By David Weiner
THREE AMIGOS! first rode into theaters December 12, 1986 and cracked up audiences with their outrageously ornate uniforms and charmingly dense sensibilities. A satire on the singing cowboy movies and B-westerns of yore, the John Landis film features songs by Randy Newman and stars Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short along with Alfonso Arau, Tony Plana and Patrice Martinez.
Back in my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT days, I chatted with director Landis when the film first debuted on Blu-ray and got to share a few laughs along the ride while discussing deleted scenes, his days as a spaghetti western stuntman, and how ’80s comedy titans Martin, Chase and Short got along and kept their egos in check.
“It was a very relaxed and fun shoot because they kept each other in place,” said Landis with a chuckle.
THREE AMIGOS! follows a trio of out-of-work silent movie actors who are recruited to perform their signature roles in a poor Mexican village, unaware that they have been roped into a real, life-or-death situation. The pitch is basically a comedic take on THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN with clueless, singing cowboys.
“It’s clearly a parody of westerns, but it’s also an homage. I’m a big western fan, and we were trying to make it look like a Technicolor Hollywood western,” explained Landis, who as a young man worked as a stuntman on spaghetti westerns, including Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST: “I got very good at falling off horses.”
As for the riding skills of the Amigos, Landis laughed, “They were hopeless, and that’s an accomplishment of mine; in the movie you think, ‘Boy, they can ride!’ They weren’t big fans of the horses.” On the upside, he offered, “Marty and Steve both became pretty good with those six-guns.”
The THREE AMIGOS! Blu-ray contains an all-new transfer overseen by Landis, featuring over 20 minutes of never-before-seen footage. The filmmaker recalled that the late comedian Sam Kinison had a role in the movie as a wild cannibal mountain man, but his scene was dropped from the final cut — and the footage has sadly been lost.
“The movie was too long, and so unfortunately Sam Kinison’s [scene was lifted]. It was terribly funny,” said the director, who explained that the negative trims were lost when the AMIGOS! print was bought from the bankrupt Orion Pictures. “There’s about another 15 minutes that’s just gone.”
From ANIMAL HOUSE and THE BLUES BROTHERS to TRADING PLACES and COMING TO AMERICA, Landis’ remarkable career has been associated primarily with comedies, but the director of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, SHLOCK, INNOCENT BLOOD and Michael Jackson’s iconic THRILLER video seemed to enjoy also being called a “master of horror,” drawing attention to his wonderful Monsters in the Movies coffee table book, which chronicles 100 years of cinematic nightmares, from B-movie bogeymen to outer space oddities and big-budget terrors. “It would make a perfect Christmas present,” he joked.
Asked where THREE AMIGOS! ranks in the annals of comedy history, Landis replied philosophically, “When people talk about their favorite movies, so much of it is how old they were and where they were when they saw it; [it’s about] who you are when you see the picture.”
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