Februrary 11, 2013
Nick Nolte, Martin Short, and James Earl Jones
Three Fugitives is one of those movies that seems to have
completely disappeared from the face of the earth. I don't
think I have heard it mentioned by anyone in more than 20 years.
Hell, I probably haven't even seen it myself in more than 20
years, and there are very few movies (that I once liked) that I can
actually say that about. It is just one of those random
little comedies that was funny for a while, then people moved on to
other things, and then people just kinda forgot about it.
Oh, and then people realized that Martin Short was never meant to be a
movie star, so they just sort of blocked it out of their minds and
pretended like it didn't happen.
I don't have a whole lot to say about this movie because, like I said
before, I haven't seen it in more than twenty years. So I
can't sit here and reel off my top twenty moments from Three Fugitives
or anything. But there are a couple of notable things that I
have always remembered about it, and that is why I have chosen to write
about it on my 200 Underloved Movies Countdown.
Three Fugitives is the story of a man named Lucas (Nick Nolte).
He is a career criminal and a badass who has spent most of
his life in jail. The cops in the area all know him,
and the cops in the area all hate him. They hate him because
he is the type of scumbag criminal who they are always arresting and
letting out and then re-arresting. They know that there is no
good in his heart whatsoever, and that he will always be a criminal.
And that he will always be a scumbag.
Lucas (right) doing Lucas things
Well Lucas has just been released for prison for the umpteenth time,
and the cops (by law) are required to escort him back into society.
So they take him on a ferry boat back to the mainland, and he
asks them to drop him off a bank.
"Why," ask the cops, "So you can rob it?"
"Yep," grins Lucas. "See you back in jail in a couple of
The cops, played by James Earl Jones and Alan "Cameron from Ferris
Bueller's Day Off" Ruck
Lucas is just kidding of course. He has no plans to rob a
bank. He has decided during his latest prison stint that he
doesn't want to lead this kind of a life anymore. He doesn't
want to be in jail anymore, and he doesn't want to live his life on the
run. He has decided to turn over a new leaf and go
legit. And this trip to the bank is the first step to
beginning his new life as an honest law-abiding citizen.
And then... trouble
Unfortunately, Lucas picked the wrong day to walk into that bank.
Held hostage by Ned Nederlander
Lucas isn't in the bank for more than two minutes before a spazzy
little bank robber named Ned (Martin Short) comes bursting into the
building. He has a gun in his hand and he is holding a
grenade and he announces that this is a robbery. And Lucas
has to sit there in disbelief as Ned pulls off the single most inept
bank robbery in American history.
Ned ripping his nylon stocking mask when he attempts to set off the
The bank robbery scene is seriously one of my favorite scenes of any
comedy of the 80's. I remember just absolutely loving it the
first time I saw it. I remember going to school the next day
and talking about it with my friend Brian, and he loved it too.
And that is one of the reasons why I wanted to write about
this movie. The bank robbery scene is just way too good to
have been completely forgotten by the annals of time. That is
the scene that I think of when I think of Three Fugitives.
So anyway, the robbery fails because Ned is such a fuck up, and since
there are cops already sitting there right outside the building (the
ones who dropped off Lucas) now he is trapped inside the bank and
surrounded by cops. And at that point in the robbery he only
has one solution left available to him. All he can do at this
point is grab a hostage and see if the two of them can walk out that
Naturally, he picks Lucas as his hostage.
Even after Lucas wisely suggests to him "Uh, pick somebody else."
Lucas in total disbelief that this little douchebag is holding him
You can pretty much guess the rest of the movie. Ned and
Lucas spend the rest of the movie on the run from the cops, who of
course think that Lucas is the bad guy and that Ned is his hostage.
They can't believe that they drove Lucas to the bank
and then he robbed it right in front of them. Basically they
are just out to shoot the guy now. No questions asked.
At this point they aren't going to listen to anything he says
anymore. At this point now they just want to kill him.
Lucas is frustrated over this new development. And he spends
most of the movie taking out this frustration on Martin Short's head.
Three Fugitives was never the most ground breaking comedy in the world.
Once Lucas and Ned get on the road (and it turns into a chase
movie) it really isn't anything special. You have seen cute
little PG family comedies like this a million times before.
In fact, if you go to Rotten Tomatoes and you read what all
the retro reviews say about it, you will see that only about 15% of the
reviews even try to say anything nice about it at all. Three
Fugitives' reputation over the years seems to be that it is either A)
forgotten, or B) hated.
This is F-U-N.
However, there are four things I would like to point out about this
movie that explain why I would recommend it. And why I don't
think it deserves to be placed in the wastebasket of history like it
For starters, her
Three Fugitives has perhaps the most adorable child actor in any movie
I have ever seen. And yes, I know that is blasphemous to be
saying when Heather O'Rourke from Poltergeist is still out
there in the nominee pool. But whenever I think of Three
Fugitives I will always think of Ned's daughter, the adorable
little Sarah Rowland Doroff. Who, if you check out her bio on
the IMDB, pretty much retired from acting the year after this movie.
This movie is pretty much the only documented history out
there that she was ever an actress.
In the words of Mystery Science Theater, Sarah wasn't cute, she was
Okay, so there is one positive aspect about Three Fugitives.
This movie has maybe the most adorable little kid actor ever.
Whenever she pops up on screen, she will melt your heart.
Oh, and did I mention that she is mute?
The second thing that I would like to recommend about this movie is
that it is set in Seattle. Well, okay, not -in- Seattle.
It was actually filmed in Tacoma (about thirty miles south of
Seattle). And since Seattle is where I grew up, well, I
consider this to be kind of a big deal.
And I know what you are thinking. You are thinking "So what?
Hundreds of movies are set in Seattle? Why is that
such a big deal?"
Well this movie was made before the big Seattle hipster/grunge craze of
the early 90's. Back in 1989 almost NO movies were ever set
in Seattle. Or filmed there. Ever. So
Three Fugitives was kind of a big deal because it was one of the few
movies that were made there before Seattle became, for lack of a better
There is no way you can watch this movie and not think of the
Northwest. They even have the characters traveling on ferry
boats. I watch it and it reminds me of home.
Okay and now for the final two things I would like to recommend about
this movie. And they are basically the exact same thing, so I
will just combine them into one.
The third thing I have always loved about this movie is (like I said
before) the bank robbery scene. Hands down, that is one of
the funniest twenty minutes of any comedy from the 80's. If
this movie should be remembered for one scene, and for one scene alone,
it is because of that bank robbery. No way should ANY movie
with a scene that good have ever been forgotten this badly.
Martin Short is the key to the bank robbery scene, of course, and that
leads me into thing #4 that makes this movie so memorable.
Or, more specifically, the physical abuse that Martin Short takes
throughout the course of this movie.
Simply put, I have never seen an actor take more physical abuse during
the course of a comedy than Martin Short takes during Three Fugitives.
The entire movie is just 90 minutes of Nick Nolte punching
Ned in the face, or slamming his head into a wall, or Nick Nolte just
randomly tossing him face first into something or generally beating the
shit out of him. In fact during some of the scenes in this
movie you actually find yourself wincing. You sit there, and
you watch Ned take more and more abuse, and at certain points you
actually find yourself thinking, "Holy shit, I think Nick Nolte really
just punched him there."
They don't really give out awards for slapstick, and I am sure that
slapstick comedy isn't really everyone's cup of tea. But if
they ever did hand out awards for the most brutal slapstick comedy ever
made, I am guessing that Three Fugitives (and more importantly Martin
Short's face) would be right up there. He really takes a
pounding in this movie.
And so there you have it. Three Fugitives. A movie
that I used to get confused with Quick Change all the time because they
have similar plots and because they came out right around the same
time. A movie that has only a 15% "fresh" rating on Rotten
Tomatoes, but if you go to amazon.com and you read the user reviews,
almost every single one of them is positive. The very
definition of an innocent little comedy that was once semi popular, but
ever since then has been completely forgotten by everyone.
A lot of people hate Martin Short. A lot of people can't
stand him, and they will specifically never watch a movie or a TV show
just because he is one of the actors in it.
I can understand that. In fact, in a way, I sort of agree
with it. I have never really been a big Martin Short
However, that shouldn't dissuade you from watching this movie.
If you love Martin Short, well Three Fugitives is perfect for you.
Because Martin Short does a ton of Martin Short things in it.
It is just 90 minutes of him mugging, and spazzing, and
flopping around, and screaming. In fact, there may have never
been a more Martin Short project ever made than Three Fugitives.
I can't really think of anyone else who could have played Ned
the world's most inept bank robber any more effectively than he did.
Oh, and if you are one of those people who DON'T like Martin Short?
Well if that is the case, then you should like this movie too.
Because if you don't like the guy, you can watch 90 minutes of Nick
Nolte pretty much beating the shit out of him.
And that should be incredibly satisfying.
Oh and don't forget her. Whatever happened to her?
favorite IMDB user reviews about Three Fugitives:
Wonderful funny film - 8
If I ever need cheering up, I watch this movie. One of my favourite
unlikely pairing of Nick Nolte and Martin Short works wonderfully, with
Nolte as the hardened ex-con Lucas, unwittingly gets involved in the
bumbling bank robbery carried out by Short (Ned Perry). James Earl
Jones plays the cop who has been itching to nail Lucas once again and
assumes that, once Lucas is taken hostage by Perry, that they are in it
The first 15-20 minutes contain some pure slapstick which has me crying
with laughter every time I see it.
It is particularly heartening to see the tough guy Nolte being
enchanted by Martin Short's mute 6 year old daughter.
Lovely, simple and heartwarming.
Enjoyable - 4 August 2010
won't say this is a perfect movie, but I liked it. It was funny,
enjoyable and well-performed. One or two moments may drag and the
sentimentality is not quite kept at bay, but overall I really liked
Three Fugitives is beautiful to look at
certainly, the sumptuous cinematography and beautiful scenery really
gives the film a lovely look to it. The music is good too, as is the
direction. The script is very funny and quotable and the story is
believable with good action, while the pacing on the whole is secure
enough. The acting also helps elevate, Nick Nolte and Martin Short's
chemistry might not be an immediate classic, but it is believable and
men do really well in their roles especially Short who has plenty of
slapstick laughs. And it was a delight to see James Earl Jones again, a
great actor with a wonderful, dignified presence and rarely disappoints
in his films and this is no exception.
In conclusion, an enjoyable film and worth watching at least once.
Unfairly forgotten 80s
charmer. - 14 November 2010
is the kind of 1980s film that Hollywood never seems to make anymore.
Unassuming, low key and charming without a big budget or a labyrinthine
plot, it simply tells a simple story and then finishes.
low budget films must have a hook, which generally means they are
extremely art-housey or plain horror flicks, there aren't many little
family-friendly flicks. Marketing and a lack of cross-promotion
opportunities wouldn't allow it.
This is a bit of a shame, as
Three Fugitives is the kind of film that you can all sit in front of
the TV and kill 100 minutes without anyone in the room whining
unnecessarily. Nick Nolte plays Lucas, who is being released from
prison after a 5 year sentence earned by holding up 14 banks. (It was
amazing seeing how fit Nolte looks here, he's still gruff and weathered
but he is actually in really good shape, something he couldn't say for
anything since the early 90s.) Now Lucas claims he is going straight,
something that his arresting officer (played by James Earl Jones)
gravely doubts. When Darth Vader stops Lucas as he leaves prison to
tell him "I've got my eye on you", Lucas asks for a lift to the local
bank so that he can rob it, and this is where the fun starts… After
entering the bank to open a new account, Lucas unwittingly becomes
embroiled in a hold up perpetrated by the bumbling Ned, played by
Martin Short, (who these days turns me to tears but who is fitting
here, as his character is required by the plot to be pathetic and
annoying, something he is in spades).
Ned ultimately screws up
big and takes Lucas hostage for some reason, even though at 6 foot plus
and a good 50kg heavier than Ned he could snap him like a twig. The
cops, thinking Lucas really held up the bank, tell him to give up and
he yells back that he has nothing to do with it, a gun accidentally
goes off, Lucas is shot in the leg and off they go on the lam. (That's
cops & robbers shop talk for run away.) Initially Lucas tries
the first opportunity to turn Ned in at the local cop shop to absolve
himself from guilt and clear his name, he quickly realizes that Ned has
no intention of giving himself up, but a lack of blood caused by the
bullet in his leg removes a bit of his get up and go, so Ned takes him
to a Vet for treatment.
Enter the reason for Ned's robbery and desire to remain free: 6ish year
is Ned's daughter, who hasn't spoken for years since the sudden death
of her mother. Ned is unemployed and attempted the hold up to keep
afloat so that Meg wouldn't need to go to a home or a special needs
facility, and his desire to care for her is evident.
initially wants nothing to do with Meg and gives Ned the address of a
guy who can forge him some papers so that he can at least safely skip
Without going into detail or the Spoiler-iffic zone, the
three fugitives of the title band together through the various
impediments and pitfalls that beset them in order to cross the border
to Canada, with the cops on their tail the whole time.
very light and fanciful stuff, and a great deal of the amusement comes
from watching Lucas brutalise Ned in an off-handed way, as if he does
it all the time (and he probably does).
The second half of the
film is Run. Escape. Run. Escape, with more and more unlikely near
misses each time, all wrapped in a neat bow with a hokey 80s movie
This doesn't mean the film is not entertaining though,
it is a fluff piece that never seems dated despite being in its 20s,
and while never scaling great heights it remains amusing throughout.
A Really Funny Movie! -
24 May 2003
film is not destined to become a cinema classic, but it does provide a
lot of laughter and fun throughout. In fact, it is one of the funniest
movies I have ever seen. While the plot is somewhat predictable, the
laughs keep coming (and the mushy, feel-good stuff is kept to an
absolute minimum, but provides an anchor to the plotline). Nolte and
Short play off of each other admirably; so well, in fact, that it is
amazing the two never made a sequel, or at least co-starred in another
film. As noted, if you like to laugh, and like your humor clean (a real
rarity these days), this is the movie for you!
This movie will make you
laugh 'till you cry at times - 18 December 1998
movie starts out funny and keeps on being funny until the very end.
Naturally it has to have the mandatory American 'happy ending' but
despite that the characters are lovable and compelling. The scene with
the 'doctor' is priceless and is in keeping with the whole insane
reason from the start. I would be tempted to call this movie a humorous
version of 'Dog Day Afternoon' Don't miss it!
Funny buddy movie - 19
Nolte is a sort of Angel protecting a weak father and child. The
relationship with the little girl (Sarah Rowland Doroff) Meg and Nick
Nolte is very sweet and endearing. The scene in the warehouse where
Nick Nolte passes out and Meg rests on his shoulder is particularly
Martin Short and Nick Nolte make a surprisingly hilarious pairing.
are so many funny scenes and quotes from this movie. Martin Short's
slapstick, falling over and being a loser will have you laughing
throughout the movie. Watch, enjoy and laugh with one of the funniest
movies of the eighties.
favorite trivia about Three Fugitives:
* The character Meg is mute for most of the movie. James Earl Jones,
who plays Dugan, was functionally mute for eight years until he reached
favorite scene in Three Fugitives:
Easily the bank robbery scene. I haven't seen it in twenty
years and it still makes me laugh just thinking about it.
at the IMDB
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Movies That Deserve More Love