Film and Plot Synopsis
The film tells the story of an uptight and upper-class commodities broker named Louis Winthorpe III who has his life turned upside down when his employers, Randolph and Mortimer Duke, decide to switch his life with that of a poor black street hustler named Billy Ray Valentine. Soon, both men struggle to adapt to their new lives. However, they soon learn of the Duke’s plan and work together with a prostitute named Ophelia to turn the tables on the Dukes.
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‘Trading Places’ Movie Summary
One day, the Dukes witness an encounter between Louis and a poor black street hustler named Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) in which Louis mistakenly believes that Valentine is attempting to rob him. As a result, Valentine is arrested in the Dukes’ country club. Randolph and Mortimer begin to debate the issue of nature versus nurture after the incident and decide to conduct their own sociological experiment. The brothers make a wager and plan to switch the lives of Valentine and Louis to see how each of the men react.
Shortly before Christmas, the Dukes use Clarence Beeks (Paul Gleason), a security expert that they are bribing for information, to frame Louis as a thief, a drug dealer, and a philanderer. The Dukes fire Louis and accuse him of embezzlement. As a result, Louis’ bank accounts are frozen by the IRS and he is evicted from his Duke-owned home. Beeks arranges for a street prostitute named Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis) to pretend that Louis is her drug dealer in front of Penelope which results in the end of Louis’ engagement. Ophelia feels sorry for Louis and agrees to help him restore his reputation in exchange for a substantial financial reward once Louis is exonerated.
Hey, bubbles, man! Say man, when I was growing up, if we wanted a jacuzzi, we had to fart in the tub. Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy)
At the same time, the Dukes arrange for Valentine’s release from jail and place the former con man into Louis’ former residence with all its amenities including Coleman. The brothers give Valentine Louis’ former job as a commodities director at their brokerage firm. Within a few days, Valentine becomes well versed in the business after he applies his street smarts to the commodities industry. Valentine almost instantly achieves a level of success and notoriety and begins to act in a more conservative fashion.
Louis follows Valentine’s success from a distance and blames his replacement for everything that has gone wrong in his life. He begins to plot his revenge against Valentine. During the firm’s Christmas party, Louis sneaks in dressed as a street Santa Claus and plants drugs in Valentine’s desk. Valentine and the Dukes discover Louis attempting to frame his replacement and call security. Louis brandishes a gun and escapes, taking food from the party with him. Defeated, Louis begins to drink himself into oblivion. At the firm, Valentine overhears the Dukes discussing their wager and sees Mortimer pay his brother the $1 that he owes him. The two brothers discuss returning Valentine to the streets, each agreeing that they don’t want to see a black man running their company. However, the Dukes agree that Louis will not be returned to his former position after his actions during the party.
On the street, Louis unsuccessfully tries to shoot himself before returning to Ophelia’s apartment where he attempts to overdose on pills. Valentine tracks Louis down at the apartment. He takes both Louis and Ophelia back to his home and has a doctor (Phillip Bosco) take care of Louis. Louis awakens in his old bed and believes that the last few days have been a bad dream until he sees Valentine. Louis attacks Valentine until the former con man explains that it was the Dukes who turned his life upside down.
After calming down, Louis plans to shoot the Dukes until both he and Valentine see a television news broadcast that shows Beeks transporting a secret United States Department of Agriculture report on orange crop forecasts to Washington D.C. Both Valentine and Louis recall large payments made to Beeks by the Dukes, and Ophelia recognizes him as the man who paid her to pretend to be Louis’ drug buyer. Louis and Valentine realize that the Dukes are attempting to obtain the report early so that they can corner the market on frozen concentrated orange juice. Louis, Valentine, Ophelia, and Coleman come up with a plan to thwart the Duke’s clandestine effort and to become rich themselves at the same time.
On New Year’s Eve, the coconspirators board the train that Beeks is taking to Washington D.C. While in disguise, the plan to switch the original report with a forgery that predicts low orange crop yields. However, Beeks becomes wise to their scheme and attempts to kill them all in the baggage compartment. Fortunately, Beeks becomes distracted by a party goer (Jim Belushi) dressed as a gorilla before he can kill Louis and his friends. When Beeks cold cocks the party goer, an actual caged gorilla knocks Beeks unconscious. Louis and Valentine gag Beeks and place him into the cage with the real gorilla. Valentine then impersonates Beeks and delivers the forged report to the Dukes in Philadelphia. The next day, Louis and Valentine travel to New York with Coleman and Ophelia’s life savings which they combine with the money that the Dukes gave to the “fake” Beeks the night before.
When trading begins the next morning, the Dukes commit their holdings to buying frozen concentrated orange juice futures contracts, which legally commits them to buying the commodity at a later date. Suspecting the Duke’s intentions to corner the market, other traders follow their lead which further drives up the price of the contracts. Valentine and Louis short-sell juice futures contracts at the inflated price, which reverses the climbing price. A few moments later, the government broadcasts the actual crop report and its prediction of a normal harvest. Suddenly, the price of juice futures plummets. Valentine and Louis buy at the lower price from everyone except the Dukes, who are helpless to sell their contracts. Louis and Valentine fulfill the contracts that they had short-sold earlier and turn an immense profit.
After the closing bell, Louis and Valentine explain to the Dukes that they made a wager on whether they could get rich and make the Dukes poor at the same time. Louis pays Valentine the $1 they wagered on the proposal. The head of the exchange approaches the Dukes to pay off the $394 million they owe for their margin call. The Dukes do not have sufficient funds, so the exchange manager orders their seats on the exchange sold and their corporate and personal assets confiscated. Randolph collapses from an apparent heart attack and Mortimer demands the exchange to reopen for trading. The Dukes are bankrupt and will not be seen again until Coming to America.
The film ends with Beeks, still in the gorilla suit, being loaded with the real gorilla onto a ship heading for Africa. Meanwhile, Valentine, Louis, Ophelia, and Coleman enjoying a vacation on an expensive looking tropical beach living off the money they made.
Additional Film Information
- Learn more about the film on Wikipedia
- Read what critics have to say about the film at Rotten Tomatoes