3 Godfathers (1948)

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Directed by John Ford
Written by Laurence Stallings and Frank S. Nugent; story by Peter B. Kyne
1948/USA
Argosy Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

Posse Member #1: A lot of boys stick up stagecoaches and banks and one thing and another. But a man who would dynamite a water hole in this kind of country is downright criminal.

This is not a Ford masterpiece but it is really entertaining.

A gang consisting of the Abilene Kid (Harry Carey Jr.), Mexican Pedro Roca Fuerte (Pedro Amendaríz) and their erstwhile leader Robert “Bob” Hightower rides into Welcome, Arizona to rob its bank.  Before they do, they have a long chat with the man who turns out to be sheriff, Perley “Buck” Sweet (Ward Bond).  Buck thinks the troop looks mighty suspicious and looks up their identities while they are busy robbing the bank.  Bob and his boys get out of town in the nick of time with the sheriff and his posse nipping on their heels.  The sheriff isn’t too worried as he is sure they will run out of water long before they reach the next outpost.

The sherifff and his men head for the nearest watering hole but Bob is too smart for that and doubles back in the other direction.  They continue to play cat and mouse while the robbers slowly run out of water.  Their need is great since the Kid was earlier wounded in a shoot out.

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Finally, the boys reach the Mormon Tank expecting to find plenty of water.  But evidently a greenhorn decided he could get the water running better with a stick of dynamite than with a shovel and the water supply has permanently been destroyed.  Furthermore, the man took off in search of water leaving his pregnant wife in their wagon.  She is about to give birth as the trio arrives.  She dies in childbirth but before she does, she makes the men promise to take care of the baby and be his godfathers.  They solemnly swear to do so.

The rest of the story is occupied with the comic efforts of these macho men to care for a newborn with only an antique baby care tome and the Bible as a guide.  They have a few cans of condensed milk for the baby but the water situation continues to be desperate. With Mildred Natwick as the baby’s mother, Mae Marsh as the sheriff’s wife and other Ford regulars including Jane Darwell, Guy Kibbee, Hank Worden and Ben Johnson.

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There’s plenty of sentiment in this as well as Ford’s brand of corny humor.  The film does not have the gravitas of Ford’s major works but despite everything it manages to be truly enjoyable.  The vistas of the Mojave Desert are grand as well.  There is a pointed analogy to the Christmas story and the three wise men, making this a potential off-beat addition to holiday viewing.

The film was dedicated to the memory of Harry Carey.  It marked the debut of his son Harry Carey Jr.

Trailer

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