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The Three Amigos

Year: 1986
Production Co: Orion Pictures Corporation
Director: John Landis
Producer: Lorne Michaels
Writer: Steve Martin/Lorne Michaels
Cast: Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Martin Short, Alfonso Arau, Patrice Martinez, Joe Mantegna, Jon Lovitz

If you're that interested, this film was the only reason I saw The Golden Child. My friend and I were minutes too late to see it, so we saw the Eddie Murphy comedy instead. When that finished, we were right on time to see the film we'd originally gone to the cinema for, and luckily so – it's still one of my favourite comedies.

At the time I was too young to know too much about Abbott and Costello, The Marx Brothers or Laurel and Hardy to know what a reliable old premise the troupe of clueless morons was to the comedy canon, I just loved the childlike idiocy of the trio as they lurch from one mess to another with little idea how much trouble they're in until it's far too late.

When silent era film stars Lucky Day (Martin), Dusty Bottoms (Chase) and Ned Nederlander (Short, in his first role of note) get too big for their boots in their demands of the studio boss Harry Flugleman (Mantegna), he throws them straight off the lot – a sly nod to a time when mere actors were assets that could be replaced as easily as lights. As Flugleman says, with no idea how ironic his words would be within 50 years 'it'll be a cold day in hell before Harry Flugleman lets an actor tell him what to do'.

With no prospects and no work, the three receive a telegram from the besieged residents of the small Mexican village Santa Poco, living under the fearsome protection racket of a local hood called El Guapo (Arau). But the three are too stupid to realise the villagers have seen their deeds on screen and think they're fearless heroes in real life. Instead they think they're being asked to perform in Mexico with a famous local actor.

So they break into the studio to steal the costumes of their most famous characters, The Three Amigos, and bluster their way to Santa Poco with nothing but their complete ignorance of the danger, getting a cantina full of cutthroats and killers to sing along to My Little Buttercup in the process.

Seeing off the three members of El Guapo's gang who come to see what's going on is a doddle, and the Amigos spend the night partying with the villagers, looking forward to the payday they're expecting and with no idea that El Guapo is approaching with fifty men and murder on his mind.

When Lucky, Dusty and Ned realise they've been asked to protect a village from a real killer, they do what any self respecting Hollywood actor does – they cry and flee, leaving El Guapo's gang to take what they like from Santa Poco, including Carmen, the village maiden who's caught Lucky's eye.

When they see how much damage they've caused, the Three Amigos decide to suit up and play their roles for real, sneaking into El Guapo's fortress ('well we didn't expect that part of the plan to work so we have no further plan') and rescue Carmen. As Lucky says, they're just going to have to use their brains. And as Ned and Dusty chorus in response; 'dammit'.

But with the help of the Singing Bush, the Invisible Swordsman and the German pilot running guns to El Guapo and his men, they might just save the day.

The story borrows liberally from plenty of Western genre conventions as well as the work of Kurosawa, and with the benefit of so many years' hindsight, I wonder if Landis or co-writers Martin and Lorne Michaels had a subtext in mind about the power of the movies to seem so real we can forget that the action on screen has all been carefully planned and set up.

Are we any less enthralled by the worlds of Coruscant or Pandora even though we know they're completely digital or terrified by a good horror movie even though we know there's a small army of technicians behind the camera right at that moment making it all happen?

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