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¡Three Amigos!
  • Composed by Elmer Bernstein
  • Songs by Randy Newman
  • Perseverance Records / 2013 / 39m

With such a strong pedigree both in front of and behind the camera (a cast led by Steve Martin, hilarious in virtually anything he did at the time, a screenplay by Martin, Lorne Michaels and – yes – Randy Newman, and directed by John Landis), ¡Three Amigos! should have been a wonderful comedy.  Sadly, it wasn’t really – the Magnificent Seven parody does include some side-splitting moments, but generally doesn’t rise above being mildly amusing.  Still, it’s a fun – and deliciously silly – way of passing some time, and has its own devoted following.

Musically, it had real pedigree too – songs by Newman (he would only write them if they let him help out on the screenplay), score by none other than Elmer Bernstein.  Newman’s songs are wonderful – very silly themselves, but performed with such faux gusto by the main cast (Martin and his fellow amigos Chevy Chase and Martin Short, with a cameo from Fred Asparagus at one point – and it’s very rare to hear a poor vocal performance by Fred Asparagus) they’re difficult not to love.  The amigos’ anthem is “The Ballad of the Three Amigos”, very funny in its way; “My Little Buttercup” is actually the comedy highpoint of the film, as they act as if they’re going to pelt out a powerful number before actually delivering a twee little love song; and then there’s “Blue Shadows on the Trail”, which despite its tongue-in-cheek nature is actually quite lovely.  Newman himself makes a heavily-altered vocal cameo as “The Singing Bush” (which provokes another of the comedy highlights, as the amigos approach a bush which is inexplicably singing in the middle of the desert and innocently ask “excuse me, are you the singing bush?”)

Elmer Bernstein

Elmer Bernstein

Bernstein’s score is dominated by a fantastic theme which – and I know this isn’t the kind of thing one should say if reputations are anything to worry about – is actually one of his more memorable.  He’d long ago stopped scoring westerns at this stage, and I’m sure he couldn’t really have been terribly happy at working on this kind of film, but it still allowed him one more shot at rolling out his classic bag of tricks, and the expansive theme is simply wonderful.  Throw in the over-the-top suspense, the ridiculously melodramatic romance, the witty Mexicana (some by Bernstein, some not) and above all the heroic action music and you get a rambunctious, exciting comedy score.  It’s not just the main theme that’s memorable, and what’s great is that while it’s essentially a parody score (and a parody of himself, at that) Bernstein takes it seriously enough to write music that really helps the film out.

I must admit that – much though I love most of his music in other genres – I generally find Bernstein’s comedy scores to be a little overrated, but at his best he wrote some fine music even in these films – and this is up there with Airplane! as his finest work in the genre. (Perhaps he was only truly inspired by comedy films which featured exclamation marks?)  The album is very tightly-produced, but be warned that one or two tracks do feature brief dialogue excerpts, sadly bleeding over the top of the music a couple of times.  This album from Perseverance Records is a reissue of the original LP contents (the second time it’s appeared on CD), with good sound and new notes by Randall Larson.

Rating: *** 1/2 | |

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