For week three of blockbusters and their less than successful sequel’s, ‘To Touchstone and Beyond’ looks at the 1987 comedy Three Men and a Baby. When the film rights were being shopped around Hollywood the big question was who would star in the remake to the French hit? Did anyone know this would be a blockbuster at the big screen? Was a November release the best choice to premier the movie?
Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner mentions in his book Work in Progress that the studio had confidence in the film, and thought it had the strong potential to be a blockbuster when released at the cinema. Eisner was right, and Three Men and a Baby would dominate the box office. Let’s take a moment to look back at a film that redefined what a family could be.
Here is Three Men and a Baby.
The film opens with a long sequence of our three stars, Peter, played by Tom Selleck, Michael, played by Steve Guttenberg, and Jack, played by Ted Danson. They live in a swanky bachelor apartment, have lavish parties, and lead outgoing single lives. Michael has decorated the lobby of the apartment with caricatures of the three men, and they seem genuinely happy.
After hosting a lavish party, the plot of the film is set in motion. Peter is in a relationship that isn’t exclusive; Jack is an actor who regularly has multiple girlfriends, and Michael is the creator of a popular cartoon character. At the party Jack tells his roommates that he is doing a favor for a friend and that a package is going to be delivered while he is gone. Someone will be coming by in a couple of days to pick it up.
Jack leaves for a film shoot, and Peter finds a baby named Mary at the apartment door with a note saying its Jack’s child. Believing this is the package, Peter and Michael are furious. They have never looked after a baby before, and quickly fall into the roles of parent, losing sleep, obsessing over how many diapers they need to change, and plotting their revenge on Jack. As Peter and Michael spend these first two days losing sleep over Mary, they fail to notice the delivery of smaller package that contains drugs. This is the true package Jack had been talking about.
Two days later two goons show up led by a guy named Vince, played by Paul Guilfoyle, asking for the package and leave with Mary. Peter and Michael realize the package is not Mary and intervene, reclaiming Mary from an angry Vince as a mounted police officer steps in to break up the argument. The goons speed away, and a detective who has been under surveillance of the two criminal’s visits Peter and Michael. Both men learn they are caught in the middle of a drug deal.
Jack returns home shocked to learn he has a daughter, and Peter and Michael quickly dump all responsibility on the delinquent father. Peter and Michael try but they can’t stop worrying about Mary. The two men even return home early from a date at the theatre only to see that Jack is doing well at looking after Mary.
The problem the three men have is that the drug dealers want their drugs. They conspire to catch the bad guys, clear their name freeing themselves of the crooks. Successful, the men are confronted with a new challenge. Sylvia, Mary’s mother, played by Nancy Travis has returned. She has come back for her daughter, and the three men couldn’t be more unsure about their future. While they see this chance at freedom as what they want, their life is left hollow, and they chase after Sylvia hoping to catch her before she leaves for England with Mary.
They miss their chance to stop the plane, but Sylvia has a change of heart too, and the three men and mother are left trying to figure out the future for the four adults and baby.
Tom Selleck is the glue that holds this film together. His Peter is fearless and is a man of action. The shock of having to look after Mary might disrupt his personal life, but he recognizes that Mary is a baby and needs to be cared for. Immediately he sets out to buy all the necessary supplies and returns to direct Michael on what to do. Selleck is compassionate and entertaining as the neurotic Peter who has found his true love in the form of his best friend’s baby daughter.
Ted Danson is a fantastic comedic actor who has all the romantic skills of his Cheers character Sam Malone, but he displays a vulnerability as Jack. Playing a failing actor who is forced to travel around the world to film tv movies that no one will see, Danson’s Jack is a man you feel pity for. Here is a guy who runs and hides from reality by hiding behind the mask of being an actor. When he is confronted with Mary, Jack proves that he is a stand-up guy and can care for his daughter.
The film does a terrific job in not turning Sylvia into a villain. Yes, she did abandon her child on the father’s doorstep. The acceptance of Sylvia and her importance to Mary by the three men is what makes these guys so likeable and quickly redeems Sylvia. Nancy Travis doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but she makes the most of her interaction with the three men, and helps the audience embrace Sylvia.
The drug deal side plot is not needed. This is a film about bachelors looking after the baby. There was enough heart and humor with this storyline that we didn’t need the three men setting up the drug dealers for a sting operation in a building built by Tom Selleck’s character. I feel like this could have been written in a better way.
Margaret Colin, who plays Tom Selleck’s girlfriend Rebecca, is a forgettable character. Colin is a fantastic actor and I feel like she could have been developed more. This open relationship that Rebecca and Peter have diminishes both characters and takes away from the great qualities of Peter and doesn’t develop Rebecca in any meaningful way.
- Three Men and a Baby was the highest grossing film in North America in 1987.
- The Pampers company reportedly paid $50 thousand dollars for their diapers to be used in the film.
- Paul Hogan reportedly turned down the role of Peter.
- The film is based on the French film Trois Hommes et un Couffin.
- The film was shot in New York and Toronto.
- Tom Selleck, Ted Danson, and Steve Guttenberg tried to recapture the feel of bachelorhood prior to the commencing of filming, by going out to nightclubs while on location in Toronto.
- Director Leonard Nimoy reportedly looked at over 200 sets of twins before choosing Michelle and Lisa Blair for the role of Mary.
- Ted Danson would later costar in C.S.I. with Vince, played by Paul Guilfoyle.
- Tom Selleck, while appearing on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, admitted that the baby in the poster for the film really did pee on him.
See It/Skip It?
See It! The film might be a typical 1980’s film, but it has such heart and soul that makes you empathize with the three men and love how they adapt to caring for Mary. Selleck, Guttenberg, and Danson all play unique characters that bring something special to Mary, and their love for the baby is clear on screen.
Three Men and a Baby is available on Disney+. Next week we look at its sequel Three Men and a Little Lady and whether the film measures up to the original.
Director: Leonard Nimoy
Production Company: Touchstone Pictures
- Tom Selleck as Peter
- Ted Danson as Jack
- Steve Guttenberg as Michael
- Nancy Travis as Sylvia
- Margaret Colin as Rebecca
- Paul Guilfoyle as Vince
Release Date: November 25, 1987
Budget: $11 million
Box Office Gross Domestic = $167,780,960