By simply reading this premise on paper it could well come across as utterly ludicrous, just a totally off the wall mess. Three of the 80’s best and wackiest (white) comedians as gunslinging, Mexican/Hispanic inspired cowboys that do battle against Mexican bandits. I mean…my God! Can you imagine the outrage if this was released today! Holy spitballs!
The plot: This idea has been around for a long long time. Its been used a good many times and still pops up from time to time. The Three Amigos are famous movie stars of the silent, non talkie pictures era (1916). They generally make heroic pictures that involve stopping dastardly, moustache twirling bandits that threaten small villages. Meanwhile in Mexico a real village is being controlled and extorted by a local gang led by the infamous El Guapo. One of the villagers sees a movie of the Amigos and believes they are real, so she sends a telegram calling for their help. The Amigos, thinking the whole thing is just another gig for them, decide to take the job and head down south. Eventually, after a warm reception from the locals, its time for the Three Amigos to face El Guapo and his men. Could this end up being the Amigos greatest performance? Or their last?
I gotta be honest here but for a generally average to small sized movie (I think), just a silly spoofy comedy, this movie looks fantastic! The opening sequence showcasing a small black and white reel of an Amigo movie, really does look terrific. They really capture that early 1900’s vibe with the heavy makeup on the actors, the film being slightly sped up, the snappy random editing, and of course the dialog intertitles with the fancy decoration. This short little intro for the main protagonists sets up the entire movie, and the characters, perfectly. We then move onto the studio back lot (somewhere in Hollywood) and again it all looks really authentic with those very old wagon-esque automobiles dotted around, the sandy dusty ground, the large billboards, the costumes etc…
Overall the movie is highly effective in conveying the various locations from early Hollywood, the deserts of Mexico, and El Guapo’s Mexican fortress. Well, for me at least, being a Brit. Maybe for an American who knows California it might all look a bit familiar, seeing as scenes in Mexico weren’t actually filmed in Mexico, but in California.
But its of no surprise that this movie is all about the cast, the main trio. And what can I say? Its damn near perfect comedy casting, three of the greatest comedians in movie history, Chase, Martin and Short (Short the lesser of the three). But the funny thing is, back in the 80’s we were spoilt for choice with these now classic comedians. Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, John Belushi, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Gene Wilder, Eddie Murphy etc…Just think about it for a minute, you could of easily teamed up any one of these legends and this premise would have still worked flawlessly. The era was perfect, the talent was perfect, the story was perfect, the writing was perfect, and overall it was perfectly directed by John Landis. Pure unadulterated lightning in a bottle.
‘We have a plan. First we break into El Guapo’s fortress…‘
‘Well, we really didn’t expect the first part to work so we have no further plan‘
Quick shout out to the added bonus of Joe Mantegna as the studio boss Harry Flugleman. With Phil Hartman and Jon Lovitz as his personal lackeys. Again amazing casting, even in the small cameo roles. Its actually such a shame we don’t see more of these characters because they looked great; you can see the potential for more great scenes from these guys.
Naturally the cast indicates the type of humour to expect (folks over a certain age will know), and that would be pure lunacy epically delivered. In general the comedy includes slapstick, clever camera trickery, stunts, wordplay and simple spoofing of the genre. Each cast member clearly had their own schtick based around their own individual style which they incorporated into their character. Lucky Day (Steve Martin) is the more intelligent, well-rounded leader of the Amigos. He’s somewhat brave and does all the talking/negotiating. Dusty Bottoms (Chevy Chase) is probably the least intelligent Amigo, a bit simple perhaps, easily led astray. He’s a bit of a ladies man, a bit flashy and brash, but also a bit of a sycophant and creep. He’s also the most cowardly. Ned Nederlander (Martin Short) is probably the bravest of the trio and the dark horse; he often manages to surprise his compadres with hidden talents.
There are so many small nuggets of comedy gold throughout this movie its impossible to do it justice right here. But take it from me, aside from the more outrageously obvious laughs, there are plenty of tiny facial expressions, poses, quips, and winks that will make you grin from ear to ear. The moment the trio are breaking into El Guapo’s fortress by scaling the walls. They reach the other side just as two guards walk by. The trio literally freeze where they stand despite being in full view; the guards just walk by without noticing a thing. The way the trio act towards El Guapo thinking its all an act, then start to cry when they realise its real. Then at one point a plane flies overhead, Dusty asks ‘what’s it doing here?’. Ned replies ‘I think its a mail plane’, Dusty replies ‘How can you tell??’. Ned responds ‘well didn’t you notice its little balls?’.
Aside from the outlandish comedy on display the movie isn’t perfect, you still find yourself asking questions. Like why is there an invisible swordsman? What’s his story?? Where exactly did the trio get the instructions that led them to the singing bush and the invisible swordsman? Why is there a singing bush? The singing bush is terribly fake looking, doesn’t even match the scenery. Why do the Mexican bandits constantly fire their guns in the air?? Doesn’t that waste bullets?? Lucky got shot…what happened to that??! Where did they get all the correct material from to make so many Amigo outfits in the finale? What exactly does El Guapo get out of this tiny village?? Him and his men never seem to do anything. Lucky gets shot in the foot…what happened to that?? On the very (presumably deliberate) obvious desert night time set, why does the tortoise speak? In the end, after saving the village, the Amigos refuse the monetary reward and ride off into the sunset. But where to? they have no money, just like at the start of their adventure, so what exactly are they gonna do?
Of course many of these questions just don’t matter because the movie isn’t supposed to be looked at in such depth, its just a very light-hearted spoof-esque comedy. The overall balance between the characters is absolutely perfect. Each cast member gets their time to shine with gags they may well have thought up themselves, but often feature all three. The villains and village folk appear to be actually played by real Mexican actors, or at least look like or come from Hispanic countries. Something which is actually quite surprising (the SJW’s would approve I’m sure, maybe). The movie is very bright, breezy and colourful with moments for both youngsters and adults alike, but its the cheeky wit that is so alluring. The real mystery is how this movie continually seems to be overlooked and forgotten.