the first time ( I did not grow up in the eighties and my mother was the movie watcher not my dad so I watched Pretty Woman over and over again instead of these silly buddy comedies) and I thought it was worth writing about so….ptttthhhhh.
If you don’t already know, Trading Places is basically the Prince and Pauper updated to modern times. Eddie Murphy is a black man begging and scheming his way through life. He is unfairly accused by Dan Aykroyd of stealing his brief case. Dan plays a snobby commodities broker. His bosses witness this altercation and realize that it would be great if they could test the nature vs. nurture theory. They take away all of Dan Aykroyd’s wealth and property and give it all to Eddie Murphy. Through out the course of the film Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy figure out what is going on and get revenge by turning their cheating ways against them.
What is great about the film, isn’t the by the numbers plot. It is how both Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd make these characters more than the stereotypes they are. There are scenes in this film that are pure comedy gold. For example when we first meet Eddie Murphy’s character, he is a blind man rolling around in a cart and begging for money. After he accost a woman saying that once you have had a man with no legs you never go back line, two policemen approach him. He then does the Stevie Wonder and fakes his way (badly) through his veteran story, only to have the two policemen pick him up off of his cart. He then fakes a miracle of having his legs back and not really being blind. Throughout the whole short scene, Eddie Murphy is combining physical humor with his signature dry wit. A good combination of both is what made Eddie Murphy one of the best comedians around in the eighties. Of course recently he has decided to rely on physical humor as a crutch that does not produce the comedy he was known for. But when he was in his heyday he produced such great lines that comedy geeks are still quoting even today.
Unfortunately Dan Aykroyd suffered the same fate and so did countless other comedians of the eighties. I think that maybe comedians only have a small window for when they are funny. Due to a number of different circumstances like studio involvement, type casting, getting older, drugs or alcohol or just not being able to evolve, many comedians burn out. There are very few comedians from the eighties that are still working today in projects that are respected or are still funny. In most cases these comedians have flirted with the dramatic side of acting which helps to revitalize their careers (Jim Carrey being one of the most famous examples). You can see the pattern throughout the ages of comedy. Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin both lost their comedic abilities due to a variety of circumstances. All the way up to now where Will Ferrell hasn’t produced anything really worth noting in about three years. But he was once the most funny man in America. What happens? Why do these men and women lose their ability to make comedies funny? I think it is because of the lack of variety. Will Ferrell has essentially been Will Ferrell in a string of movies recently and his schtick is getting old. He screams, he takes his shirt off and he reads his lines like he is improvising them (making them seem like a wink and nudge type line instead of playing it straight). But in order to argue against myself I can watch Anchorman all day long and still laugh at certain jokes in the movie. That movie is filled with his schtick and yet I don’t seem to care. To bring it back to Trading Places, this film is filled with Eddie Murphy’s and Dan Aykroyd’s famous schtick. Dan Aykroyd playing the lovable straight man. Eddie Murphy going over the top with his line readings and his physical prowess. But none of this grates on my nerves like it does in their lesser and ultimately, later, movies. Instead the movie produces amazing sequences full of comedy gold. The reasons as to why a comedian becomes famous and then descends down that chain is a mystery to me, mainly because it varies on a case to case basis. Buster Keaton couldn’t control his drinking nor could he control the transition from silent to sound. But could Eddie Murphy control his descent? Only Eddie Murphy can say I guess. I don’t know the complete answers to any of the questions I raised here, so I will stop here. But if you have any comments on the debate I am having with myself, please feel free to make them known below. I would love to have a discussion on this topic as it is very fascinating to me.