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Hell's Heroes (1929)

 -  Drama | Western  -  5 January 1930 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.2/10 from 312 users  
Reviews: 16 user | 4 critic

When four men rob a bank, one is killed and the other three escape into the desert where they lose their horses in a storm. Finding a woman who gives birth, they are made godfathers only to... See full summary »



(from the story by: "The Three Godfathers"), (adaptation), 1 more credit »
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Complete credited cast:
Raymond Hatton ...
'Barbwire' Tom Gibbons
Fred Kohler ...
Wild Bill William Kearney
Fritzi Ridgeway ...
Joe De La Cruz ...
José (as Jo de la Cruz)
Walter James ...
Maria Alba ...
Buck Connors ...
Parson Jones (as 'Buck' Conners)


When four men rob a bank, one is killed and the other three escape into the desert where they lose their horses in a storm. Finding a woman who gives birth, they are made godfathers only to learn that the baby's father was the man they killed in the holdup. When the woman dies they head back, but they have little water and it is 40 miles. Written by Maurice VanAuken <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | Western






Release Date:

5 January 1930 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Drei heilige Verdammte  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Equipment)

Aspect Ratio:

1.20 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Version of 3 Godfathers (1948) See more »


Oh! Susanna
(1848) (uncredited)
Written by Stephen Foster
Played on a harmonica by Raymond Hatton
See more »

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User Reviews

This will etch Charles Bickford into your brain!
15 November 2002 | by (Easley, SC) – See all my reviews

There is a production still photo (reprinted recently in Scott Eyeman's 'The Speed Of Sound') that has haunted me ever since I first came across it in 1968. It was in a humanities class text. We had studied von Stroheim's "Greed" and upturned the story of how. while shooting on location in the Mojave Desert, the cameras had to be iced against the heat while the crew's cook died from the solar furnace. And here, four years later in the Panamint Hills, is a black and white of a sound film crew out in the desert. A long black cable in the sand leading up to an airtight meat locker housing the camera and its operator. The sun blazing down, I wondered, what kind of a film could get done under these conditions? Further research heightened my frustration as William Wyler was listed as the director (must be a good film), but it was for Universal, already notorious for keeping their early talkies tightly vaulted.

Flash forward 34 years (and a big Thank You Ted Turner and TCM). It is 2:30 AM and I can't sleep. In the next room, a VCR awaits its task of making sure I don't miss this. But I'm pacing the floor for an hour and a half, heart pounding with anticipation. "I can't be very good", I tell myself, "Bickford isn't Gable". Fade up, dozens of bat-wing parchments of nitrate flap before some lamp and credits roll, I'M FINALLY SEEING IT! The camera's lens prowls back and forth across barren landscape, as though it was looking for something. Three riders appear on horseback. The dialogue begins and it's good, the camera moves right along with the riders. The lighting is remarkable as the faces well-saturate the negative [something anyone who has attempted photography in bright sunlight will appreciate]. In town, this gang's leader is in the saloon making time with the ladies. Bickford establishes his character in this sequence as one who is harder and more heartless than anyone else in westerns. He'll tell the sheriff he's going to rob the bank (across the street). A high establishing shot shows the whole town, then a shot tracks with Bickford approaching the bank as his gang rides up. This is cinema, a montage of perceptions that completely fill the viewer's consciousness. This film is very, very good.

George Robinson's photography is extraordinary, with fine compositions and contrasts. His vistas are jam packed and firmly place the viewer into this nothingness. The actors' beards progress with the time frame, and the place is so dirty you'll run for the Pledge.

It's filled with those two second throwaways that tell so much about the characters but do nothing to advance the plot. Such as when the gang leans on the teller's counter, one cowboy's boot scuffs at the bottom for a bar rail. At the saloon, a short skirted woman dances for the patrons, a low angle shot gives a glimpse of garter. The sheriff, seated nearby, drops something and pretends to pick it up. He stares lecherously at the dancing knees. Yet, a moment later, when Bickford invites him to drink, the sheriff's back on his moral high horse. Bickford bites and slaps the girl, after all this is pre-code.

The characters are complex and juxtaposed images abound. Charles Bickford's portrayal is unforgettable. Here is a picture that deserves recognition as one of the classics, a film that transcends its primitive equipment. Makes one wonder what else is locked up in the vaults of the Big U.

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