At one point in my life I could honestly say that everything I knew about business I had learned from the movie Trading Places.
This film came on TV all the time when I was a kid.
And it never failed to pull me in.
But back to business…it’s that one scene:
coffee, wheat, pork bellies, gold, and (of course) orange juice.
Ok, so I mixed up the order a little bit.
But that’s the “breakfast” of commodities which sits before Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) as he is given a crash course in commodities trading by the Duke brothers (Randolph and Mortimer).
It always made a big impression on me…pork bellies.
And now as I descend from the halfway point of my MBA studies this film carries a richer meaning for me.
The gorilla comes with a bill of lading.
That’s not the type of stuff you catch as a six-year-old.
And I must admit that this film is all the funnier when the expletives are put back in.
And the nudity.
Yes, it was usually the sanitized version we saw on TV.
But maybe sometimes…on a special channel…the real version.
At any rate, this is truly an American classic.
Not least because it was produced by a true American hero like Aaron Russo.
Why do I call him a hero?
Because he stood up for something worth standing up for.
It’s no wonder.
Watching this film.
The agog camera views of the World Trade Center.
But let’s stick to the teaching tool at hand.
Trading Places was just that: a beautiful teaching tool.
In some ways, therefore, it is aiming at the same thing as Le Gai Savoir.
The particular argument at issue is the famous “nature vs. nurture” debate.
Perhaps my attempt to connect John Landis’ wonderful film to Godard is a bit of a reach, but there is real, American beauty at work here.
Consider, for instance, the opening montage of Philadelphia streets set to W.A. Mozart’s overture from the opera Le Nozze di Figaro.
Notice, if you will, the African-Americans playing basketball with a plastic milk crate attached to a piece of plywood…on a telephone pole.
There are some loving politics at work here.
What we have is a film about unity. Dan Aykroyd. Eddie Murphy. Black and white.
There was a positivity to many American comedies of the 1980s.
I remember hearing “feel-good” used as a descriptor for movies (particularly summertime offerings) more than I care to remember.
But they were “feel-good”.
Trading Places, however, is more than just a feel-good film.
It is a film with a conscience.
That’s what makes it timeless.
I’d like to imagine that Aaron Russo’s conscience was already ticking…ticking.
It wasn’t until later that he made truly political films.
I don’t want to attempt a more profound framing than this thing deserves [too late].
Suffice it to say that Trading Places is as applicable today as it was in 1983.
We may no longer bandy-about the word “yuppies”, but we still have Wall Street.
Perhaps the trading pits and quote boards look hopelessly antiquated now.
But so much transfers.
Exeter. Harvard. Winthorpe.
And, of course, kindness transfers. Jamie Lee Curtis.
So there you have it.
Trading Places is acerbic criticism on race in America. Racism. Opportunity.
Eddie Murphy will have you laughing your ass off.
This is truly an indispensable bit of 80s comedy…and so much more.