Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Three Godfathers

I've briefly mentioned the 1936 movie movie Three Godfathers once or twice in the past, but never done a full-length post on the subject. Often thought of and run as a Christmas movie because it's set at Christmastime and has an obvious reference to the Three Wise Men and Jesus, TCM is running it tomorrow afternoon at 12:45 PM as part of a day of movies with babies.

Chester Morris plays Bob, an outlaw returning to the town of New Jeruslaem where he's from and where his old flame Molly (Irene Hervey) still lives. But he's not really there to catch up on old times with her; besides, she's engaged to another man. No; Bob is here with three of his partners to rob the local bank! Sure enough, Bob and his friends Doc (Lewis Stone), Gus (Walter Brennan), and Pedro (Joseph Marievsky) rob the bank the next morning, but this being the era of the Production Code things don't go as well as planned and Pedro gets killed in a shootour. (This would also explain why there are only three godfathers and not four.) This being a western, our three remaining robbers have to try to make their escape across the desert, and as we've seen in films like Yellow Sky, it's going to be an arduous trek.

The first problem is that the first watering hole they come to has gone bad and is now poisoned. Go ahead and drink from it, but if you do, you'll die! The next one is dry, which they probably should have been able to figure since they met a dead man between the two watering holes. What they aren't expecting is what they find at that now dry watering hole: a dying woman with a baby. The dead man they met along the way was her husband, and he was looking for water without which the mother is going to die. At least there's enough baby milk left, though, for them to get the kid to New Jerusalem, where he'll be safe. Ah, but that would mean uur three bank robbers going back to New Jerusalem as well, where thye will face certain hanging. Bab, instead, plans on going the other direction, even though it's a 90-mile trek to the next watering hole. That decision may change, however, when the robbers wake up the next morning and find that their horses have died....

Three Godfathers is one of those movies that, thanks to the Production Code, you have a vague iea once the baby shows up where the movie is going to go. But, like a good disaster movie, you don't quite know how it's going to get there; that is, it's not necessarily a straightforward question of the three bank robbers just going back to New Jerusalem and surrendering; one or all of them could just as easily kill each other off along the way. And that is what makes this realtively simple story such a good movie. Three Godfathers is full of MGM contract players who were never as big stars as the top players, but who were all professionals and do just fine here, in service of a well-told story.

Three Godfathers has been made several times, with the most famous version probably being the late 1940s movie 3 Godfathers starring John Wayne. The 1936 version is on DVD, as part of a double feature with Hell's Heroes, a 1929 version of the same story starring Charles Bickford.

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