In America, we tear down our heroes. It’s a creepy practice on which someone should definitely do some sweeping psychological study. Seriously, we’re messed up.
And never was that shunning absolute and inexplicable than the whimpering fall of (that Jewish actor) Steve Guttenberg. So, this was one of the biggest comedy stars of the 1980s, and yet once we crossed over into the 1990s, literally the year 1990, he stopped being famous. Like all at once. Look at his IMDB. I dare you. It’s nothing but TV and B movies since then. And yes, I am counting Veronica Mars in that steaming pile of crap. Deal with it.
What we did to Steve Gutenberg is unfair, but that’s really another article. Today, I want to write about the last great movie he made, Three Men and a Baby.
Stop laughing. Or for those of you 25 and under, stop saying “Huh?”
Three Men and a Baby is much more than that 1980s movie people think the camera caught a ghost but it’s actually just a cardboard cutout of Ted Danson. So, yeah, a ghost. Burn! Seriously, though, give this movie another look. It’s actually really, really great. And I’m gonna tell you why.
Released in 1987, it features three of the biggest comedic actors of the 1980s. Along with Guttenberg (who was arguably the most successful of the three) were Tom Selleck (of Magnum P.I. fame at that point) and Ted Danson (Sam from my favorite show at the time, Cheers). But those were both TV shows, and the Hollywood landscape wasn’t like it is today. TV was still second-rate compared to movies. In this way, Guttenberg was the biggest of the three. Think about his resume. The Police Academy movies, Short Circuit, Diner, Cocoon. Sure, he did some crappy movies in between those. The 1980s were a weird time. Everyone was doing hella amounts of cocaine so pretty much everything seemed like a good idea. In fact, hard drugs play a prominent role in this movie.
Short synopsis. Three bachelors move into a New York City penthouse together with the primary goal of throwing big parties and getting laid. No kidding. The opening scene is a big party that results in them getting laid. But, before that, is perhaps the greatest opening montage sequence of all time. Set to Miami Sound Machine’s “Bad Boy,” the movie opens with the guys moving into the apartment and subsequently running an assembly line of very 1980s ladies in and out the elevator that goes directly to their place. Also, Guttenberg, who plays a cartoonist, paints the place with a bunch of 1980s-tastic murals that I definitely want some day when writing for a comedy blog gets me into a similar penthouse apartment. Let me have my dreams!
So basically, director Leonard Nimoy (Spock directed this movie!) is clearly trying to show that these three guys are your typical sleazy 1980s dudes who are just drowning in ass.
Danson, an actor, goes to Turkey to shoot a movie. So, best roommate ever, right? He’s never there but pays a third of the rent. Wrong! Magnum, an architect, comes home from work one day to find a baby sitting on their doorstep (basically). A note attached to the baby informs him that it’s Sam Malone’s baby. Perfect. He’s in Turkey. Let’s just FaceTime him and— Oh no! It’s the 1980s and not only do none of them have cell phones but apparently it was still, like 1880, in Turkey because the scenes over there make it look like an archaic, technologically deficient hellscape. Never mind that they’d only recently had a major empire. Bottom line, though, they can’t get a hold of Danson long enough to tell him his bastard offspring is severely cutting into their sexy time.
Anyway, Magnum and the Gutts (that’s what I’m calling him now) are stuck with this baby. So, what do they do? Call a woman. Duh. In fact, they call a few women along the way. But, then something very predictable, but still pretty sweet, happens. They start to adjust and—surprise—mature.
But, that’d be a boring movie, so it’s sub-plot time! At the same time that the baby, Mary, comes into their lives, another package arrives for Danson that Selleck and the Gutts (sticking with it) are to hand off to a guy coming to pick it up.
There’s a minor comedic bit that turns very dramatic when Selleck and the Gutts (coming to Fox this fall!) think Mary is the package and hand her off to some very rough guys.
Rough guys, you say? Well, kind of. They’re meant to be mob-like types, but look more like the background cast of Barney Miller. Anyway, if you’ve seen a Martin Scorsese movie, you’ll know that the mob was still alive and well in the 1980s. In fact, it was doing so well that there were a bunch of low-level types trying to be like the mob. Enter this trio of winners that Selleck and the Gutts have to deal with.
The package—surprise—is heroin. And through a weird series of events, S&G (that’s what you’ll call it around the water cooler) end up with both the baby and the drugs.
Then, Danson returns. Ha! Now it’s your problem, dude. And S&G promptly go to a party, leaving the baby in the care of a man who has no idea how to take care of her. It’s a funny scene with an extremely creepy underbelly. He could very easily kill her. Babies are totes fragile. Anyway, S&G get really scared when they call to check in and there is inevitably no answer. They rush home, but no worries! Danson and the baby were just taking a shower together. Smash, but to a guy installing a phone in the shower. Comedy!
Then, we basically go through a sped-up version with Danson of what we’ve already been through with S&G, except this time they have to thwart low-level mobsters in what is legitimately an entertaining sequence. It’s so weird in an otherwise comedic movie, and yet it totally works.
And of course, happy endings all around.
Anyway, so why is this such a great movie? Well, it’s directed by Spock, features a main score by Marvin Hamlisch, and stars three legitimately talented comedic actors. In fact, I really wish Danson was still doing comedy. His character in Bored to Death was awesome.
Also, if you tell someone that a movie that doesn’t feature a female lead, shows how three guys can totally master this whole child-rearing thing, you’d probably think it was really sexist (like most of the 1980s). But, it’s great because the guys are actually bumbling idiots when it comes to raising a baby, and if it weren’t for some well placed help from female characters, they definitely would’ve killed poor Mary, who actually is the female lead. When you start looking at it that way, it opens the whole movie up for you. And it lends a little less eye roll to the jaded line, “I think my baby teaches me.” She totally does. In fact, she’s a really low-maintenance baby. She might be the most normal character in the whole movie. Adulting is hard, after all.
And, it’s not just raising a baby, or even a daughter specifically. This experience changes them. Suddenly, they stop being such smarmy poon hounds and start treating women with actual respect.
So, from the catchy soundtrack to the blaringly awesome 1980s aesthetic to the blatant pursuit of comedy in what might otherwise be a tragic situation (or a quick phone call to CPS) to the great production team and the talented and chemistry-laden main cast, this is a great movie. It’s under appreciated.
It’s also the last great movie Gutts made. There were two forgettable sequels, Cocoon: The Return in 1988, and Three Men and a Little Lady in 1990, but that’s about it.
But, he’s still got it (when given the chance). Catch the episode of Party Down he was on (2010), and his small role on Community this year.
So, if he’s not going to ascend the ranks of comedy stardom again, let’s at least appreciate a time when he was our greatest comedic actor. Here’s to you Gutts!
Kris Noteboom is a Level 2 student at DCH. He is working on his PhD, with a focus comedy. He went on a mini tour this summer performing his comedic one-man show, And Then I Woke Up.