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The Three Amigos

MGM/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 99 mins . PG . PAL


It's usually not a good idea to revisit a childhood favourite. Often, the film that you remember being so clever and funny as a child strikes your adult sensibilities as the cinematic equivalent of a crazy up a flagpole hurling his own faeces at strangers.

Luckily, The Three Amigos didn't suffer this fate for me. With John Landis at the helm and a triple dose of charismatic star power in Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short, something would have had to go horribly wrong to not get a few laughs from the material - like some kind of dismemberment, or massive internal bleeding. The supporting cast is great, too. One early scene has Joe Mantegna (gangster Fat Tony from The Simpsons), Jon Lovitz and the late, great Phil Hartman. Gold, pure gold.

The plot is nothing more than a framework to hang the gags off, but it's no worse for that. Martin, Chase and Short are a trio of actors in the silent movie era. Their act, the Three Amigos, have run their course, and after Martin offends their studio boss, they end up on the street. Meanwhile, a desperate Mexican village under siege by a local bandito send a telegram to our protagonists, thinking their onscreen personas of gunslinging heroes to be genuine.

"Don't move, or I'll fill you so full of lead you'll be using your d**k as a pencil!"

Of course, in true farcical style, the message is misinterpreted, and the Amigos head to Mexico under the impression that they are to put on a show. The script, written by Steve Martin, Saturday Night Live alumni Lorne Michaels and maestro Randy Newman, hits more often than it misses and Newman's songs are truly memorable. They have a timeless quality that make it hard to believe they were written for the film, especially the campfire song, "Blue Shadows".


The transfer is as you'd expect for a mid-80s film and an MGM transfer, meaning that it's reasonably sharp with 16:9 enhancement, has slightly over-saturated colours, good black levels and a small amount of film grit. Mild grain is always present, and the disc could have done with a more experienced pair of eyes at the helm, as MPEG artefacts can be spotted at several points. For the age of the film, though, it's more than adequate.

The cinematography is interesting, running the gamut from a legitimate attempt to recreate 1916 Mexico to a pastiche of cheesy made-in-the-studio depictions of the desert at night, including matte backgrounds and fake cactuses. Landis also takes a stab at recreating the look of an early silent movie, but forgets that they run at only 12 frames a second rather than 25, so his version looks too smooth. It also uses blocking and closeups that are too sophisticated to be authentic.


The sound surprised me a little, being smoother and more dynamic than I expected. Obviously, it's a Pro-Logic mix, but the Elmer Bernstein score is played completely straight and with more depth and feeling than a broad comedy strictly requires. Audio sync was obviously suspect during songs, a byproduct of miming to the songs rather than a technical fault with the disc, but otherwise there was nothing to fault with the mix. It wasn't thin, it wasn't distorted, and while the ADR work was sometimes obvious, it didn't detract from the punchlines.


You know what would have been really nice? A running commentary with Landis and the three stars. I shouldn't really complain though, the crummy theatrical trailer we get (which seems to have been sourced from VHS) is hugely entertaining, and can be watched over and over and over.


You know what? I don't care what you high-faluting intellectuals say. This film still makes me laugh. Yes, that's right! If you remember enjoying it years ago, try revisiting it; it might just surprise you.

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      And I quote...
    "Like the immortal Ferris Bueller's Day Off, this film manages to live up to your childhood memories and bring a smile back."
    - Paul Dossett
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Rom:
          Pioneer 103(s)
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          Mitsubishi Diva 33
    • Amplifier:
          Yamaha DSP-A1
    • Speakers:
          Richter Excalibur
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          Richter Unicorn
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          Richter Hydras
    • Audio Cables:
          Monster RCA
    • Video Cables:
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