Q&A: John Landis Talks 'Three Amigos!' Turning 25, And Gives Insight On Other Classics
November 22nd, 2011 2:30pm EST
In the 1986 comedy “Three Amigos!” Steve Martin quips, “You dirt-eating piece of slime! You scum-sucking pig! You son of a motherless goat!” Every time you hear the insult, it’s almost impossible not to laugh with Martin’s matter-of-fact delivery. What makes the statement even more comical though, is that Martin’s character has no idea he’s pissing off, a bad guy, who’s ready to shoot him for the outrage.
“Three Amigos!” tells the story of three unemployed actors (Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short) who mistakenly travel to a Mexican village for a celebrity appearance. This is no ordinary visit however, because the townspeople believe that the Three Amigos will save them from the bandit El Guapo, like in one of their films. Hilarity ensues, when the actors realize they are in way over their heads, and must rise to the occasion to help the villagers.
“Three Amigos” was directed by John Landis, the genius behind tons of classic comedies like “Animal House,” “Blues Brothers,” “Spies Like Us,” and “Trading Places.” I had the immense honor of speaking with Mr. Landis recently about the 25thanniversary of ‘Three Amigos,’ and about some of his other work.
Evan Crean: So I was going through, watching the ‘Three Amigos’ blu-ray, and I got to some of the deleted scenes. I saw there was a note there, where you mentioned some lost footage, specifically some stuff with Fran Drescher and even Sam Kinison.
John Landis: Yeah, about four or five minutes of stuff.
EC: I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit more about those side plots and why they were cut from the movie?
JL: Well, everything that was lifted from the film was for time, I mean the movie was too long (Laughing). We tried to cut things that didn’t hurt the integrity of the story. The Sam sequence was on the journey where they meet The Invisible Swordsman, and it was a whole little sequence where he was a cannibal, and they encountered him, and it could be lifted out, without actually, with no one noticing.
Fran Drescher was part of the whole Hollywood segment that ended up being cut down a lot, just to get to Mexico sooner. She played a kind of Lina Lamont, who had a rivalry with the, ya know they’re like vain actors, and she had a rivalry with The Amigos. It was only two scenes, but she was very funny; so was Sam. I’m sorry I couldn’t find them, but everything else is in that 20 minutes that’s on the DVD.
EC: I was a little disappointed I couldn’t see the Sam Kinison part. I always thought he was hilarious.
JL: He was hilarious. He really was.
EC: There’s a scene in the film, where The Amigos, are in the desert, as it’s starting to become nightfall. They start singing and animals start to join them. I had two questions there. First, it seems kind of obvious that they’re on a set…
JL: That’s deliberate, of course (Laughing).
EC: Second question I had about that: The talking tortoise. Was it supposed to be an allusion to them being on drugs?
JL: Not that I know of. I have a tortoise in there for two reasons. 1. I thought, we have all these desert animals. We have a little rabbit, a coyote, an owl, and what else did we have?
EC: A mountain lion I think?
JL: Yeah we had a mountain lion, so the most ubiquitous animal in the desert is the tortoise. So I put a tortoise in there and had him say ‘Goodnight.’
EC: Okay, (Laughing). I was watching that and thinking, maybe it was peyote or something.
JL: No, I think that’s your problem. (Laughing) But that wasn’t the intention. It’s funny, do you always go ‘Look a talking tortoise! It must mean peyote?!’
EC: (Laughing) Every time they did the Three Amigos salute, I would just fall on the ground laughing. Was that a problem for the actors? Did they constantly crack up when they had to do the salute?
JL: Well no, they were professionals. (Laughing) I remember when we invented the salute, all the different variations of them were silly. I forgot who came up with the idea of the cough, but it was pretty funny.
EC: Was it any one person who came up with the salute? Or was it a group effort?
JL: No, the three of them came up with the salute.
EC: I had a couple of questions on some of your other work. This one is about your film ‘An American Werewolf in London.’ First, all of the songs on the soundtrack have ‘Moon’ in the title. I’m assuming that was deliberate.
JL: Yes, they were all specified in the script.
EC: But there were three songs that you wanted, that you weren’t able to get. Cat Stevens’ ‘Moonshadow,’ Bob Dylan’s ‘Blue Moon,’ and Elvis Presley’s version of ‘Blue Moon.’
JL: That’s exactly right.
EC: Where were you intending to use those in the film? If you don’t mind my asking…
JL: Gosh, you know what, I couldn’t tell you now. It was a long time ago, but I wanted to use ‘Moonshadow’ as the title song. That I know, whereas now it’s the Bobby Vinton version of ‘Blue Moon.’ If you listen to the lyrics about ‘Moonshadow’ it’s a song about dismemberment.
EC: That’s pretty brutal subject matter.
JL: Yeah it’s this lovely little song. I thought it was pretty good.
EC: Switching gears, your ‘Blues Brothers’ films, hold some serious records for the most number of cars wrecked in a movie.
JL: I don’t think that’s true actually. I read that too, but we only destroyed about 50 cars, all together. We just kept using the same cars over and over. We had a 24 hour body shop going in Chicago. By the end of the movie those cars were all bombed out. It’s interesting. There are other films like ‘The Bourne Identity’ or the last ‘Fast and Furious’ where they are smashing cars right and left. I don’t really know if that’s true. Even the old Keystone Cops, they destroyed a lot of cars. But yes, we crashed a lot of cars.
EC: I guess then the figures I read online, may have been a little exaggerated? They said 100 cars in the most recent of the two, and like 80 cars in the original.
JL: In the remake, there was one stunt where we destroyed 55 cars. And that was amazing. In the remake there is a huge crash where cars were destroyed. But in the first one, we kept using the same cars over and over and over again. I mean there were hundreds of collisions on screen, but we’d use the cars, then fix them, then use them on screen again.
EC: Thank you for your time.
JL: Thank you.
Three Amigos! Comes out on blu-ray today.
Photo Credits: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.; , Andrew Evans / PR Photos