A Tale of Two Musketeers

updated 07/11/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/11/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Ever since the French Revolution, the nobility over there have struggled to protect their stately homes from the riffraff. The Château Dampierre, a magnificent old pile designed in 1670 by King Louis XIV's favorite architect, survived the onslaught until this summer, when the present owner, the Duke of Lynes, incautiously leased it to Cheech and Chong's movie production company. Three centuries of peace and harmony vanished overnight when shooting started last May. In one scene, 600 extras, togged out as peasants, rioted in the chateau's cobbled courtyard. The mob was howling for the blood of Cheech Marin, 37, who lay trussed up under the shimmering blade of a guillotine. The madcap comic's fate seemed sealed—until his partner, Tommy Chong, 45, intervened, wielding a loaf of French bread with deadly effect.

There is serious news in all this for the slapstick duo's fans. After five marijuana movies, Cheech and Chong are going foreign, and straight. Their new film, The Corsican Brothers, is set in the olden times of France rather than contemporary L.A., and the plot is based loosely—very loosely—on a classic adventure tale by Alexandre Dumas. And now the real shocker: The movie is absolutely free of drug humor. There are no joints the size of cruise missiles, no gags about roach clips or the munchies. Odd, because for the past 15 years, on record and stage as well as in the movies, the comedy team has made more than $200 million by acting the part of stoned-out-of-their-gourds hippies.

"God came to us in the form of a marijuana joint and said, 'No more dope films,' " joked Chong during a break between shots. "Funny is funny. Dope isn't our only means of support and we want to prove it to our public." In fact, Tommy explained, they have abandoned dope only temporarily—in the interests of historical accuracy: "We researched everything in The Corsican Brothers, and we couldn't find anything about dope. If people were sniffin' back then, it was because everyone smelled bad." With that kind of logic, Cheech and Chong expect their rewrite of history to be highly educational. For instance, "People don't know that in those days the Corsican Brothers spoke English," Chong explains. "See, they never had any schools. So how could they learn French, man? It's our job to get it right for the kids that are growing up."

While Cheech and Chong might not be playing amiable potheads this time, the rest of their proven success formula is still in use, namely, cheesecake, sophomoric jokes, a totally implausible plot and blatant nepotism in the casting department. As in earlier Cheech and Chong epics, their mates co-star. Rikki Marin, 32, is Princess Flicka and Shelby Friddis, 33, plays Princess Cookie, whom she describes as "a little slut that doesn't have a brain in her head." Chong's daughters from his first marriage—21-year-old Rae Dawn (Quest for Fire) and 20-year-old Robbi (a model)—have small parts, as does Carmen Marin, 3½.

The film's most purely comic moment occurred off camera. One afternoon Shelby arrived on the set and, from behind, spotted her husband in his leather knickers and long-haired wig. He had his arm around a stunning blond actress. Face grim, lips pursed, Shelby confronted the couple—only to discover that the guy was not Tommy Chong but his identically dressed double. It's unclear who was more relieved. Shelby laughed nervously, but the double shuddered at her fury. "I saw zee look in her eye. Ho boy."

During the filming the Marins are living in the fashionable Paris digs where Mick Jagger and Jerri Hall stayed earlier this year. Cheech yearns to go home to L.A.—"He's having taco withdrawal," says Chong of his Chicano partner. Canadian-born Chong and Shelby plan a longer stay in France. They have bought an apartment in the posh 16th arrondissement of Paris and will live there with four of his five children—Rae Dawn will pursue her career in the U.S. "I'll be here as long as the franc keeps going down," he says. "I want the kids to get a better education in European schools and learn French." Besides, "I like France. I can't read the bad reviews."

Ultimately, it may be the passion the French have for Jerry Lewis that keeps Chong in Paris and Cheech coming back. "He's the king of comedy here," says Chong. "And he's getting up there in age," cracks Cheech, "so we figure we'll be the princes."

À chacun son goût, man.

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