Interview: John Landis, director of Three Amigos

John Landis pictureHBO Home Entertainment does the right thing by Three Amigos with the release of the film in a gorgeous new Blu-ray edition (available on Nov. 22 for $14.98), the movie’s high-definition premiere. More a cult favorite than a comedy classic, the 1986 western comedy-adventure is nonetheless a handsome-looking film—and one that’s long been in need of a respectable, remastered edition for the home market.

Directed by John Landis and starring Steve Martin (It’s Complicated), Chevy Chase (Caddyshack) and Martin Short (TV’s Damages), Three Amigos follows a trio of silent movie stars as they head to Mexico and find themselves living out their roles as celluloid heroes when they’re wrangled into rescuing a poor village from a gang of nefarious banditos. The large-scale results of their “gig” include lots of bullet-ridden action, horse-mounted adventure and good-natured comedy.

Disc Dish spoke to John Landis about his film’s new Blu-ray incarnation, which also features twenty minutes of previously unseen deleted scenes.

Disc Dish: We last spoke a couple of years ago when Animal House made the jump to HD and subsequently Blu-ray and you mentioned you wanted to see Three Amigos get a high definition makeover.

Three Amigos Blu-rayJohn Landis: I always wanted Three Amigos to look better than it did on VHS and DVD. The transfers all came from old theatrical prints and it never looked good. So I’m very happy this opportunity came around.

DD: You also told me that you were unhappy with the way Animal House looked on in the high-def format—it was a little too pretty for your taste.

JL: I still don’t think Animal House looks great on Blu-ray. It’s too bright—like a Doris Day movie. The Ten Commandments just came out on Blu-ray and it looks beautiful and that’s the way it’s supposed to look. But not Animal House. I tried to get the transfer technician to put some of the grain back and to darken the print, but that only worked so much. Every time he made one of the alterations I wanted, he would write down in his notes ‘image degraded by director.’

DD: I hope you’re happier with Three Amigos, which looks dazzling on Blu-ray.

JL: Oh, I’m thrilled with the way Three Amigos looks!

DD: [Cinematographer] Ron Browne’s work is really stunning. (Note: Browne passed away this year at the age of 83.)

JL: Ron was an excellent cinematographer. He’s someone I met while I was working on George Burns Comedy Week on TV back then. Ron primarily worked in television, but I know that he also had experience on westerns—he worked on  The Big Valley with Barbara Stanwyck in the Sixties.

DD: They say that all American filmmakers want to make a western at one point in their careers.

Three Amigos movie scene

Chevy, Steve and Martin look forward to saving Santa Poco in Three Amigos.

JL: My favorite movies are westerns. I just love them. And I loved making Three Amigos, which was my own kind of very stylized western. I was recently talking to Walter Hill (The Long Riders) and he said, ‘If [the studios] knew how much fun it was to make a western, they wouldn’t let us.’ I agree with him.

DD: My favorite character in Three Amigos is the bandito leader ‘El Guapo,’ played by Mexican actor and filmmaker Alfonso Arau. Did you two exchange any directing tips when you worked together?

JL: No, not then–he had only done a few low budget Mexican movies at that point. But I do have a wonderful story about Alfonso and his wife that I could tell you.

DD: Please do.

Three Amigos movie

Alfonso Arau is 'El Guapo' in Three Amigos.

JL: At the time, Alfonso was married to a woman named Laura Esquivel. She appeared to be a very nice person, but she never, ever talked. Really, she never said anything while we were shooting Three Amigos in Tucson. One night, my wife and I were having dinner with she and Alfonso and I asked her why she never talked. I thought that maybe she had a problem with the language, but it was clear that she spoke excellent English.

Well, then she launched into a story. She had married Alfonso ten years earlier—it was his second or third marriage—and shortly after their wedding, they went to an astrologer in Mexico City to do their charts. The reading predicted that on their twelfth wedding anniversary, she would write a book and it would become the most successful novel to ever come out of Mexico. And [the reading also said] that Alfonso would soon direct a movie that would also be hugely successful.

Then I asked her what the book was going to be about and she said, ‘I don’t know—I’m thinking about it. That’s why I don’t talk.’

So Laura Esquivel proceeds to sit down and writes a book filled with recipes and, two years later, on their twelfth wedding anniversary, she turns it  into Like Water for Chocolate, one of the best-selling books in the history of Mexico and an international bestseller. And a couple of years after that, Alfonso directs the film version, which became one of the most popular Spanish-language films ever released in the U.S. and a huge hit around the world.

DD: That is a seriously crazy story.

JL: Yes it is. And it’s absolutely true.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.