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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 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.
I'm surprised this one doesn't get more accolades. To me it's really
one of the best westerns ever made. This is one of those films that
proves that the western genre can produce true art. The filming, the
performances -- this is one of Wayne's best
it's quite overlooked
that this guy could act: The desperation, the confusion, the
exhaustion, it's all just amazing.
It's more of a character study than anything else, with the characters facing desperate thirst, an aching empty land, relentless sun, and the movie shows how these men deal with it, all the while they are attempting to care for a child. Something they are ill equipped to do.
There are clear religious elements to the movie, and they make this all the more compelling -- these are not good men, but they have a sense of honor and faith, in their own way. They can't break their word to a dying woman, to care for her child. Their faith in each other is touching.
It's gritty, yet very tender, a strange juxtaposition, like the beauty and cruelty of the desert.
See the movie if you can.
This is one Christmas Movie where the bible plays a major role, and there is
NO snow for Christmas. Three Bandits place themselves in jeopardy for the
sake of a promise they made to a dying mother (Mildred Natwick) to be the
three godfathers of her baby. Excellent performances by Armendariz and
Carey, Jr. keep this poignant and on the mark. Ward Bond is excellent as
the relentless Marshal. Hank Worden, Guy Kibbee, and Jane Darwell lead the
cast of pros around for good-natured comic relief. But, this certainly isn't
a straight comedy; there's ample drama and opportunity for shedding a few
This has been one of my favorite Christmas movie for 30+ years, and repeated viewings only reinforce my love of it.
This might sound wondrous, but if You would ask me for my favourite movies I would say this is one of them. When I first saw the film I was so well entertained that I had not one minute I felt uncomfortable or bored, which is very seldom with me watching films. This is one of my three favourite westerns as well. It is sad to see, that in our days they are not able to make films like this one. Today they have good actors, affluence of money and technical means, but they have no soul to make films like that - and the audience, I fear, has the same deficiency. They get what they want or what they deserve. Maybe young people cannot find that movie so tremendously impressing. I am sorry for them. The movie is excellent in almost every respect. This movie is one strong example that movie-making has a right of existence. By the way it has a lot of good messages - which is also something I often miss in today's movies.
Redemption is the keyword to many a Ford work:this is perhaps the most
convincing effort in a remarkable career for that matter.Like all the
great auteurs,western is only an alibi for Ford to convey a message:God
is the only way,the Bible is the only book for Man's education (as Dr
Whatsisname's infant care manual for the new human being).
If you do not know anything about the screenplay and you expect a traditional western ,you may be disappointed:actually it might as well be a Xmas tale.Actually ,only the beginning and the ending are what you expect from a western.The central part is Robert's (Wayne) road to Damascus.His two pals do believe in God,he doesn't.The desert and the quest of water are a metaphor for the emptiness of his heart.In the second part of the movie,he's like the baby,busy being born.
Ford's movie is a visual splendor:the three men filmed against the sunlight near the mother's grave;the grave shot in close-up as the three men go away.The desert itself becomes an almost alive entity,filmed with a unique sense of space .Narration avoids readiness:when Wayne meets the mother,Ford does not show the scene:he lets his character tell it to his friends.The mother briefly appears for one short scene but she makes all her words count.
Singing is very important:when the mother is buried ,William sings over his grave but he cannot finish his canticle because he cannot remember the end:thus Ford avoids pathos and melodrama;when he rocks the baby,he sings "streets of Laredo",an ominous choice(but lullabies are sometimes strange and even cruel,aren't they?);the final choir "bringing in the sheaves" signals a brand new life for Robert. Towards the end ,the movie verges on fantastic ,which is extremely rare in the western genre.
Biblical quotations abound,but anyway,they are everywhere in Ford's work from the earlier works (the informer) to the later ones (seven women).
In the eighties,Coline Serreau made a shameless rip -off "trois hommes et un couffin".It wasn't a western ,the action taking place in Paris 1985,but a lot of ideas were taken from Ford .Besides,her three characters were despicable machos:One wishes it had not come from a woman .The movie was such a huge success that the American felt compelled to redo it (three men and a baby).Forget these mediocrities and do watch the Master 's tale of redemption.
Having already made a version of the story in 1919 as Marked Men with
Harry Carey, John Ford clearly had a kink for this delightful
redemption parable. Opening with a touching tribute to his friend and
mentor Carey, who had sadly passed away the previous year (and who also
starred in the 1916 version of The Three Godfathers), it was also the
first out and out Ford Western to be made in colour.
The story tells of three outlaws - Robert Hightower (John Wayne), Pedro "Pete" Fuerte (Pedro Armendariz) and The Abilene Kid (Harry Carey Junior) - who after robbing a bank in the town of Welcome, are on the run from the law led posse. After hitting problems in a desert sandstorm, the men struggle on to Terrapin Tanks, where they happen across a woman in labour. Giving birth to her child, but sadly on her death bed, the woman begs the men to take care of her baby. They agree and embark on a perilous journey to get the child safely to "New Jerusalem"...
It's an odd sort of Western, but in a good way. Backed up by the usual high standard of location work from Ford and the irrepressible Winton Hoch. And with customary staunch support work from Ward Bond as the Sheriff, 3 Godfathers is a must see in relation to the careers of John Ford and John Wayne. It has a mixed reputation from fans of the two Johns, which is understandable given the flighty nature of the picture, but one thing that is true about the piece is that once viewed, it's unlikely to be forgotten. 7/10
`Three Godfathers' is cinematographically one of John Ford's finest looking
Westerns. The location filming is breathtaking and comes as close as can be
found in capturing the beauty of Death Valley. That the story is relatively
straightforward, pretty fairly untenable and in Ford fashion highly
sentimental is rather inconsequential. This is a great looking movie shot
primarily in one of the most starkly striking places on
John Wayne, Pedro Armendáriz and Harry Carey Jr. (one of his first roles) are bank robbers on the run, saddled with an infant they have promised to care for to its dying mother. They plunge into desperate straights as they flee across the desert. That no part of Death Valley lies close to Arizona (the story is set there) is of no account but again as in all Ford movies his vision of the American West ignores the hundreds of thousand square miles that is not Utah, Monument Valley, or as in this case, Death Valley. And that he pioneered an American View Of The West is undeniable.
Winton C. Hoch was responsible for the cinematography; he later demonstrated his art in `The Searchers' (most famous) and actually won an Oscar for `She Wore A Yellow Ribbon'. His use of color film was extraordinary and any movie he made is best viewed on the big screen.
There are numerous references to Christian views of morality sprinkled throughout the movie; Christmas is revered as the traditional American celebration, a Bible figures in Wayne's worst moments as he struggles against the wilderness and the songs we hear are primarily religious hymns. That some good comes of the efforts of the trio is redemptive enough to raise this effort above the average Western.
It is doubtful this movie could be shot again. It is exceedingly unlikely the disturbance a film crew would make while filming in a national park would be permitted. Try to imagine the rails required for the cameras being laid today.
Score: Three Stars
I just watched this on TCM didn't even know that it was coming on and
glad I did.
This is the first time I ever saw this film all the way through, before I've only caught snippets of it here and there as I flipped through the channels.
I have to honestly say run don't walk down to your nearest video retailer and get the DVD. There is really nothing not to like about this film, and its even got a tie in to Christmas! Directed by John Ford as a remake of his silent film "The Marked Men" (1919) which had already been made twice before the 1919 version, lol. It was also John Ford's first Technicolor film and its somewhat unique in that it actually doesn't use Monument Valley as its location.
It stars a lot of Ford's stable of actors, John Wayne, Harry Carry Jr., Ward Bond, Hank Worden, Ben Johnson, and actor Pedro Armendáriz who is just great in the role of one of the title's godfathers, Wayne & Carry Jr. being the others.
This film is now up there with "The Searchers" as my favorite Ford film. It doesn't have that "knock you over the head civics lesson" sermonizing that a lot of Fords films have, its got a little bit of schmaltz and melodrama in very small dollops that you can swallow & which is OK.
But don't get this expecting showdown gunfights, there aren't any, and the film still works.
Basically the story line: Three men ride into the town of New Jersusalem, Arizona to rob its bank. In the process Carry Jr. is wounded in the shoulder and looses his horse as they ride out of town into the desert, pursued by Sheriff Sweet (Bond) and posse members that include actors Worden and Johnson.
Sweet shoots the gangs water bag, that they don't discover until they are way out in the desert so they have to make for water. Sweet knows this and hops a train with the posse to the nearest water tank.
The gang foiled in their quest for water must make for another water hole to the north there they become the "three godfathers" of the title, I wont give any more away.
This film definitely had to have made an impression on Leone. Two things stood out for me, the first is the whole film is composed of some of the best scenery I've in a Western, scenery that will recall to you vividly Tuco & Blondie in the desert, this was shot in Death Valley, Lone Pine and the Mojave Desert, all fantastic locations, it will remind you also of Yellow Sky (too bad that film wasn't shot in color). The film takes place almost all in the desert. Its like GBU in that it becomes more than just a Western, you'll see what I mean.
The second thing that stood out is the great performance of Pedro Armendáriz what a great Mexican Actor who should have been a main character in a lot of Westerns, whats up with that, not only will he remind you a bit of a "nice" Tuco but it even looks like he's wearing Tuco's hat (the one he gets from the gunsmith), or vice versa lol.
The town sets are again spot on, and there is some great steam locomotive footage, all in all a beautiful and enjoyable film.
First-rate Western masterfully directed by the great John Ford that
results to be a marvelous retelling of Peter B Kyne's saga dealing with
three desperate who take a newborn baby in the desert , as the group
come across a dying woman and her infant child and they promise the
woman that they will take care of the child and get it to safety, even
though none of them knows anything whatsoever about children or babies
. After robbing the local bank , three outlaws named Robert Hightower
(John Wayne) , William Kearney (Harry Carey Jr) and Pedro Roca Fuerte
(Pedro Armendariz) on the run to evade the local Marshal (War Bond) and
his posse . In the wilderness they then find an abandoned wagon in
which there is a dying woman (Mildred Natwick) who asks for help the
men . The bandits take care of her child and they swear to bring the
infant to safety across the desert , even at the risk of their own
lives. The outlaws set out across the desert to deliver it to safety
and then decide to do their best by the newborn and not all will
survive and for those who get , prison likely awaits them.
This nice Western contains interesting characters , full of wide open space and dramatic moments . This classic , sturdy picture ranks as one of the most sentimental of John Ford's work . It contains Ford's usual themes as familiar feeling , a little bit funny humor, friendship and and sense of comradeship among people and ample shots on desert landscapes ,specially on Mojave . Thought-provoking , enjoyable screenplay portraying in depth characters and brooding events with interesting issues running beneath script surface by Laurence Stallings and Frank S. Nugent , Ford's usual . Multiple highlights as the raid bank at the beginning and of course the sensible final farewell on the train station . Outdoors are pretty good and well photographed by Winton Hoch and filmed on location in Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, Carson & Colorado Railroad, Owens Valley, Death Valley National Park, Mojave Desert,Zabriskie Point and RKO Encino Ranch Los Angeles ,California . Dedicated to the filmmaker's first actor , Harry Carey Sr . This excellent film featuring a magnificent performance by whole casting , including a top-notch support cast . Awesome John Wayne in a larger-than-life character along with his two likable partners Harry Carey Jr and Pedro Armendariz . In the film appears , as usual , Ford's favourite actors as Jack Pennick , Jane Darwell , Ben Johnson , Francis Ford , Guy Kibbee , Mae Marsh , Hank Worden, and of course Ward Bond as obstinate sheriff who sets off in pursuit . Sensible and emotive musical score including wonderful songs by Richard Hageman . The movie is stunningly produced by Merian C Cooper - Argosy Pictures Production- and magnificently filmed by Ford . Remade for TV as ¨The Godchild¨ (1974) directed by John Badham with Jack Palance , Keith Carradine, Ed Lauter and Jack Warden . This may not be Ford's best Western , as many would claim , but it's still head ad shoulders above most big-scale movies .You'll find the ending over-melodramatic according to your tastes , though it's lovingly composed by John Ford who really picks up the drama and sensibility towards the ending . Rating : Better than average , worthwhile watching . .
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The 1948 version of this Peter B. Kyne novella is a change from the
1930 and 1936 versions. Comparisons with the 1936 version have been
made but like athletic performances in different eras, comparisons of
movies made in different eras are often like the proverbial 'apples and
oranges' comparisons. The opinion of the viewer also changes with the
advent of maturity.
Although I never saw the original silent version 'Marked Men'(1919), I have had the opportunity to view the 1930 version 'Hell's Heroes' with Charles Bickford, Raymond Hatton and Fred Kohler,the 1936 version with Chester Morris, Lewis Stone and Walter Brennan, and the 1948 version with John Wayne, Pedro Armendariz and Harry Carey,Jr. The 1936 version was viewed when I was a teenager. The story by Peter B. Kyne was also read at that time. It left an indelible mark until the last decade or two when both the 1930 and 1948 versions were seen.
Unlike most viewers, I am disappointed that the 1948 version settled for a 'happy ending'. I feel that it destroyed the author's intent. John Wayne's demise in this 1948 movie might have affected the box office draw but it remains a disappointment to this movie fan that the author's ending was changed. I thought the point of the drinking of the poisoned water was to focus on the hero's conversion. It is not the first time that the author's intent has been subordinated to please the public but in this case, wasn't the point of this story about making the ultimate sacrifice?
This should not detract from Wayne's performance which was excellent. The film is still well worth seeing and enjoying.
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