3 Godfathers (1948) Poster


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sychonic15 June 2002
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.
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Robert, William, Pedro
bkoganbing30 October 2005
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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Classic Christmas Movie Parable
herbqedi29 December 2002
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 tears, too.

This has been one of my favorite Christmas movie for 30+ years, and repeated viewings only reinforce my love of it.
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Sentimental and affecting piece from Ford.
Spikeopath3 October 2009
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
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One To Look At
gcrokus14 June 2004
`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 Earth.

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
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Robert's road to Damascus.
dbdumonteil28 December 2002
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.
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It is one of my favourite movies
Roman-Nies25 December 2006
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.
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Great Ford Western
mgtbltp23 December 2006
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.
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Feliz Navidad, Duke
utgard1426 December 2013
Three outlaws (John Wayne, Pedro Armendariz, Harry Carey Jr.) rob a bank and are chased into the desert by the local sheriff (the always great Ward Bond). In the desert they come upon a wagon and inside is a pregnant woman, who happens to be the sheriff's niece. Helped by the three outlaws, she gives birth. Before she dies, she names the three men the baby's godfathers and makes them promise to take care of him.

This is a story that has been made many times before, although this version is the best in my opinion. This is the first version I saw so perhaps that colors my opinion somewhat. But I feel this is the most accessible telling of the story. The cast is great and the director is John Ford so that's all I need to say there. It's a different kind of holiday film but a very nice one. John Wayne fans will appreciate it most.
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Three bandits led by John Wayne fleeing across the desert to escape their pursuers
ma-cortes11 January 2012
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 . .
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Call me a rigid purist, BUT...
AlsExGal25 December 2018
Warning: Spoilers
... I just prefer the 1929 version - "Hell's Heroes" - to any of the other sound versions. Compared to the 1948 John Ford version it is not as slick, not as sentimental, and of course it is working with early sound technology and actors, but it captures the kind of grubby old west atmosphere which fell out of fashion in the early 1930s and didn't really come back till the days of Peckinpah and McCabe and Mrs Miller.

Being made almost twenty years later than "Hell's Heroes", naturally Ford's version is going to be more technologically slick. In fact it is visual poetry from beginning to end. Ford, with his cinematographer Winton Hoch, captures the harsh beauty of the desert in every frame. In addition, Ford's version is funny, sad, tender - ALL of the elements of a Ford film. The Ford stock Company of John Wayne, Ward Bond, Harry Carey Jr., Mildred Natwick ,Mae Marsh, etc. were all exceptional, with a fantastic score by Richard Hageman that hits all of the right notes in every scene.

The problem that I have with the Ford version, however, is with the sentimentality that is just poured on during some but not all of the segments. I also think that the ending of Ford's version is much less satisfying and geared more toward fulfilling that happy-ending impulse. Plus the religious imagery at points just gets ham fisted.

And one particular scene that almost seems like a Wayne delusion is when his character gets back to civilization with the baby. He lands in a saloon that seems to be exclusively employing senior citizens - bartender, saloon girls (????), everybody! And then the sheriff of the town (Ward Bond) that Wayne's trio robbed corners him there and says "Draw!"??? Uh, you are law enforcement, you are supposed to bring him in, not shoot him down! I don't know HOW that scene got in there and stayed there through editting!

I'd recommend it primarily for the fine John Wayne performance - he has to carry this film alone for a good portion of time and shows the big guy really could act not just posture.
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Just a great film
magicmyth50528 July 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I had not seen this film for some time and I had forgotten what a lovely film it is. I feel this one should be up there with John Ford's masterpieces for the photography and the wonderful performances by the actors. Especially Pedro Armendiaz and John Wayne. This is another film that goes in the category of why do people think John Wayne can't act because when you see him in something like this you just know he is a wonderful actor. When he screams "Steal a man's burro in this county. They string ya." You feel all the agony of that walk. And that long scene Wayne does almost without a break "That ain't the worst of it." It takes a real actor to be able to do that without even a cut away and to show how much frustration. And when Bob and Pete walk away from the kid's unburied body, it just hurts. The pain almost comes off the screen like the sun.

Wonderful moments in this film. Harry Carey singing. The whole caring for the baby scenes. The expression on John Wayne's face when Pete and the kid read from the book that the NURSE should grease the baby and they both look at Wayne. John Wayne sitting uncomfortably on a chair to small for him, trying not to cross his legs as he holds the baby. Pete sitting on the edge of the wagon after he delivers the baby, just dying inside because he cannot save the mother. The argument between Bob and Pete over not breaking their promise to a dying woman. Lots of nice foreshadowing there when they both talk about growing long white beards in Yuma penitentiary and then later Bob's confident belief he can do twenty years standing on his head. And more foreshadowing when they find the woman and Bob declares it can rain "until I get religion", meaning forever and of course he gets religion.

There are some great tributes to Harry Carey and in not jokes exactly but moments. Ward Bond blows the smoke away from the rifle he fires at the water bag, just like Harry Carey did. In the scene where the ghosts of Pete and the Kid walk with Bob, Pedro calls Bob a saddle tramp which is the role Harry Carey most played. And the way Wayne asks for a cool cool beer "for me" is almost a mimic of Harry Carey.

Also the names of towns, clearly biblical Damascus, Jerusalem and Cairo. Also the Marhall mentions Dobe ( Harry Carey Jr's nickname) and (I think) Tres Hermanos ( three brothers).

Its also pretty clear where MarmaDUKE comes from. I would bet that Pearly is an in joke too but don't know that one.

It also rather fun to try and see when it really is John Wayne's hands with the baby. The baby is not much bigger than his enormous hand. (Check the size of them when he hold's Mildred Natwick's hand in his) Pretty sure its him greasing it. Sounds like the sort of thing Ford would make him do. And also him in the barroom at the end where the baby holds his finger.
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A Different Western
itsmits11 December 2006
Warning: 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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A great personal favorite.
Tomsam5122 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This is a great piece of storytelling. I first saw this film when I was eight years old and it stuck with me. It was another thirty years before I saw it again and I was amazed at how good a film it was. My seven year old daughter recently saw this film and loved it. I hope it will stick with her as well.

All the acting is terrific but Ward Bond's performance as the Sheriff is particularly striking. He is so cordial and professional at first but when Pearly Sweet goes out for blood, he is a study in coldly controlled rage.

The ending scene of the film is one of my all-time favorites. Hightower has been redeemed, all is well except the baby still has no mother. The screenwriter's did themselves's proud when they took pen in hand to resolve that problem. Wayne's delivery of the line and Ford's staging of the shot are heart-warming.
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In its simplest form, it is beauty on screen.
bobsgrock17 August 2009
I can't say much for the storyline of 3 Godfathers as much as I can say for its visuals and imagery. For many, it is an allegorical tale with its heavy use of the Bible and other symbols throughout. However, I had a problem with the realism of the story, something this kind of plot needs to rely heavily on. Here we have three rough and tough men, by no means weak or unable to take care of themselves. Still, what they go through in this film along with trying to take care of a newly born infant, it boggles my mind as to how it is possible and perhaps it isn't.

I think I am reading too much into this and am missing the point John Ford was trying to make. So, I will try to understand the movie in its simplest terms. That would be that Ford was a master of imagery and using it to further the story. Here, every shot of the desert and swirling winds captures perfectly the atmosphere and mood, making the audience feel as if they are in the desert. It is most effective and does pick up some of the slack such as when the three men are first taking care of the infant or the final ten minutes in deciding Wayne's fate. All in all, this is not one of the great Ford Westerns. But, it shows once again his ability to control the mood and tone of his films and that can go a long way in providing leverage to an audience.
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touching beloved Christmas movie
emmerich-mazakarini14 December 2008
A really touching, naive, heart-warming Christmas movie, even if it may be quite a tear-jerker, especially at it's end: great cinematography - watch out for the wonderful impressions of the desert (the director of cinematography started with documentaries) -, great direction and one of John Wayne's best performances - this man was not only a big star, he was a wonderful actor, too!!! Between the end of the forties and the end of the fifties Ford knew how to lead Wayne to an artistic peak. And, not to forget of course: Hank Worden, Ben Johnson, Ward Bond, Pedro Armendariz, Harry Carey jr, ... what an ensemble did Ford build up around himself!!! Highly recommended to all those who want their hearts to be touched in rough times during a cold winter evening ...
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Visual Poetry
Kalaman17 October 2003
I changed my mind several times about the merits of this often neglected Ford Western. Despite the eloquent and persuasive praises by Gallagher, McBride, and Sarris, somehow it failed to win me over. However, having seen it recently I was genuinely struck by its ravishing cinematography, beautifully shot by Winton C Hoch, who would later photograph "The Searchers". The cinematography is astonishing and this is hardly surprising since Ford was a poet of images. If you disregard the film's religious and biblical passages and focus on its visuals, it becomes an inspiring, extraordinary work. To paraphrase McBride in his book on Ford, the simplicity of the film's emotion and sentiment is balanced by the sophistication of its visual style. For this reason, I think it is one of Ford's masterworks, but it is not for everybody.
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Wonderful, sensitive, emotional, intelligent and vastly underrated western
grantss4 June 2015
Wonderful, sensitive, emotional, intelligent and vastly underrated western. (The middle three qualities might explain the first and last ones).

Certainly not your average western. Starts conventionally enough, with three cowboys robbing a bank and then being on the run from the law. However, from then the depth and intelligence of the plot, and John Ford's direction, start to show.

The movie doesn't become a straightforward good guys-chasing-the bad guys action drama, it becomes a cat-and-mouse between the law and the outlaws. Each in turn tries to outsmart the other, in very plausible fashion.

It is also, by this point, a survival movie, with the three outlaws having to fight the harsh desert as well as keep ahead of the law.

Then Ford adds another layer, a human drama, with the introduction of a woman and, later, her baby.

The baby, and how the three outlaws try to cope with it and look after it, also provides many funny and poignant moments.

This layering and depth is incredibly revolutionary for a western, and makes the movie incredibly engaging. Also revolutionary for the time was the addition of a Mexican (Pedro Armendáriz) among the lead characters, alongside John Wayne and Harry Carey Jr.

Good performances by all three. John Wayne shows a rare sensitive side here, and does so very convincingly.

Good work too by Ward Bond as the Marshall.
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The Sands of Death Valley: thievery, desert wanderings, birth, death, redemption and forgiveness
weezeralfalfa16 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Pedro(Armendariz) turned out to be right. The 3 badmen should have stuck with their cattle rustling, and abandoned John Wayne's ambition to rob the bank in Welcome, AZ. Robbing the bank in broad daylight wasn't a good idea, and 'the kid'(Harry Carey, Jr.) was wounded as they made their getaway. Sheriff Sweet(Ward Bond) and aids chased them into the desert on a buckboard. Sweet hit their main water bag, leaving them with little water. When an aid complained that he hadn't hit the men, he quipped "I'm not paid to kill folks". He seemed unconcerned about giving up the chase because he was sure where they would head(the water tank for the train). For the rest of the film, we periodically switch back and forth between the 3(or less) desperados and Sweet with his posse, who initially wait at the several known water sources, then actively hunt them when they aren't found. Their status as desperados is magnified when Sweet visits Terrapin Tank to discover that the spring has been destroyed by dynamiting, and his niece and her husband aren't to be found, despite the presence of their covered wagon. He finds the discarded vest of one of the desperados, hence assumes that they are responsible for these additional crimes. Thus, when Sweet finally catches up with Wayne, on Christmas, several days later, in the New Jerusalem saloon, he immediately demands that he engage Sweet in a gun duel. Fortunately, Wayne is too weak to respond, and Sweet is shown the infant that Wayne has 'nursed' through his trials in the desert. Sweet, presumably after hearing Wayne's full story, takes an entirely different attitude toward him, beginning to treat him like a prodigal son.

This was John Ford's first color film, he generally preferring B&W. Not as stunning as the Monument Valley backdrops in his next color film: "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon", but a welcomed plus. Filming locations include several spots in the Death Valley region, the Mohave Desert, and the Alabama Hills region of Owens Valley, with the snow-capped Sierra Nevada sometimes in the background. Their initial journey clearly was in the spectacular, if not very colorful, erosional badlands of Zabriskie Point, on the east side of Death Valley. Next, they were tested by an extended sand storm in Death Valley's sand dunes region. Later, they have to cross a large salt flats, presumably in Death Valley, before Wayne has to climb a high mountain range, then descend to New Jerusalem, his partners having died in the sweltering salt flats crossing(crazy to cross it by day!)

It's a challenge to try to correctly decipher all of the intended symbolism. I will guess that their trials in the desert represent the trials of Moses and the Israelites as they wandered the Sinai deserts, as punishment for their sins, before the chosen ones(only Wayne, in this case) were allowed to enter the 'land of milk and honey':New Jerusalem, in Wayne's case. The 3 desperados, of course, represent the traditional 3 magi(The bible doesn't say there were 3!) and the baby they deliver represents Christ(Thus, it must be male, although the actual infant clearly is female!). In being faced with the responsibility of delivering and caring for an infant in the wilderness, the 3 outlaws are, in a sense, reborn themselves, as caring fathers. They largely atone for their past sins by saving the babe's life.(No clue why the mother was so sure she would soon die, except it was in the script!). The big 'star' they saw probably was Venus, although the 'star 'that guided the biblical magi(which only they could see!) clearly was a divinely prescribed manifestation of God. The miraculous appearance of a donkey and her young to Wayne when he is about at the end of his strength, soon after reading about such in his deceased partner's bible, presumably is a device to cement his questionable faith in God.

One of Ford's key beliefs, manifested in some of his films, was that criminals are mostly molded by their unfortunate circumstances and experiences, rather than being an inborn trait, and thus are often reformable, given the right guidance and opportunities. This is clearly the main message of this film. History proves this is only sometimes the case.

Another key point, clearly expressed in this and certain films by other directors("The Return of Frank James", "The Last Wagon", "The Bend in the River") is that judges and juries should be flexible in their sentencing of wrong doers, taking into consideration their overall character and the positive things they have done. Thus, to me, the best part of the film is the last part, where Wayne's character is undergoing sentencing and he is arguing with the judge(Guy Kibbee, in his last film role) and Sheriff Sweet about the disposition of the infant. He even attracts some female admirers, who anticipate his return from his minimal prison sentence.

Despite all the highly improbable events and abundant sentimental corn, I think Harry Carey, Sr., to whom this film was dedicated, would be pleased. I was.

The western "Yellow Sky", also released in '48, has a similar theme , with a gang of bank robbers also taking refuge in the Death Valley salt flats.
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Sentimental but warming Christmas parable
Lejink24 December 2008
Nice to watch this hoary old (Christmas) chestnut at Yuletide, almost exactly 60 years after its original release. And yes, while it is guilty of a number of sins by way of corniness, improbability and sentimentality, it still works for me and proves you don't need tinsel and snow to evoke the Christmas spirit. Here old Papa Ford relates his Christmas parable against the background of the searing heat of the Arizona desert as Duke Wayne struggles against the odds to deliver orphan child Robert William Pedro to safety, bang on, wouldn't you know it, Christmas Day. All the usual Ford staples are here, the panoramic scenery, male camaraderie, bawdy humour and of course big John Wayne himself in yet another barnstorming lead role. I'm not the biggest Wayne fan going, but Ford invariably got the best out of the big lunk and he certainly carries the film (and the baby!) manfully. His two confederates, the youthful Harry Carey Jr and TexMex Pedro Armendariz both of whom sadly expire along the way, offer effective and humorous counterpoint to big John's proselytising. Ford cleverly doesn't reveal his hand too quickly with only the odd Biblical reference alluded to early on but by the time the three amigos are spotlit gazing out at the camera having just accepted the dying mother's infant child into their care, it piles on from there. Along the way the humour and sentimentality are mixed up lightly with a little (not too much) dramatic tension as Wayne completes his epic journey (like he was ever going to fail!), spurred on by the ghosts of his fallen colleagues and completes his own spiritual regeneration in accepting with good grace his jail sentence at the end in exchange for a guarantee that he'll be reunited with his infant charge once his sentence is complete. Noting that the film is Ford's own remake of his earlier silent movie production of the same story would help explain why some of the scenes are somewhat static and staged tableau-style. Wayne gets to walk more than he talks, no bad thing, and the rest of the cast are all at home under the director's loving eye. All told, then a colourful (check the blue filter shot Ford employs to evoke the desert at night) and festive treat. But surely this child wasn't the Son of God...?!
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Ford 'Christmas' Western Showcases Wayne, 'Stock Company'...
cariart24 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
"Three Godfathers", John Ford's second version of Peter B. Kyne's oft-filmed story of three outlaws finding redemption, has been hailed by some critics as an unsung Ford masterpiece; while I wouldn't go quite THAT far, it is an exceptional western, with Ford's 'Stock Company', headed by John Wayne, offering warmly sentimental performances.

The film was created as a 'tribute' to legendary actor Harry Carey, who had passed away in 1947, and had been young Ford's mentor, starring in his first version of the tale, "Marked Men", in 1919. This production would introduce Carey's son, Harry Jr., as likable young horse rustler, William Kearney ("They call me 'The Abilene Kid'"). Wayne took on the elder Carey's role ('Bob Hightower' in this version), the more pragmatic, but caring leader of the trio; and Mexican star/Ford regular Pedro Armendáriz completed the band, as sweet-natured, if wild-talking Pedro Roca Fuerte. The three are unrepentant outlaws, arriving in Welcome, Arizona to rob the bank, but it is quickly established that they are not 'bad' men...in fact, there are NO real villains in this film. Their antagonist, Sheriff Perley 'Buck' Sweet (Ward Bond), is introduced while gardening outside his home, and he and Hightower have a quite jovial conversation...until the trio discover what his occupation is! The bank robbery goes off without a hitch, but young Kearney is wounded during the getaway, and Sweet and his posse (including Ford regulars Hank Worden and Ben Johnson) are soon in pursuit.

To this point in the film, it could be said that this was a fairly standard tale; but the trio's convoluted escape through the Arizona desert leads them to a broken-down wagon at a destroyed waterhole, and a woman (Ford favorite Mildred Natwick), stranded, dying, and about to give birth. Pedro delivers the child, whom she names Robert William Pedro Hightower, entrusting the men, as the child's Godfathers, to take him to safety. She dies, and the three face a responsibility that will change their lives, forever...

Released by MGM (although filmed by Ford and Merian Cooper's Argosy Pictures, which explains why the film lacks the usual MGM 'gloss'), the production was ripe with entertaining 'back stories', the most famous involving barrel cacti, and Ford's legendary stubbornness. When Ford told his production team that the outlaws would survive by siphoning water from a barrel cactus, it was quickly pointed that the plants he selected were the wrong species, and wouldn't work. Ford loudly and colorfully disagreed...and, secretly, the night before shooting, liberally soaked all the cacti with so much water that when the cameras began rolling, the next morning, water flowed freely from the chunks cut out of them! There is a prophetic moment in the story; Pedro, his leg badly broken, is left with Hightower's pistol, which he uses to kill himself, rather than face a long, painful demise. Less than fifteen years later, Armendáriz, dying of cancer, would kill himself with a gun, rather than face the disease's ravages.

"Three Godfathers" is a western story of redemption, set at Christmas, making it an essential for the holidays. While it can't be called 'top-drawer' John Ford, even an 'average' film by the legendary director is better than 99% of Hollywood's product...and not to be missed!
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Sweet, wholesome, old-fashioned...
Cephyran13 September 2004
I watched this with my family one evening a while back.

This is a decent John Wayne movie. It builds strong characters, a team of outlaws who are nearly the tamest you'll ever see. They stumble across a pregnant woman stranded in the desert and must then cope with protecting her orphaned child from the elements. John Wayne is really cool. He's done a lot of westerns, and this is one of the few I've seen. He is an effective actor, with emotion and character you'd expect from one of the film veterans. And, though I'm not a huge western fan, this movie was satisfactory. It doesn't all have to be about shootouts, or pistols at dawn. Sometimes a decent western just has to be set in the old West, and that's all you need.

I recommend this to the Wayne fans out there, as well as those looking for a sweet, wholesome old-fashioned flick.
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A solid effort by John Ford
zetes15 July 2002
No masterpiece, but a fine piece of work. Three bank robbers in the old West, played by John Wayne, Pedro Armendáriz, and Harry Carey Jr., run from the sheriff of Welcome, Arizona (Ward Bond). The first forty minutes or so consist of this simple but entertaining tale of bandits trying to survive the desert and an intelligent sheriff who tries to get one step ahead of him. Then the film takes an interesting turn. The three bandits find a dying pregnant woman, help deliver her child, and then are forced to keep him (and themselves) alive. Like many Ford films, there is a ton of religious allegory. Some might consider it heavy-handed, but to me it seemed well done. Instead of just setting up parallels with the Biblical tales of the infancy of Christ for those in the know, the three bandits themselves discover the parallels and are convinced that they have to get the baby to a town called Jerusalem. The story is often very harrowing. I don't think that the characters are very believable bandits. They're too nice. The other thing I really don't like is the end, which seems inconsistent with the mood of the rest of the film. It's a bit anticlimactic. John Ford's direction is good, but, compared with his previous two films, My Darling Clementine and The Fugitive, it doesn't register as one of his best. The performers are generally good. Harry Carey Jr., in his screen debut, is the best (the picture is also dedicated to his father, who had recently died). Ward Bond is also quite good. 8/10.
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Classic/Different John Ford Western
tonypeacock-119 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
The successful filmmaking partnership of director John Ford and actor John Wayne were reunited again in this 'different' western from 1948.

I say different in that it strays from the usual macho gun-ho roles that John Wayne usually plays and strays into more of a light hearted, sentimental story more akin to Three Men And A Baby from the 1980s. Having now seen this perhaps this was an influence on that film?

It tells the story of a gang of three bank robbers on the run in Arizona, U.S. led by John Wayne (Robert), Mexican actor Pedro Armendáriz (Pedro surprisingly) and Harry Carey Jr. (William).

Not only are they on the run from an advancing Marshal played by Ward Bond (Another Ford/Wayne movie stalwart) but they face the desert conditions of the Arizona desert using Ford's old favourite filming location the Death Valley National Park. The Technicolor film captures the locations perfectly.

Basically the three fugitives are struggling to survive the conditions especially young William who was injured during the escape from the bank robbery.

Whilst on the run the three stumble upon a pregnant lady in Labour. Pedro delivers the baby and as the mother is dying she makes a dying wish that the three 'godfathers' take her baby son to the safety of the town of New Jerusalem.

Here the film takes on a biblical twist as the 3 Godfathers become the three wise men as in the nativity.

An enjoyable film showing another side to the Duke's film repertoire.
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Superb Ford Wayne Classic
frank412221 March 2019
Merry Christmas Robert William Pedro. This film is the best of the 3 Godfathers remakes. It is a great western and great Christmas movie. With a cast of excellent actors, John Wayne, Harry Carey, Jr and Pedro Armendariz excel as the gangsters gone right. Ward Bond sets chase and gives them a run for their money. The superb actresses, Mildred Natwick, Jane Darwell, and Mae Marsh give top notch performances. 3 Godfathers is a wonderful tribute to the late and great Harry Carey.
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