• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #278: Lucky Day


Wherever there is injustice, you will find him.

From 1986 to 1992, Steve Martin enjoyed his greatest sustained cinematic success (The Jerk, in 1979, a bit of an outlier). Little Shop of Horrors ('86), Roxanne and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles ('87), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels ('88), Parentood ('89), My Blue Heaven ('90), L.A. Story and Father of the Bride ('91), Housesitter ('92). None of them Cy Young seasons, but all 18-game winners with 190 strikeouts. The leadoff entry, and perhaps the most iconic in this string of not-quite-great films was 1986's Three Amigos alongside peak-era Chevy Chase and outclassed Martin Short. You all know the premise - three silent film actors in 1916 head to Mexico thinking they're on a PR junket and find themselves embroiled in real-life adventure. These pampered performers are in over their heads when confronted with El Guapo's bandits, but unsurprisingly the trio rises to the occasion and rallies the people of Santo Poco to victory.


I considered listing El Guapo himself in this slot, if only because of the awesomeness of the nickname and its later adoption by rotund Red Sox reliever Rich Garces. But Martin's performance as the charismatic, determined Lucky Day is among his best, and the comedic soul of the film. Among the one-liners and physical comedy, two scenes from The Three Amigos stand out to me, and both involve Lucky Day. The first is when he gets shot during the first confrontation with El Guapo's gang. His reaction is one of indignation, thinking these guys are skirting safety protocols. When he realizes this isn't a stunt but an actual confrontation, the result is perhaps thirty seconds of the best acting of Martin's career. His facial expressions melt from smug confidence to sudden doubt to swallowed terror. I love it.


The second scene comes later, when Lucky is chained in the dungeon and marshals his inner strength to break free. It's not easy, requiring him to drag heavy weights through a pulley system, and he fails several times before succeeding. The sequence of him shuffling along the floor, tiny mincing steps laced with supreme effort and fatigue, all to the repeated mantra of "gonna make it...gonna make it" leap frequently to my mind when I'm working on a manuscript. I'm also all too frequently reminded of the false victory, when he celebrates too soon and loses all of his hard-won progress.


The Three Amigos is a fun, silly movie full of fun, silly moments. But it's also at least a little bit about becoming more than we are through dint of effort and believing in ourselves (and each other).

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