¡Three Amigo’s! (1986)


Three Amigos (1986)For some reason I don’t really like watching or seeking out comedy westerns, the blend of two completely different genres, one action-packed full of grand characters who throw their weight about the other based on the build-up to line that encourages laughter. Or maybe there is so much difference, the both rely on the audience to trust them on taking them on a journey to enquire and explore a subject to discover more. When you bring the two together I feel its poking fun at a genre I love. I’m only starting to accept that the fact comedy is celebrating the genre. Especially in a time when Three Amigo’s (1986) was released there weren’t many westerns in production, the output in that decade was not between 10-15 a year, compared to the hey-day of the 1950-60s. With less than 10 from the U.S that year, not even a Clint Eastwood who was still directing classics in the guise of the man with no name. The Three Amigo’s goes back to just after the birth of cinema, when westerns and other films were being produced and released on almost weekly basis. A prolific time in film when the medium was still being refined, genres such as the western were still in their infancy, no time to really develop characters, there was still time to create the image of the West that had just been tamed. Just south of the border a revolution was underway in Mexico which didn’t stop them discovering the heroes of the silent screen.

In the case of Carmen (Patrice Martinez) comes across a Three Amigo’s film, mistaking it for a real-life document of life, a trio of gunmen who fight the bad guys where they stand. The appearance of bravery, good over evil occurs before her eyes. Something we have all fallen for, taking the constructed as reality at one time or another. For me I remember vaguely seeing Charles Laughton as Henry VIII as a child, believing him to be the real monarch. It’s not until that facade, the construction is broken do we understand what is going on, before we eventually fall under its spell, even with the prior knowledge that allows us to determine what is reality. The desperate Carmen telegraphs the three actors fresh on the streets after demanding more money for their next film. Could this be their next big thing, take their on-screen persona on the road, perform life before an audience?

That’s not what she has in mind for Lucky Day (Steve Martin), Dusty Bottoms (Chevy Chase) and Ned Nederlander (Martin Short) who now homeless, jobless and penniless, the first of many whose careers are made or broken by movie moguls of the era. After breaking into the studio they make off with their costumes to South of the Border where their future lies. It all sounds quite promising for both sides, as the parody of The Magnificent Seven (1960) begins to play out. Unwittingly hiring actors as gun-men not performers to defend a town against bandits lead by El Guapo (Alfonso Arau) who is the archetype baddie. So far it’s a pretty standard western stuff coming our way. Spending most our time at the local saloon where we meet a few German’s who at this time are the enemy over in Europe. Here in South America its quite the opposite, seen more as villainous friend and little else, adding more dimension, its not your standard western anymore.          

All this is setting up the scene for the trio to arrive they are still very much in the dark, acting very much the consummate performer, unaware of the danger that awaits them out in Carmen’s village. It’s all about cliches of the actors, being confident in the role they have been playing for so long. They have had great success so are blind to real danger until it bites them…like a bullet to the arm. Even when the first time they meet El Guapo’s gang they are unaware of the danger, playing the part, as if they are among other performers, why would they think otherwise, the telegram was abridged before they even received it. Its great fun to watch, having the prior information is a great build-up to the danger and the reveal, that is reality. 

When reality does bite as much as they now have to make the leap from performer to gunfighter, from mouse to man in the space of this short film. Its all done with real fun, as the cowboy has to pick up his gun and shoot for real. A point that is never really raised, After shooting all those blanks to real rounds there is no understanding that they are now killing other men, instead if relying on trick photography to make it a reality. That would probably be the only major flaw of the film. So caught up in the gags which all work for me, It’s not all laugh out loud but theres enough to keep me going. Probably because I only know of Martin, I’ve heard of Chevy Chase, maybe my lack of familiarity with the other comedians distanced me from the comedy.

The musical number summed up for me the love for the genre, a heavy on the landscape, the sunset and cacti which surrounded the campfire scene, the night before the set-off for the hideout. Its incredibly fake but I don’t care one bit, I’m too caught up in the moment that is so rich with love and warmth, not just the fire but the musical number itself.

Summing up this fun western spoof that sees actors assume their roles in reality is something you rarely see. Western actors cannot seem to shake loose the characters they portray, assuming that persona outside of the film set. Here it takes on another dimension, imagine The Duke firing away against bandits, it would be an awesome sight to see. Also the usually two-dimensional Mexicans are played with more intelligence, they aren’t just firing guns in the air and saying “gringo” etc, they are treated with more respect in a comedic setting. The film is however let down the period in time, the silent era, only die-hard fans of film would know of any trio being spoofed. I can only think of Harry Carey from that period, no trios. The audience can’t relate as easily to this era which does let it down. The routines they perform do produce some good moment which go someway to the audience engaging more.

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