Dan Aykroyd is pretty awful as the snooty Philadelphia financier who, in the service of a sociological inquiry/$1 bet, is framed as a thief and drug dealer by his financial titan bosses and replaced by the homeless Eddie Murphy, but John Landis’ picture overcomes his amateurish turn. This is a pretty funny 80s movie that holds up well, unlike, say Splash. Murphy is electric, Jamie Lee Curtis voluptuous and winning, and as the scheming Wall Street chieftains Duke and Duke, Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche are having such fun it is infectious.
A friend passed on a nifty oral history of Trading Places. The best bit:
LANDIS: The most remarkable story, casting wise: I thought, ‘Well, I need someone who was a movie star in the ‘40s, who never has never really played a villain, and I was thinking, ‘Hey, what about Don Ameche?’ And the casting woman said, ‘Don Ameche’s dead.’ And I said, ‘I don’t think so, I would know if Don Ameche is dead.’ And so we called the Screen Actor’s Guild, and his residuals were being sent to his son in Phoenix, Arizona. And I thought, ‘Well that’s not a good sign.’ And he didn’t have an agent, and I thought, ‘Shit, goddamm, who else could we get?’ when one of the secretaries said, ‘I heard you’re looking for Don Ameche.’ We said ‘Ya.’ She said, ‘I see him all the time walking on San Vicente in Santa Monica.’
And I said, ‘Mr. Ameche?’ ‘Yeeessss…?’ ‘My name is John Landis, I’m with Paramount Studios, and I’m making a film and I’d like you to consider a part.’ So I had a script sent over. ‘And could you please read this and can you come in tomorrow?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ Would you like us to send a car?’ He said, ‘No no, I can drive.’ I said, ‘Great.’
And he came in and was prepared to read for me. I was so shocked. I said ‘You don’t have to read for me.’
He hadn’t made a movie in 14 years, he’d been doing dinner theater.
While we were shooting later in Philadelphia — he was so wonderful — I said, ‘Don, may I ask a question? How come you haven’t worked in 14 years?’ And he said, ‘Well, nobody called!’