1986 in Film – ¡Three Amigos!

Release Date: December 12th
Box Office: $39,246,734

If there’s a film that is almost the definitive 80s comedy film then it’s ¡Three Amigos! (1986): directed by John Landis; Elmer Bernstein score; written and Starring Steve Martin as well as Chevy Chase; originally going to star Martin alongside Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, that’s without mentioning Bill Murray, Robin Williams and Rick Moranis and one time or another. The only thing it’s probably missing is maybe a John Candy cameo.

Thats not to say that everything is smooth as silk. The fact that you had Belushi attached to the film shows that the film has been knocking around Hollywood for a fair while before the film was released.

Conceived of by Steve Martin himself, the script was written along with Lorne Michaels and Randy Newman. You know, the guy who is the mastermind behind 30 odd years of Saturday Night Live and the guy who made a generation cry with When She Loved Me for Toy Story 2 (1999).

Anyways. You had the various cast people dropping in and out, Spielberg was tapped as the director then he dropped out, then John Landis came in and finally you have the film.

Set in 1916, the eponymous Three Amigos are three actors who are the stars of a series of films, played by Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short. After asking for a raise, they get fired and kicked off the studio lot. Luckily, they have a letter inviting them to Mexico to perform for a small town. What they don’t know is that said small Mexican town is currently being overrun by bandits. Their only hope? Their heroes, The Three Amigos, whose film adventures they believe to be completely real. So the Amigos take off on what they believe to be a performance which actually turns out to be a fight to the death.

So far so good. The plot is great and would go on to influence films like Galaxy Quest (1999) and A Bug’s Life (1998), along with taking in a dash of The Magnificent Seven (1960) and other western influences.

A quick note on that: Elmer Bernstein’s score for Amigos is great mainly because it’s referencing his earlier iconic work on the very same Magnificent Seven.

Thing is. That first era of SNL, the Murrays and Chases and Aykroyds and Martins, had pretty much conquered the small and silver screen. Seriously, they had dominated culture. But the good times can never last and 1986 and Amigos is the dividing line. To be fair it would be a rocky road for most people coming out of the 80s into the 90s but some people would feel it more than others.

Steve Martin, for example. The next year he would star in Planes Trains and Automobiles (1987) which would commence a long slow decent into schmaltz. Chase wouldn’t be relevant again for at least the next two decades.

Martin Short didn’t come out of it that bad. Amigos was his first major film which came off the back of a successful run in SNL. He brings a different energy to the antics of Martin and Chase lending a good balance to the trio. He would end up more of a supporting player, at least in movies.

The three leads are clearly having a great time, something which translates to the audience watching. All three would become lifelong friends after the making of the film, not that their partnership would continue in other films.

The main reason why it didn’t continue is probably because the film landed with a resounding damp squib at the box office. The film barely made back it’s budget and met with mixed reviews from the critics.

One reason for this may be due to the troubled post production of the film; Landis was still deeply involved with the aftermath of the Helicopter accident on the set of Twilight Zone The Movie (1983) that took the life of actor Vic Morrow and two child actors. The civil and criminal action that followed lasted for years and caused controversy all over the place. Landis, who directed Trading Places (1983) following the accident, was still involved in court cases which meant that he could only work on Amigos at night. The studio ended up cutting the film down, removing entire characters, to get the length to something they would be happy with.

Is it this that takes away something from the film? That disrupts the madcap energy that it has? It’s hard to tell, especially because some of that edited footage, mainly of comedian Sam Kinnison, is lost for good.

The film is still very enjoyable, with some great lines throughout. Maybe it’s a last hurrah, one final stab at greatness before our heroes ride off into the sunset.

By sunset I mean terrible sequels and sentimental trash, but the point still stands.

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