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What Actually Happens At The End Of 'Trading Places'?

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What Actually Happens At The End Of 'Trading Places'?


What Actually Happens At The End Of 'Trading Places'?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This summer, one of the iconic screwball comedies of the 1980s, "Trading Places," turns 30. It's a caper starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd. But Robert Smith, of NPR's Planet Money team, thinks there's something about the film that average viewers might not know. He says "Trading Places" is the most sophisticated treatment of the financial industry in American cinema.

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: To appreciate how sophisticated this comedy gets, let's go to the final few minutes of "Trading Places." Our heroes, Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, walk out onto a crowded commodities trading floor.


DAN AYKROYD: (as Louis Winthorpe III) Well, this is it, the last bastion of pure capitalism left on earth. Here in New York, they trade everything - gold, propane, cocoa and sugar and, of course, frozen concentrated orange juice.

SMITH: You know, when I first saw this film, I assumed that frozen orange juice trading was a made-up thing for the movie, but not according to Tom Peronis.

TOM PERONIS: I'm just coming back from the New York Mercantile Exchange, where I - you know - spent the last four hours buying and selling all orange juice options.

SMITH: Who better than an actual frozen OJ trader to rewatch this movie with because I got to be honest with you, the end of this comedy is so complicated that generations have gone by with no one understanding exactly what happened at the climactic scene at the end.

OK. We zoom in on a bunch of guys in ugly vests milling around a giant trading floor. Tom Peronis says yeah, that's accurate.

PERONIS: There's my old place of employment.

SMITH: That's the World Trade Center.

PERONIS: Yeah, and that's - I had an office in that building right there. That's where the exchange was.

SMITH: Everyone is staring up at the clock, waiting for exactly 9 a.m.


SMITH: And what they're doing, in all this chaos, is now they're buying and selling future contracts on the price of frozen orange juice. And you can think of these things as bets on what the price will be in the future. There are a couple of bad guys in the movie, Randolph and Mortimer Duke. They're brothers. They're betting the price will go up.


RALPH BELLAMY: (as Randolph Duke) We want you to buy as much OJ as you can, the instant trading starts.

DON AMECHE: (as Mortimer Duke) Just keep buying.

SMITH: The reason they're so sure is that they have an advance copy of a government crop report, a report that says there will be an orange shortage. What they don't know is that the report is fake. Eddie Murphy has pulled the old switcheroo on the crop report in a long, complicated scam involving a gorilla costume, a train and, of course, a funny accent.


EDDIE MURPHY: (as Billy Ray Valentine) I am Nanga Eboko, exchange student from Cameroon.

SMITH: The important thing is that the Duke brothers are playing directly into Eddie Murphy's hands. They are placing bets on orange juice going up. Pretty soon, other traders notice.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Hey, hey, the Dukes are trying to corner the market.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) They know something - I can feel it. Let's get in on it.

SMITH: Everyone is betting the same way, in this movie. The price goes up, $1.10 a pound, $1.20 a pound, which brings us to the most pivotal moment in the movie. Dan Aykroyd has been watching the chaos around him, and he finally speaks. No, no, he screams the immortal words...


AYKROYD: (as Louis Winthorpe III) Sell 30 April at 142.

SMITH: Wait, wait, wait. What? This is the most crucial line in the movie "Trading Places," and it is incomprehensible. So Tom Peronis decodes it for us.

PERONIS: Sell 30 April at 142.

SMITH: What's he doing?

PERONIS: He's selling 30 futures contracts, at a price of 142 per pound.

SMITH: You've heard the phrase "buy low and sell high." It turns out you can do it the other way, in commodities. You can sell high, and then turn around quickly and buy low. Dan Aykroyd, in the movie, has essentially locked in a bunch of people who have promised to give him $1.42 per pound for OJ in April. Now, he just needs to pick up some cheaper OJ before then.

Luckily, he knows the real crop report is about to come out.


MAURICE COPELAND: (As Secretary of Agriculture) Ladies and gentlemen, the orange crop estimates for the next year.

SMITH: OK, this is totally unrealistic. Never would the entire market stop just to hear the secretary of agriculture. But let's just go with this.


COPELAND: (as Secretary of Agriculture) The cold winter has apparently not affected the orange harvest.

SMITH: That sound is the sound of hundreds of people who just realized that they bet the wrong way. There are plenty of oranges. The price is dropping, and who's there to buy them up cheap? Our heroes. The key to understanding "Trading Places" is the price. Earlier, the boys locked in orange juice price at $1.42 a pound. At the end of the day, they were buying OJ at 29 cents a pound.

They pocketed the difference on millions of pounds. Tom says this is basically the way it works, with some liberties.

PERONIS: It is a epic move, probably a significantly bigger one-day move than the orange juice market has ever had in its entire history. A purely fictional move, but, you know, enough to enable these guys to retire handsomely.

SMITH: Tom says that in the OJ world, even 30 years after this movie came out, he still hears traders scream out lines from the film.

PERONIS: Sell, Mortimer; sell, Mortimer - you know?

SMITH: And the movie lives on in another way. In 2010, the Dodd-Frank regulations made it illegal to use illicitly obtained government reports to make a profit in the commodities business. They called it the Eddie Murphy rule.

Robert Smith, NPR News.

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