Three Godfathers (1948)

Three Godfathers (1948)

“I want you — all of you — to be my baby’s godfathers.”

When three bank robbers (John Wayne, Pedro Armendariz, and Harry Carrey Jr.) are driven out of town and into the desert by a sheriff (Ward Bond) who’s shot holes in their water bags, they shortly encounter a pregnant widow (Mildred Natwick) who gives birth to a baby boy and asks the men to be his godfathers.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cat-and-Mouse
  • Deserts
  • Do-Gooders
  • Father and Child
  • John Ford Films
  • Outlaws
  • Survival
  • Ward Bond Films
  • Westerns

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “minor John Ford film is, of course, a Christian parable — the Christmas story”, and argues that while it’s “sentimental, funny, [and] overly symbolic,” it also “suffers because of sharp changes in tone”. He points out that the “story bears some resemblance to The Searchers, in that Wayne plays a character with a shady past who exorcises his bad qualities while returning a child to civilization — only here Wayne is welcomed (in Welcome, Arizona) with open arms by the citizens because they realize he has reformed and can fit into their town.” I’m a little fonder than Peary of this quirky tale, which plays as though the Three Wise Men were on the lam in the Wild West trying to survive a dust storm. There’s a kind of surreal magic in the scenes of the men making their way across desolate landscapes, happening upon a dying widow (Natwick is a tad too old to be playing a first-time mother) who gives birth to a son and therefore to a new life and sense of meaning for the bandits. Their need to care for this helpless creature trumps all other considerations, leading to the unexpectedly happy ending. Beautiful on-location cinematography and typically fine direction by Ford make this a one-time must-see for film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Strong direction by Ford

  • Excellent on-location cinematography
  • Many memorable moments

Must See?
Yes, as a charming film by a master director.



One thought on “Three Godfathers (1948)

  1. Agreed – a once-must, for its place in cinema history. As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (08/18) (fb):

    “You think this is all just chance?”

    ‘Three Godfathers’ (1948): I’d seen this once before – and it’s easily among the most unorthodox of ‘Christmas movies’. Three guys (John Wayne, Pedro Armendáriz, Harry Carey Jr.) rob a bank in Arizona, then (of course) have a posse (headed by sheriff Ward Bond) after them. Complications arise for both ‘hunters and prey’. The bandits happen upon a woman (Mildred Natwick) left alone as she’s about to give birth – and they end up having to take the infant to civilization. For the sake of the bigger picture of this story, you have to let a fair amount of credulity give in to strain (the least of which is that Natwick – who is supposed to be Bond’s daughter – is in her early 40s instead of the ’28 or 30′ that she’s said to be… and in real life was around Bond’s age at the time). This is director John Ford in a particularly sentimental mood – with a tale hanging on moral redemption and the need to be brought low before you can be humbled before a Higher Power. I can’t imagine it was an easy shoot, as most of the film takes place on rugged terrain. I don’t think I’ve seen this much sand since ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.

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