Wednesday 23 May 2007

3 Godfathers (1948) John Ford

Prominently dedicated to western acting legend Harry Carey, who had died a year before, this John Ford film is a remake of another John Ford film, Marked Men, made almost thirty years earlier in 1919 and starring Harry Carey. Ford made this one as a tribute to his old star and even cast his son, Harry Carey Jr, as one of the three leads. Carey is the Abilene Kid, William Kearney, and he's a bank robber, along with his two partners in crime: Pedro Armendáriz as Pedro Roca Fuerte, and Robert Marmaduke Hightower, played by no less a name than John Wayne, who can't have been too fussed at Marmaduke given that he's really a Marion.

The plot is pretty strange, all told. These three find their way to Welcome, AZ to take advantage of the name and rob the bank. They make it off into the desert but not very well, with a bullet in the kid's arm and another in their water pouch. Because they're pretty dumb and the local marshal isn't, he knows who they are and is more than happy to put catching them high up on his agenda. Ward Bond plays him very nicely indeed, about as well as I've seen him play anyone.

There are other names I know here, plenty of them, including Guy Kibbee in a small but very noticeable role as a judge holding court from behind a bar. It's his last of 111 films, one after Fort Apache, also with Wayne and for Ford, and the more of them I see the more I enjoy his work. There's Mae Marsh, as the marshal's wife, who would also finish up her career in a John Ford western, Cheyenne Autumn, and Jane Darwell and Ben Johnson and many faces I know but can't put names to yet. With her background in westerns my wife knows plenty more than I do but I'm catching her up slowly.

Of course none of this explains where the title came from. Well in their quest to find water, Hightower and his boys head for Apache Wells but the marshal beats them to it, so they outguess him and double back to Terrapin Wells where they find everything but water. There's a wagon heading in to Welcome carrying a couple of the marshal's relatives from New Jerusalem but the idiot driver blows up the water tower, chases his horses out into the desert to die and leaves his heavily pregnant wife all alone in the wagon. Pretty quickly the baby becomes Robert William Pedro Hightower and he has three godfathers to flounder around trying to work out how to care for him.

I hadn't heard of this one before, partly due to my lack of background in the fundamental Fords but partly due to it being a little lesser known than some of its less worthy compatriots, in my book. It's a western, certainly, but it's far more than that. It has comedy, drama, heartbreak and plenty of all of them. It also turns about half way through into a religious epic, with a whole slew of allusions and parallels, some obvious and others less so. There's even a strange little ghost story in there too. It really counts as one of the most memorable westerns I've ever seen, John Ford or John Wayne or no.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Hal.