The Lost Roles of Three Amigos

This week marks the 25th anniversary of Three Amigos, one of the best-regarded comedies of the 1980’s and one that brought together a half-dozen of the greatest comedic minds going at the time. Three Amigos starred Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, and Martin Short, was written by Steve Martin, Lorne Michaels, and Randy Newman (who also composed the music and did the voice of the Singing Bush), and was directed by John Landis, who even hired a pre-SNL Phil Hartman and Jon Lovitz for supporting roles. Few comedies can boast a team that is so remarkable and that made such a significant mark on comedy, both separately and together. The film’s cultural impact still shows today, with more recent comedies like Galaxy Quest and Tropic Thunder, two funny movies in their own right, using similar premises.

It took over six years to get Three Amigos into production, with Steve Martin first mentioning the project, then named The Three Caballeros, in a 1980 Playboy interview. Over the course of Three Amigos’s long road to release in 1986, the film changed titles, had numerous actors drop in and out (along with a certain big-name director), and was trimmed down by the studio for the initial version’s excessive length, which resulted in a few well-known performers being cut out of the movie completely. Let’s take a look at the various actors, actresses, and filmmakers who were either involved with Three Amigos at some point or or came close to it.

The Three Caballeros with Steve Martin, John Belushi, and Dan Aykroyd (1980)

When Steve Martin first mentioned the project in an interview in 1980, it was called The Three Caballeros, and he was planning on starring with Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, who were looking to make another film together (which would have been their third). Belushi and Aykroyd ended up starring alongside each other in the poorly-received comedy Neighbors instead. It’s not clear whether Aykroyd and Belushi dropped out of Three Caballeros prior to Belushi’s death or if they were still attached at the time of his passing. In the era just prior to Belushi’s death, the two were talking up starring in Spies Like Us as a team when interviewed together, as well as Ghostbusters, which Aykroyd was busy writing as a vehicle for Belushi and himself. Tacking Steve Martin in his The Jerk-era prime onto the already-established Aykroyd-Belushi one-two punch was a smart idea, and it’s a shame it never came to be. These three did some great work together on SNL prior to achieving feature film stardom, but Three Amigos could have been a great movie vehicle for the trio - even if it turned out pretty good with Chevy Chase and Martin Short subbing in for Aykroyd and Belushi years later.

Steven Spielberg’s Three Amigos with Bill Murray, Steve Martin, and Robin Williams (1981)

Steven Spielberg, who once fancied himself a comedy director (see:1941 - actually, don’t see it), was circling Three Amigos in in the early 80’s, considering making it his next directing project after Raiders of the Lost Ark. Spielberg’s top casting choices for the Amigos were Bill Murray for Dusty Bottoms (Chevy Chase’s character), Robin Williams for Ned Nederlander (Martin Short’s character), and Steve Martin for Lucky Day (the same role he played in the actual movie). Despite having strongly considered directing the movie, Spielberg chose to make E.T. instead, a decision I doubt is amongst his biggest regrets.

Bill Murray and Steve Martin are two of my favorite comedic actors ever, and it’s a real shame they never got to do a buddy movie with one another. They were funny together on SNL, in Murray’s short appearance in Little Shop of Horrors, and on Steve Martin’s TV specials, but Three Amigos starring the two of them would have been their most substantial collaboration yet. Robin Williams is the odd man out here, not belonging to the SNL/Second City/National Lampoon clique that everyone who was involved in Three Amigos - and most of the people on this list who came close to being involved - belonged to. Robin Williams’s antic, high-energy comedy doesn’t exactly gel well with this group of actors, writers, and directors who dominated comedy from the mid-70’s on into the 80’s, with his most notable collaboration with this cluster of comedic minds being a lead role in Harold Ramis’s disastrous big-screen comedy Club Paradise, released the same year as Three Amigos and featuring a lot of familiar SCTV faces.

Rick Moranis

John Landis, who became the director of Three Amigos after Steven Spielberg passed, has said that Rick Moranis would have been his choice for the third Amigo had Martin Short been unavailable. Moranis and Short are both alumni of SCTV, even if their tenure only overlapped briefly. Moranis would have been at home here, as he and Steve Martin were always funny on screen together. They had an under-the-radar comedy partnership going that never reached the visibility or success of the decade’s big comedy duos (Aykroyd/Belushi, Murray/Ramis, Pryor/Wilder), but they appeared in some solid movies together nonetheless (Little Shop of Horrors, Parenthood, My Blue Heaven, L.A. Story). Starring in Three Amigos would have been great for Moranis’s career, but he was doing fine on his own at the time with the Ghostbusters films, Spaceballs, and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids becoming box office smashes.

Fran Drescher

The original cut of Three Amigos was much longer than the theatrical version. John Landis had to trim a lot of footage to get the film to an acceptable length. One notable person that was left on the cutting room floor was a pre-Nanny Fran Drescher. She played a shallow movie star who had a fierce rivalry with the Amigos. Most of her scenes were in the beginning of the movie when the Amigos are in Hollywood, a sequence that was originally much longer. The Hollywood portion of the film was trimmed down to get the Amigos to Mexico sooner. Some, but not all, of Drescher’s scenes were included in the recent extended cut released on Blu-Ray.

Sam Kinison

Sam Kinison, who filmed an extended cameo as a “cannibal mountain man,” was also cut out of the movie. By all accounts, Kinison’s performance in the film was very funny, but his part was one that was easily clipped out for time without impacting the rest of the story. John Landis has said that the footage of Kinison’s Three Amigos performance is lost. Although the recent 25th anniversary cut restores 20 minutes of deleted scenes, Sam Kinison’s scenes are not amongst them. A well-received supporting role in a hit like Three Amigos would have helped to bolster Sam Kinison’s movie career. He was already starting to sneak his way into Hollywood films with a small part in Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School that same year, but Back to School was his only movie and Kinison’s film career never took off before his untimely death.

Bradford Evans’s dream Three Amigos are Martin-Murray-Candy (Nightmare Three Amigos: Guttenberg-Goldberg-Other Belushi).

The Lost Roles of Three Amigos