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While film history is full of great, well-developed characters that stand on their own, there’s something to be said for a great trio. Larry, Curly and Moe, for example, may have each been funny and interesting on their own, but together, these characters formed a comedic connection, which would be celebrated for decades to come. Sometimes the joining of three great characters creates an on-screen dynamic that’s truly worth much more than the sum of its parts.
With The Three Musketeers set to open in theaters this weekend, we decided to look at some of our favorite big-screen trios.
You can easily look at or dismiss Steven Spielberg's 1975 classic Jaws as just another monster movie or summer blockbuster but at its heart, the film is a truly great Western and, as in a lot of the genre greats, when a threat comes riding/swimming into town, you got to posse up. And that's exactly what happens when the small sea town of Amity is threatened by a large squalus or 'carcharodon carcharias' - you know, a Great White Shark. You couldn't find a more disparate group than Chief Brody (middle class family man, terrified of open water), Hooper (upper class intellectual, looking for some real-world respect) and Quint (blue collar captain, war veteran turned sharker). After initial odd-couple (or crowd) tension, on the journey out to sea, the male bonding begins.
In one brilliant sequence, we get the three singing a rousing version of 'The Way Home,' an intimate scar-off between the grizzled vet and the young academic (take that Lethal Weapon 3) and the chilling tale of the USS Indianapolis. Oh, and then comes final showdown between our valliant cowboys and the terrorizing outsider culminates in an epic battle where not everyone swims away. It doesn't hurt that the three actors are all Oscar nominees working and improvising for a young visionary director who would soon cement himself amongst the all-time greats. "You go in the cage, cage goes in the water, shark's in the water. Our shark. Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish lady..."
Allow me to give you a quick psychology lesson. According to Sigmund Freud, the structural model of the human psyche is made up of three distinct parts: the id, the ego and the super-ego. The id controls the most basic impulses and is hedonistic in nature: constantly seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. The ego is the middle ground that serves to control the id and rationalize. The super-ego is the conscience, the thing that keeps us obeying societal rules and trying to keep things in order. Now you may ask why this is significant in a feature about great groups of three in movies. The answer is that the three parts often find themselves represented by individual characters, a perfect example of which is John Hughes’ 1986 classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Anyone who has seen the film can immediately identify Ferris as the id, his girlfriend, Sloane, as the ego, and his best friend, Cameron, as the super-ego, but that’s only the most basic look at it. It’s not so much how they act as individuals as much as it is about how they interact as a trio. Not to take away from the movie’s jovial tone or invisible structure, each character serves a vital purpose that moves the story and gives depth to the characters. Take away Ferris, Sloane, or Cameron and you have a truly incomplete film. On a side note, this analysis gets even creepier when you think about in the context of the theory that all of the other characters are in Cameron’s mind.
There are countless reasons to love The Princess Bride, but some of my favorite moments involve three characters: the (initially) villainous trio of Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), Fezzik (Andre the Giant), and Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin). Sure, two thirds of the group switches teams and one third ends up dead halfway through the movie, but during their scenes together they present an irresistible charm and chemistry that could have carried its own movie. You’ve got Vizzini the mastermind: insufferably arrogant, constantly belittling his associates, and in the end not nearly as smart as he thinks he is. You’ve got Fezzik, a kind-hearted mountain of a man who seems to have embraced Vizzini’s villainous ways mainly because he wanted some company, however questionable. And you have Inigo Montoya, an emotionally scarred swordsman hell-bent on revenge he’ll only find after he’s crossed swords with his better. Fezzik and Inigo banter, swap inside jokes, and take turns working Vizzini’s last nerve… just like friends do.
In fact, Inigo and Fezzik seem less like lackeys or fellow crooks than they do chums along for the ride, just humoring Vizzini’s goofy machinations and smiling to themselves every time something goes wrong and the air rings with yet another exclamation of that word that does not mean what he thinks it means. They might not make a terribly effective criminal cartel, but a Princess Bride without Vizzini, Fezzik, and Inigo? Inconceivable!
Harry gets the title, and being the chosen one, he shoulders a big portion of the burden to defeat Lord Voldemort, however surviving six years at Hogwarts, and one year on the hunt for Horcruxes may not have been possible without the friendship and support of his best friends, Ron and Hermione. The trio came together in the first book and movie, bonding at school the way most children do... trying to escape the mighty grasp of a hideous mountain troll. After that, their friendship was history in the making as Harry was constantly the target of plots by Lord Voldemort and his supporters, and Ron and Hermione were often right there at Harry's side.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione weren’t any more perfect together than they were apart. The group had its issues over the years, as Ron and Hermione spent a lot of time in the later years denying their obvious attraction toward one another, Ron struggled with living in Harry’s shadow, and Harry dealt with the isolation that came with playing a key role in a fairly major prophesy. In the end though, what mattered was their friendship, and the traits each of them brought to the table. While Harry was the one destined to vanquish the Dark Lord, Hermione’s brain was full of useful information, plus she planned ahead, which came in handy, and Ron was loyal and provided some much needed comic relief. On his own, Harry might have been a much easier target for Lord Voldemort, but aided with his closest friend, they proved to be unstoppable.
An obvious choice. But that doesn’t make it a bad choice. In 1986, John Landis had just figured out how to play Chevy Chase’s dry sense of humor against Dan Aykroyd’s observational wit in the uproarious road comedy Spies Like Us. Yet while Landis frequently collaborated with comedic pairs – see Spies, Trading Places or The Blues Brothers for examples – he decided to add one more voice to the mix for Three Amigos, a mistaken-identity comedy that finds Chase, Steve Martin and Martin Short playing down-on-their-luck silent film stars who believe they’ve been summoned to Mexico to perform. Instead, they get caught up in a revolution.
Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels shares a screenwriter’s credit on Amigos, and the film largely comes off like a decently funded SNL skit stretched to 104 minutes. Boasting such badass cowboys names as Lucky Day (Martin), Dusty Bottoms (Chase) and Ned Nederlander (Short), the Amigos muster the courage to stand up to resident menace, El Guapo. But they don’t do it alone, proving that there’s strength to be found in numbers … so long as those numbers are divisible by the number three.
Everyone hunting down Tom Chaney in the Coen Brothers' take on True Grit is doing it for their own, partly selfish reasons. Mattie Ross needs the money Chaney stole from her father, LeBouef wants the glory of bringing Chaney to justice in Texas, and Rooster Cogburn is just in it for the money Mattie is offering, plain and simple. They don't particularly like each other and are constantly losing track of each other, whether the men trying to leave Mattie behind or LeBouef vowing to find Chaney on his own.
It's hard to even say the trio respects each other, tossing around insults like "That's bold talk for a one-eyed fat man," or Mattie calling LeBouef a rodeo clown right after he tells her she's unattractive. But when it really matters, the three of them come together as a unit in a way that proves they've cared about each other, in some way, all along. LeBouef is there with the key knockout punch right before Chaney is ready to kill Mattie, and the two of them together help Rooster as he charges across the plain to kill Ned Pepper once and for all. Mattie, Rooster and LaBoeuf aren't the most caring trio to each other, and they only had one adventure together, but their unlikely friendship and ability to care for each other when it really mattered sets them apart from more traditional bands of brothers. They all have true grit, but each required the other to prove it.
The Hanson Brothers don’t take shit from anyone. In fact, the first time we meet them, they’re violently kicking and shaking a Coke dispenser. The fucking machine took their quarter, and they’ll have none of that thievery. With long black hair, goofy glasses and suitcases full of toys, the trio might look more like awkward teenagers than hockey players, but I pity the dumb bastard who would say that to their faces. Wrapping their knuckles in foil and responding way too energetically to Paul Newman’s understated and boring pregame speech, their new teammates at first regard the siblings as humorous distractions, but once they hit the ice, the rest of the Charlestown Chiefs are blown away by the three modern day Vikings, marauding and maiming opponents for sport.
In time, the whole team models their play after the Hansons’ to great success, but as contrived as that strategy is, there’s nothing forced or inauthentic about the brothers. They hit and they fight because that’s what they like to do. They scream and echo their coaches’ words during pregame speeches because that’s what fires them up. And yes, they play with their toy trucks in their hotel rooms instead of drinking with the other guys because that’s what they consider fun. There’s something very honest and authentic about their actions, which is why when Steve, bleeding and disheveled, screams at the referee for talking during the National Anthem, you know he’s not just being a dick. I like listening to that fucking song too.
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