Logan’s Moving Pictures is back with a slice of true comedic joy; The Three Amigos!
One of the unforeseen joys of getting older has been revisiting films we watched religiously as children and then immediately catching things that I didn’t even begin to understand as a child. I think the first film that ever happened with was Grease, and in fairness to my parents, we’d only ever really seen it on basic cable, with all of the truly naughty bits of song edited out or censored. So, once I saw the movie in total…well, it got me a little red-faced. And while Grease very much is the word, and even though it’s the time, the place, and the motion, it’s actually not the movie we’re talking about today.
No, today we’re talking about the funniest film ever made, Three Amigos!
We grew up across the street from my aunt and uncle (my mom’s sister and her husband), who coincidentally had a son one month younger than Ryan & me, and like us, he also had two younger siblings. But, while we had sisters, B.J. (short for Benjamin John) had two brothers. With us being only about a month apart in age, we all three went to school together, and at some point (probably at our house) we had all watched Three Amigos! Several, several times.
We would spend our school recess sitting on the swings singing their anthem (or My Little Buttercup, or even Blue Shadows on the Trail) and quoting their mantras, and inevitably we’d dismount and perform their…I hesitate to call it a dance number, but it involves a suggestive hip thrust. We also went to a Christian school. So. That hits home my point of things I didn’t realize was inappropriate as a kid.
Plenty of the jokes fall under the banner of broad humor, but there are enough there that, when I watched this in my early teens, I found myself floored that we ever were allowed to watch it at all. But, again, in fairness to our parents, all of them sailed so far over our heads that I’m sure they just shrugged their shoulders. None more so than “I think it’s a mail plane.” When I finally got that one…well, I probably laughed for ten minutes.
Before we get too far away, and assuming you didn’t stop reading after that insanely brash and declarative statement; yes, I think Three Amigos! is the funniest film ever made. Yes, I’m going to put the exclamation point at the end of the title every time. Yes, I’m serious. Yes, I’ve seen Airplane. Yes, I’ve seen Blazing Saddles, as well as plenty of other Mel Brooks films (Spaceballs, incidentally enough, is the second funniest). I’ve seen Monty Python stuff, National Lampoon’s whatever, I’ve seen plenty of them. Three Amigos! is funnier. It just is. If the scenes with The Singing Bush and The Invisible Swordsman don’t convince you of that, then, well, all is truly lost.
All these years later and there are still so many comedic moments that immediately come to mind without even watching it. I mentioned the bush and swordsman already, but there’s Harry Flugelman, the trio breaking into the studio (Lookuphere! Lookuphere!), “What is a plethora?,” the canteen in the desert scene, Amigos falling from the sky, “Sew like the wind!” In-famous, sons-of-a-motherless-goat…so many more
Directed competently by John Landis, it’s truly the character work and the scrip that makes the movie shine like it does. Starring Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short (in his first big screen role), it’s easy to see why the acting is notable; all three are masters of their craft, and this was right in their wheelhouses. The script, surprisingly, is credited to Lorne Michaels (the guy responsible for Saturday Night Live, however you feel about that), Steve Martin (undeniably a comedy genius), and Randy Newman. Yes, Randy Newman, the man possibly best known at this point for the songs from Toy Story and other various Pixar films.
Now, the first two aren’t a big shocker at all. Michaels often has his hands in producing and/or co-writing films with SNL alumni, and this film stars three of them. He also would have been near the height of his producing powers when the movie was being made in the mid-‘80s. Steve Martin being Steve Martin, and the comedy being this cross between whimsical and witty, it very much has his fingerprints on it. But Randy Newman’s writing credit stunned me, and it’s his only script writing credit to boot!
Not because I dislike the man; quite the opposite. I’ve enjoyed so much of his music at this point in my life that I’d consider him one of my favorite artists. His work composing for just the Pixar films alone makes him a legend, but he had been long at that kind of work before those movies ever came along. He’s also had a pretty brilliant career outside of movies, both as a solo artist and songwriter. Being somewhat of a fan, I knew the man was multi-faceted (much like Steve Martin, who has also composed music, written songs, books, plays, scripts, etc), but in all my years of watching Three Amigos! I never knew Randy Newman was credited as a co-writer for the script. While the music definitely screams Newman, this time around I could see his particular brand of earnestness mixed with twinges of irony and melancholy shining through in the story as well.
Rewatching it I started wondering why we were so drawn to it as kids, and the best conclusion I could come to was that it was basically a cartoon western. Both our Dad (and grandmother) as well as BJ’s father loved westerns. As such, we were subjected to a lot of them growing up. Mostly John Wayne fare, though there was the occasional Clint Eastwood. And in the case of my Dad and Grandmother, folks like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. I’ll be honest and say I never much cared for most of them, even Eastwood and The Duke’s work. It wasn’t until I was much older that I really appreciated the genre at all. So, with Three Amigos! I guess it felt like we finally had something in that vein that we could get on board with.
More than that though, there’s something to watching three completely vapid and inept people go through situations that could quite literally kill them (even when they don’t realize it) and come out the other side as better versions of themselves. Not one of them just miraculously becomes some kind of western he-man, obliterating bad guys and winning the day. They are all still very much themselves, but with the grit and determination that they have it in them to save the day. I’m sure that’s not something I could verbalize as a seven-year-old, but I definitely think it played a hand in how much we just loved this movie.
Once they come around and decide that the key to defeating the bad guy and saving the village is by working together and everyone using the skills they have, Steve Martin (as the brilliantly named Lucky Day) gives a poignant but hysterical speech. He talks to the townspeople of Santo Poco about how we all have our villains to face down, trials we must go through, and the impossible odds we all face at some point. He makes some hilarious comparisons, but he’s not wrong.
I couldn’t help but think about all the things I’ve been through in the last decade of my life. I actually sat down and listed all of the things I could think of that had happened in that time and began to feel completely overwhelmed. I’m not going to list them here, because it’s not about gaining empathy or sympathy, it was about getting perspective.
I’ve never thought of myself as a brave person. There are days when I’m so anxious I can barely stand to leave my house. Even the thought of change makes my heart start pounding. But looking at that list, it actually gave me some comfort. I survived all of those things, mentally and physically, and a good many of them changed me profoundly. Some for the better, some for the worse. But none of them knocked me out for good.
I think it’s easy to watch the film and just see the surface-level jokes and all-around goofiness, but it’s really the courage and heart of it all that shines so bright all these decades later. There might not be anything more inspiring than seeing very flawed people bumble their way through dire circumstances and somehow manage to succeed. If that’s not a direct correlation for what we’re all doing, I don’t know what is.