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Three outlaws on the run discover a dying woman and her baby. They swear to bring the infant to safety across the desert, even at the risk of their own lives. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Like The Maltese Falcon, 3 Godfathers had to be made three times before we got the definitive version. This one has to rank at the top of John Wayne's films.
Wayne and fellow outlaws Pedro Armendariz and Harry Carey, Jr. arrive at the town of Welcome, Arizona and after a brief chance meeting with the marshal, Ward Bond, proceed to rob the Welcome bank.
In pursuit of the robbers, Bond shoots the waterbag draped across Wayne's saddle. And then he cleverly stations men at the few sources of water. Nevertheless the three outlaws decide to chance it across the desert.
Life takes a peculiar turn for them as they come across a dying Mildred Natwick who has just delivered an infant. Before she goes she exacts a promise from them to rescue her baby.
Even though their own freedom is at stake, Wayne, Armendariz, and Carey subordinate it to the care and rescue of the infant. At this point the Christmas parable takes over. The three wise men setting out with the infant in their charge to the nearest town which happens to be New Jerusalem, Arizona.
I said on another review of a Wayne film that John Wayne had one of the greatest faces for movie closeups ever. Check some of them here, especially during the desert trek. They say more than 10 pages of dialog. Ford, Hawks, Wellman all the great directors who worked with the Duke knew that and took advantage.
Pedro Armendariz and John Ford came to blow up on the set of 3 Godfathers according to Harry Carey, Jr.'s memoirs. Armendariz almost walked off the film. He finished it though and was great as the fatalistic Mexican outlaw. But he never worked for Ford again.
Although he'd done a few films before this, John Ford had in the credits, introducing Harry Carey, Jr. Of course the film is dedicated to his father who in fact had starred in the original silent Three Godfathers. Maybe this should have really been his debut film, Dobe Carey is just fine as the callow youth, The Abilene Kid.
This also marked the last film of veteran actor Guy Kibbee. As the practical and perceptive judge who tries Wayne, Kibbee is given a fitting swan song to a great career as a player.
This is certainly a more religious work than John Wayne is used to doing. Wayne, although he was baptized Catholic at the end of his life was not a particularly religious man. I do wonder if he had lived another decade what he would have made of the religious right.
Ford of course got in his obligatory Shall We Gather At the River, but also Bringing in the Sheaves was sung. And in the scene where a dehydrated John Wayne arrives at a saloon in New Jerusalem, the piano player is first playing The Holy City and then Silent Night. All to great effect by the way.
I think people that are not necessarily fans of the Duke will be amazed at the heights he rose to as a player in 3 Godfathers.
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