18 user 22 critic

3 Bad Men (1926)

Unrated | | Romance, Western | 28 August 1926 (USA)
Three outlaws come to the aid of a young girl after her father is killed.


John Ford


Herman Whitaker (suggested by the novel: "Over the Border") (as Herman Whittaker), John Stone (adaptation) | 3 more credits »




Complete credited cast:
George O'Brien ... Dan O'Malley
Olive Borden ... Lee Carleton
Lou Tellegen ... Layne Hunter
Tom Santschi ... 'Bull' Stanley
J. Farrell MacDonald ... Mike Costigan
Frank Campeau ... 'Spade' Allen
Priscilla Bonner ... Millie
Otis Harlan ... Zach Little
Phyllis Haver ... Lily
George Harris George Harris ... Joe Minsk (as Georgie Harris)
Alec B. Francis ... Rev. Benson (as Alec Francis)
Jay Hunt ... Nat Lucas


In 1876, an old man finds gold in the Sioux lands, provoking a gold and land rush from immigrants to Dakota. On the way to Custer, the lonely cowboy Dan O'Malley helps to fix the wheel of Mr. Carlton's wagon and flirts with his daughter Lee Carlton. Later, Lee and her father are attacked by horse thieves and Mr. Carlton is murdered; however, the outlaws "Bull" Stanley, Mike Costigan and "Spade" Allen save her from the criminals and head with her to the camp where the pioneers are waiting for President Grant proclamation to explore the lands. In the site, the corrupt Sheriff Layne Hunter rules with his henchmen with horror and injustice. The trio of outlaws decides that Lee needs to get married and select Dan to be her husband. When Bull's sister Millie Stanley is murdered by Hunter's right arm Nat Lucas, "Bull" organizes the men to chase Hunter. But it is 1877 and the gold and land race of wagons is ready to start. Written by Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The romance of a girl in the land of promise. (original 11x14 lobby card) See more »


Romance | Western


Unrated | See all certifications »

Did You Know?


Assuming its copyright has not lapsed already, this film and all others produced in 1926 enter the U.S. public domain in 2022. See more »


During the bathing sequence, the tent appears to be normal size from the outside, but it is several times as big in the interior shots. See more »


[title card]
Title Card: Mike Costigan and 'Spade' Allen weren't exactly thieves - but they had a habit of finding horses that nobody had lost
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Alternate Versions

2007 Re-release with newly edited and restored footage and new multi-instrument score credited to Dana Kaproff See more »


Referenced in Up and Down (1993) See more »


Carry Me Back to Old Virginny
Traditional Southern ballad (1840s) rewritten by James Allen Bland (1878)
Integrated into restoration score as a theme for Lee's father.
See more »

User Reviews

"At a smile-a-minute pace"
31 December 2008 | by Steffi_PSee all my reviews

It seems John Ford made his best films when a great story happened to coincide with his own sensibilities. For a director who filmed masculine camaraderie with more tenderness than male-female romance, and almost gave more weight to the comic asides than the actual plot, 3 Bad Men seems tailor-made – a Western in which the eponymous outlaws are the heroes, and the love story between Olive Borden and the more typically heroic George O'Brien becomes a subplot.

Ford's tendency to improvise gags, and expand comic relief to entire scenes is often a bit excessive, but in 3 Bad Men it does not matter so much because the comedy characters are protagonists rather than supporting players threatening to steal the show. In fact the laughs we have had throughout the film make the poignant finale really pay off. You get a similar effect in Charlie Chaplin's features. What's more, Tom Santschi, J. Farrell MacDonald and Frank Campeau, big ugly supporting players that they were, were nevertheless great actors who here prove themselves fully capable of emotional depth.

Ford, meanwhile, can be seen gradually developing into a confident craftsman, especially as regards his shot composition. While his earliest pictures featured framing that was pretty yet distracting, he now achieves the same aesthetics with far more subtlety. A major difference is that whereas before the framing devices were "fixed" items – for example a tree or a canopy – he now achieves a more natural look – a figure leaning against a post in the foreground here, the end of a wagon there. He still occasionally makes use of the old-fashioned "heavier" framing, but only to highlight a key moment, for example enclosing Olive Borden and Tom Santschi between two cavern walls towards the end.

This is of course also an epic pioneer Western and, although the historical context is not paramount as it is in The Iron Horse, Ford constantly reminds us that a civilization is being built in the background – literally. As in many of his pictures, he balances the story of individuals with the story of masses, often in the same frame, so a dialogue scene might take place with a few horses or wagons trailing past in the distance – always done with so much control so as not to let the one outbalance the other. Perhaps the best example is in an emotional little vignette at the end of the land rush scene – a wagon fills most of the screen, but Ford allows a tiny gap on the left to show the settlers carrying on in the background – just keeping that part of the story going without allowing it to dominate.

By the way, the new Dana Kaproff score that accompanies the recent "Ford at Fox" restoration of 3 Bad Men is also very good. This is as far as I can tell the only silent score Kaproff (normally a TV composer) has done, but he handles the form with skill. It's full of little touches that I like – for example, about twenty minutes in there is a brief scene of George O'Brien's character carrying on his way, singing his song, silhouetted against the sun. Kaproff, rather than giving us the same tune, uses a minor key variation. We recognise it as O'Malley's signature tune, but it just has that little difference that stops it becoming samey, while at the same time corresponding to the sombre tone of the shot.

3 Bad Men is probably Ford's best silent picture. Here at last he has been given a story in which the silhouettes of men on horseback riding across the plains can be tinged with both excitement and poignancy. That was where romance truly lay for old Jack Ford.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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None | English

Release Date:

28 August 1926 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Three Bad Men See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Fox Film Corporation See more »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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