Sam Kinison Filmed A ¡Three Amigos! Cameo That Was Ultimately Lost Forever

In the late '70s and early '80s, comedians from "Saturday Night Live" made the transition to the big screen, and the move paid off big time. John Landis' "Animal House" provided a star vehicle for John Belushi, and the bawdy comedy made over $140 million against its modest $3 million budget (via Box Office Mojo). For their next trick, Belushi was joined by Dan Aykroyd for a big-budget version of their "SNL" musical act, "The Blues Brothers," which was another smash.

Arguably peak "SNL" at the movies came in 1984. "Beverly Hills Cop," starring Eddie Murphy, was the top-performing film domestically with $234 million, while "Ghostbusters" with Aykroyd and Bill Murray was a global sensation and became a pop culture phenomenon.

"Three Amigos," starring  Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, and Martin Short, was originally conceived in 1980 as a vehicle for – you guessed it – John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. By the time it eventually went into production the line-up was "SNL" stars Chase, Short, and frequent guest and host Steve Martin.

Considering the comedic talent involved, "¡Three Amigos!" isn't as hilarious as it should be, but the thing I adore about the film is how good-natured it is; it's just a lovely movie to spend time in. That vibe might have changed if yet another "SNL" connection had made the final cut. 

So what happens in Three Amigos again?

It is 1916, and the small Mexican village of Santo Poco is at the mercy of the merciless El Guapo (Alfonso Arau) and his marauding bandits. In desperation, determined but naive Carmen (Patrice Martinez) heads to the nearest town in search of someone who can help them fight back. When none of the local gunslingers are forthcoming, she chances upon a church hall screening of the latest picture featuring silent movie stars The Three Amigos. Witnessing their feats of courage and generosity, she sends a telegram to Hollywood asking for their assistance.

Meanwhile, in Tinseltown, The Three Amigos – Lucky Day (Steve Martin), Dusty Bottoms (Chevy Chase), and Ned Nederlander (Martin Short) – are on their uppers after getting fired by studio mogul Harry Flugleman (Joe Mantegna). They have no time to despair as the message from Carmen arrives, albeit in a heavily truncated form. Misunderstanding it as a job offer, they break into the studio to steal their Amigos costumes and head south of the border for the gig.

Carmen and the village folk greet the actors as heroes, and it doesn't take long before they get their debut performance with a trio of El Guapo's grimy desperados. The first encounter goes without a hitch, causing much celebration. But when an enraged El Guapo rides in with his full gang, the Amigos suddenly realize that the confrontation is for real and not just a show. They chicken out, the village is burnt, and Carmen is abducted by El Guapo's men.

Witnessing the aftermath, the Amigos feel ashamed of themselves. With no prospects back home they decide that, although they may only be actors who have never fired a real gun in anger, they must head out to rescue Carmen.

Sam Kinison's performance was cut from the film

Another face from "SNL" who almost appeared in "¡Three Amigos!" was screaming madman Sam Kinison, who played a "cannibal mountain man" before his part was chopped from the final cut. Kinison's rage-filled routine might have brought a different energy to the movie altogether. Back in 1990, the Los Angeles Times labeled Kinison a "hate-monger" whose new material:

 "Consists of inflaming racist attitudes toward Iranians, gays, women, the physically disabled and just about anyone in the world who's not Sam Kinison."

Of course, controversial comedians often play film roles that tone down their stand-up personas significantly. Denis Leary adapted his act to make a run at a Hollywood career in the '90s, and Richard Pryor formed an effective screen partnership with Gene Wilder without generating the kind of controversy that greeted his shows in the '70s.

Despite my complete aversion to Kinison's comedy, his angry madman type might have contrasted well with the sweetness of The Three Amigos. John Landis remembers (via Empire):

"Sam Kinison did a cameo as a savage Mountain Man, wearing chicken bones, with a bloody axe in each hand. Steve and Marty were caught in his trap and kept shouting at Chevy to shoot him. Finally, Chevy covers his eyes and does. There followed a long scene where the dying cannibal shows snapshots of his children to the guilt-ridden Chevy. It was very funny and insane and I don't remember why it was cut."

I can see that working, but a loose-cannon personality as incendiary as Kinison's might have totally upset the balance of the film, even with just one scene.

Does Three Amigos still hold up?

"¡Three Amigos!" may have been a spoof, but it looks just as expensive as any other mainstream Hollywood western of the day, with terrific production value and big explosions. 

The film also paid homage to silent movies and Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai," a story that was probably best known to its target audience from the Hollywood remake, "The Magnificent Seven." It works the format really well, perhaps at the expense of laughs. For a film with three comedy stars around their peak, the screenplay doesn't give them the chance to play off each other's contrasting styles as much as you might hope. At times it's like they're all doing their bit individually while standing next to each other in the same frame.

There are still some really funny scenes, but "¡Three Amigos!" only fully hits its stride when our heroes ride out to El Guapo's compound. This is where the film takes a more surreal turn as they gasp for water, have a bedtime singalong with an audience of desert animals, and encounter a singing bush and an invisible swordsman. All this comes before an excellent extended set piece as they infiltrate El Guapo's joint to save the day. More of that kind of stuff would have been welcome because the first half of the film often prompts more smiles and gentle chuckles than belly laughs.

As for Sam Kinison's cameo, the footage was lost (via It Came From...), so we'll never know whether we missed out on comedy gold or simply dodged a bullet.