As he always has, Henry started us out with another Looney Tunes cartoon, this one called Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century. It’s a 1952 ‘toon which features the debut of Daffy Duck’s “Duck Dodgers” character. You can see the whole thing on YouTube, even.
The plot, such as there is one, involves Duck Dodgers being sent to Planet X in search of the rare “shaving cream atom”. When DD gets there, he finds Marvin the Martian already planting his flag, and they fight until the planet is completely blown up except for a tiny little piece about three feet square. Oddly enough, there’s still a large source of gravity, as they are forced to cling to the planetary bit to avoid falling…down, as it were.
But it’s a good thing that movies don’t have to reflect reality, or our feature presentation would probably have been pretty doomed, too. That feature presentation was the 1986 comedy classic (or at least near-classic) ¡Three Amigos!, directed by John Landis (Animal House, Blues Brothers among others).
The year is 1916. Carmen, a resident of the tiny Mexican village of Santo Poco, has a problem. The infamous villain El Guapo and his gang are terrorizing her village, and the toughs at the bar in the nearby slightly larger town of No Nombre are more interested in Carmen’s nookie than in saving her village. In desperation, she goes into a church where she sees a silent film featuring The Three Amigos saving a village (and refusing their reward money). Seeing as this whole “movie” thing was a bit new, Carmen believed the Three Amigos to be real heroes, and sent off a missive to Hollywood asking them to come in assistance, promising a large reward. However, the bargain telegram that she sent was a bit ambiguous.
Meanwhile, in Hollywood, the Three Amigos (Ned Nederlander, Lucky Day, and Dusty Bottoms) get kicked off of their studio lot after asking for a raise. Unemployed, they have Carmen’s telegram dropped right in their laps and believing that the village wants them to put on a show, they break into the studio, steal their costumes, and head down to Santo Poco in hopes of earning a quick hundred thousand pesos.
Of course, no band of bandit-killers is any good without some street cred. Enter The German, an aviator who is running guns to El Guapo. He goes into the very same bar where Carmen was given a hard time, and it seems the banditos there don’t much like his hat. So he shoots a bunch of them dead. Then he warns the few left standing that they ought to be more civil to his friends – they’ll know them when they see them – because the friends aren’t so good-natured.
Naturally, when the Three Amigos show up in their funny suits, the bar believes they’re the dangerous friends of the German – I mean who else would dare step into a Mexican bar and lead the scum of the earth in a sing-along of “My Little Buttercup”? Anybody psychopathic enough to do that is not to be messed with. As for the Amigos, they simply think everybody knows who they are.
They arrive at Santo Poco, and there is soon a raid by a small group of El Guapo’s men. The Amigos, thinking it’s just a show, ride out in uniform, circle their horses, fire into the air, and hurl insults at the raiding party. Confused, the party retreats and the Amigos are treated as heroes – until El Guapo and the whole gang come back.
When the Three Amigos realize (via Lucky Day’s flesh wound) that the Guapo gang are using real bullets, they flee like the cowards they are, leaving Santo Poco to be nearly destroyed and Carmen kidnapped. When they return to the village to try to get their stuff, they finally develop a conscience and set out to rescue Carmen. The villagers, who are pretty much not happy with the Amigos right now, give them some ridiculous-sounding directions on how to find El Guapo’s hideout. They have to ride a day through the desert and find the singing bush. There they have to chant a magic chant and shoot their guns into the air, at which point the Invisible Swordsman will appear to give them directions to El Guapo’s.
You’d think this was a lie intended to get the Amigos lost and send them to their death by thirst, but you would be wrong. There’s really a singing bush.
And Dusty finds the Invisible Swordsman by accidentally not shooting up. Oops! Luckily, they see the plane belonging to the German gun runners, and follow that to El Guapo’s hideout. They don’t have a great plan, but they manage to sneak in while El Guapo is having a birthday celebration with a plethora of piñatas.
Well, the lack of a plan should hurt them – and they are captured – but the German actually recognizes Ned Nederlander, and accuses him of using trick photography to be the Fastest Draw in the West. The natural outcome is a shootout, in which Ned kills the German just when an escaped Lucky takes El Guapo at gunpoint, allowing the Amigos to get away with Carmen. They steal the plane and fly back to Santo Poco and prepare for the inevitable attack by Guapo’s gang.
The village has little in the way of arms or resources to protect itself, and all they are good at is sewing. But the Amigos steal a plot from one of their films and have the villagers sew up hundreds of Amigos costumes. When the bandits arrive, the Amigos (and their doubles, and triples, and quadruples…) seem to be shooting at them from everywhere, confusing them and leading to their ultimate defeat, allowing the Amigos to ride off into the sunset the victors – having refused their 100,000 peso reward.
Of course, the plot’s not really the thing in this film, it’s the comedy. This is a film where Ned Nederlander can tell an abuelita “Sew, very old one! Sew like the wind!” and it just works. It’s pretty much devoid of fart and sex jokes. And it’s really funny. More than 25 years later, it’s the kind of comedy that doesn’t get made anymore, and that’s too bad.