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Randolph: Mother always said you were greedy.
Mortimer: She meant it as a compliment.
~ Randolph and Mortimer

Randolph and Mortimer Duke are the main antagonists of the 1983 film Trading Places, and make a cameo appearance in the 1988 film Coming to America. They are the greedy, heartless owners of "Duke & Duke", a successful commodities brokerage in Philadelphia.

Randolph Duke was portrayed by the late Ralph Bellamy, and Mortimer Duke was portrayed by the late Don Ameche, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance.

Biography

Randolph and Mortimer Duke founded "Duke & Duke Commodities Brokers" together in their youth and by the time of Trading Places had built the firm into a financial empire. Sometime during their growth they employed the ambitious broker Louis Winthorpe III, whom they eventually promote to Managing Director of the company.

One winter, the Dukes plan to steal government crop reports about orange groves in Florida before they are officially released to the public, allowing the brothers to corner the frozen concentrated orange juice market and make millions on the stock exchange. They hire Clarence Beeks, a security officer from the company holding the crop reports, to steal the reports on New Year's Eve, two days before the company goes public.

During a regular business day, Randolph and Mortimer are at a gentleman's club with Winthorpe signing the payroll checks for employees when they falsely accuse an African American homeless man, Billy Ray Valentine, of stealing them.

Following Valentine's arrest, the Dukes decide to perform an experiment: Mortimer makes a one dollar bet with Randolph that he can put Valentine in a good environment and turn him into a successful company executive, while at the same time turning Winthorpe into a criminal by putting him in a poor environment.

With Beeks' help, the Dukes frame Winthorpe for dealing drugs; in one day, Winthorpe is fired, his girlfriend leaves him, and he loses his house and all his money. Meanwhile, the Dukes take Valentine off the street and set him up in Winthorpe's house with his former butler, Coleman.

During the course of the experiment, Winthorpe descends further into squalor, while Valentine shows a hidden talent for stock trading and becomes a success. On Christmas Eve, Winthorpe storms Duke & Duke during the Christmas Party, armed and intending to plant drugs in Valentine's office. The Dukes and Valentine catch him in the act, however, and throw him out.

Randolph declares that he has won the bet, and the two brothers decide to settle up in the company restroom. There, they unknowingly reveal their whole experiment to Valentine, who is smoking marijuana in one of the stalls. They also reveal that they are ultimately going to throw Valentine back out on the street, expressing disgust at the idea of a Black man running their company and insulting him with with a racial slur.

Now aware that he and Winthorpe have been cruelly used, Valentine goes to Winthorpe to plot revenge against the Dukes. After figuring out the Dukes' plan to steal the crop reports, Winthorpe and Valentine manage to trail and incapacitate Beeks on News Year Eve, before delivering a fake crop report to the Dukes.

Two days later, the Dukes arrive at the stock exchange and, using details from the fake report, tell their runner to buy orange juice contracts as soon as trading begins. Meanwhile, Winthorpe and Valentine arrived at the stock exchange armed with the real information.

During trading, the Dukes watch in horror as they buy hundreds of contracts only to find that the information they received (stating that the orange crop was dire) was fake as the true report was delivered live, stating the orange crop hadn't been harmed by the cold winter. The price drops, and despite their best efforts to sell the contracts back, the Dukes lose $394 million. Ruined, they are forced out onto the streets, and Randolph suffers a heart attack while Mortimer berates him for getting them into their predicament in the first place.

Five years later, Randolph and Mortimer are homeless panhandlers living on the streets of New York City. They ask a man in the street - who, unbeknownst to them, is actually Prince Akeem of Zamunda - for spare change, and he absent-mindedly gives them a huge amount of money (calling it "pocket change"). Overjoyed, Randolph exclaims, "Mortimer....we're back!".

In the 2021 sequel Coming 2 America, the Duke brothers are long dead, but their company is thriving, run by their grandson, Carter Duke. There is a framed portrait of the Dukes in their grandson's office.

Personality

Randolph and Mortimer are both greedy, ruthless, and dishonest, and both believe that their wealth and social status (the "Duke name") entitles them to do whatever they want, with no consequences. They are also virulent racists, believing that Black people are inherently inferior to whites; Mortimer is especially bigoted, calling Billy Ray Valentine "a ni**er" who "has probably been stealing since before he could crawl".

The only real difference between them is that Randolph, who fancies himself a man of science, believes that people are made who they are by circumstance and environment, while Mortimer is a true elitist who believes certain people - like himself - are born superior, that "it's in the blood".

Trivia

  • 30 years after Trading Places, the implications of the Duke plan could actually have been carried out in the real stock exchange and was therefore banned under what became known as "The Eddie Murphy Rule" under Section 136 of the Wall Street Transparency and Accountability Act.
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