FINANCIAL CRIME FILMS/SERIES (THIRD PART): Trading Places (Movie, 1983)



American comedy film directed by John Landis and starring Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ralph Bellamy, Don Amexh, Denholm Elliot, and Paul Gleason, is the first film to show how stock markets work and speculation exists. with future prices, where investors manage to obtain great profits in a short time with the handling of privileged information.

Extract from my article:

Plot

Brothers Randolph and Mortimer Duke own a commodities brokerage firm, Duke & Duke Commodity Brokers, in Philadelphia. Holding opposing views on the issue of nature versus nurture, they make a wager and agree to conduct an experiment—switching the lives of two people at opposite sides of the social hierarchy and observing the results. They witness an encounter between their managing director—the well-mannered and educated Louis Winthorpe III, engaged to the Dukes’ grand-niece Penelope—and a poor street hustler named Billy Ray Valentine; Valentine is arrested at Winthorpe’s insistence because of a suspected robbery attempt. The Dukes decide to use the two men for their experiment.

Winthorpe is framed as a thief, drug dealer and philanderer by Clarence Beeks, a man on the Dukes’ payroll. Winthorpe is fired from Duke & Duke, his bank accounts are frozen, he is denied entry to his Duke-owned home, and he is vilified by Penelope and his friends. He befriends Ophelia, a prostitute who helps him in exchange for a financial reward once he is exonerated. The Dukes bail Valentine out of jail, install him in Winthorpe’s former job and grant him use of Winthorpe’s home. Valentine becomes well-versed in the business using his street smarts to achieve success, and begins to act well-mannered.

During the firm’s Christmas party, Winthorpe plants drugs in Valentine’s desk attempting to frame him, and brandishes a gun to escape. Later, the Dukes discuss their experiment and settle their wager for $1, before plotting to return Valentine to the streets, but having no intention of taking back Winthorpe. Valentine overhears the conversation and seeks out Winthorpe, who has attempted suicide by overdosing on pills. Valentine, Ophelia, and Winthorpe’s butler, Coleman, nurse him back to health and inform him of the experiment. From a television news broadcast, they learn that Clarence Beeks is transporting a secret USDA report on orange crop forecasts. Winthorpe and Valentine recall large payments made to Beeks by the Dukes, and realize that the Dukes will obtain the report early to corner the market on frozen concentrated orange juice.

On New Year’s Eve, the four board Beeks’ train, intending to switch the original report with a forgery that predicts low orange crop yields. Beeks uncovers their scheme, and attempts to kill them, but is knocked unconscious by a gorilla being transported on the train. The four disguise Beeks with a gorilla costume, and cage him with the real gorilla. After delivering the forged report to the Dukes in Beeks’ place, Valentine and Winthorpe travel to New York City with Coleman’s and Ophelia’s life savings to carry out the plan.

On the commodities trading floor, the Dukes commit their holdings to buying frozen concentrated orange juice futures contracts; other traders follow their lead, inflating the price. Valentine and Winthorpe short sell frozen concentrated orange juice futures contracts at the inflated price. Following the broadcast of the actual crop report and its prediction of a normal harvest, the price of orange juice futures plummets. Valentine and Winthorpe start buying futures at the lower price from everyone except the Dukes, to fulfill the contracts they short sold earlier, turning an immense profit. After the closing bell, Valentine and Winthorpe explain to the Dukes that they made a wager on whether they could get rich and make the Dukes poor at the same time, and Valentine collects $1 from Winthorpe. The exchange manager and his assistants approach the Dukes to settle their margin call. When the Dukes make it clear they do not have the $394 million due, the manager orders the Dukes’ exchange seats sold, and their corporate and personal assets confiscated, effectively bankrupting them. Randolph collapses holding his chest, and Mortimer shouts angrily at the others, demanding the floor be reopened in a futile plea to recoup their losses. The now wealthy Valentine, Winthorpe, Ophelia, and Coleman vacation on a tropical beach, while Beeks and the gorilla are loaded onto a ship bound for Africa.

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