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Western films, from silent to today

Three Godfathers (1948)

Three Godfathers (1948) posterJohn Wayne is Robert Hightower. He and partners Pedro Fuerte (Pedro Armendariz) and The Abilene Kid (Harry Carey Jr.) ride into the town of Welcome, Ariz., to rob the bank.

They succeed, but The Abilene Kid is wounded in their escape, they lose one of their three horses and a shrewd sheriff (Ward Bond as Perley Sweet) cuts them off from water.

They decide to head in a direction he wouldn’t suspect, backtracking to Terrapin Tanks. Their next problem: A greenhorn has blown up the waterhole there, leaving behind a pregnant wife.

She dies shortly after giving birth, but not before asking the three outlaws to be the godfathers to her baby. From that point on, helping their godson survive becomes more important to the trio than dodging the law.

But the law is on their trail. In fact, Sweet raises the reward on the outlaws after he finds the waterhole destroyed, suspecting they were responsible for that dirty deed as well.

Rating 2 out of 6Review:

This came on the heels of two of John Wayne’s most successful films — “Red River” and “Fort Apache.” Unfortunately, it’s a major letdown, easily one of Ford’s weakest Westerns.

If you excuse the inplausibility of three outlaws intending to rob a bank stopping to chat with a local resident (who turns out to be the marshal) and pass the time of day with a pretty lady arriving on a stagecoach before getting down to business … well, the film doesn’t start out too badly.

The scenes in which the trio argues over how to care for a newborn are rather hilarious. Of course, the nude baby Wayne’s character gives a grease bath is clearly a girl, not a boy. Just a minor detail, right?

But then John Wayne’s character smacks a Bible out of the hands of his partner Pedro. The Abilene Kid picks it up and finds that it has opened to a page guiding them back to New Jerusalem.

And from that point on, Ford lets corniness reign. The worst scene: After the Abilene Kid and Pedro have succumbed to the desert, Hightower is about to give up on his walk to New Jerusalem. Then the ghosts of his two partners show up, to urge him on.

Ford even had to foist a happy ending on the film, as Wayne receives a hero’s welcome upon his return because he’s saved the baby. In fact, it appears the entire town turns out to bid farewell as he rides off to serve a ridiculously short prison sentence.

Ford dedicated the film to Harry Carey, who starred in his silent 1919 version of the same story. And, of course, the Abilene Kid is played by Carey’s son.

This story was filmed four times in Hollywood. Check out the 1936 version starring Chester Morris. It’s much better.

Harry Carey Jr. as The Abilene Kid, Pedro Amendariz as Pedro Fuerte and John Wayne as Robert Hightower with the baby in Three Godfathers (1948)Directed by:
John Ford

John Wayne … Robert Hightower
Pedro Armendariz … Pedro Roco Fuerte
Harry Carey Jr. … William Kearney
aka Abilene Kid
Ward Bond … Perley “Bucky” Sweet
Hank Worden … Deputy Curly
Mildred Natwick … Mother
Dorothy Ford … Ruby Latham
Charles Halton … Mr. Latham
Jane Darwell … Miss Florie
Mae Marsh … Mrs. Sweet
Guy Kibbee … Judge
Jack Pennick … Luke
Ben Johnson … Posse member
Michael Dugan … Posse member
Fred Libby … Deputy

Runtime: 106 min.

Memorable lines:

Deputy, after Perley has fired at the fleeing bank robbers: “Gosh, marshal, you missed them.”
Marshal Perley Sweet: “They ain’t payin’ me to kill folks.”
Then, knowing he hadn’t missed their water bag. “Them Texas boys are gonna be mighty thirsty before they get to water.”

Robert Hightower: “He (the marshal) figures our next move will be up to Apache Wells. So he jumps on his freight car and heads that way. And he’ll be there, sitting a waitin’. Well he can keep squatting on his honkers from now til Christmas. Cause we ain’t gonna be there. We’re doubling back on our tracks to Terrapin Tanks.”

Ward Bond as Marshal Perley Sweet and Mae Marsh as Mrs. Sweet in Three Godfathers (1948)Robert Hightower: “Well, there’s a fine ol’ state of affairs at the tanks.”
Abilene Kid: “They ain’t dry, are they?”
Hightower: “Worse than that. Tenderfoot wagon. Man and his woman — they come from New Jerusalem. They made the tanks alright, but the water was a little low. Mr. Tenderfoot ain’t got sense enough to dig out the sand, sit back and wait for that sump hole to fill up. No sure. He puts in a stick of dynamite to start the water running.”
Pedro Roco Fuerte: “The fool!!!”
Hightower: “So he stuck in his dynamite. Fool’s lucky he didn’t blow himself up doing it.”
Pedro: “I wish he did!!!”
Hightower: “But he didn’t. He just put Terrapin Tanks out of business forever.”

Hightower, about the woman about to give birth at Terrapin Tanks: “I’m a tough bird. An awful tough ol’ bird. But I ain’t going back in there. Pete you gotta go. You gotta do something for her. You oughta know something about these cases. Wasn’t you married to a woman down by the Rio Bravo? Didn’t she have kids for you?”

Robert Hightower, cradling the infant: “I was just hoping he could stagger along a few days without bathing. I don’t know much about infants, but little Robert here looks clean enough to me.”

Headed off to prison, John Wayne as Robert Hightower bids farewell to Ruby Latham (Dorothy Ford -- no relation to John), the daughter of the man whose bank he robbedThe Abilene Kid, reading from a book on how to care for a baby: “Too much care cannot be exercised in performing this most important part of the baby’s …. there’s a word here I don’t like saying in front of a little baby.”
Robert Hightower: “Spell it.”
The Kid: “T-o-i-l-e-t-t-e.” Then he whsipers: “Toilettte.”
Hightower: “Well, what in the blazes is a toilette.”
The Kid: “Well … don’t you know.”

The Abilene Kid, about greasing the baby after birth: “It don’t sound regular, Bob, I have to admit. But it’s right here. Right here in the book.”
Robert Hightower: “Well, I ain’t convinced no-how. This godson of ours is starting life slippery enough without greasing him.”
The Kid: “But you’ve gotta follow the book, Bob.”

Robert Hightower: “Cut out the Mex lingo around the kid, will you Pete? Next thing you know, he’ll be talking it. We gotta raise him with good ol’ American habla, like his ma.”

Posse member (Ben Johnson): “A lot of boys stick up banks and stagecoaches and one thing or another. But the man that would dynamite a water hole in this kind of country is just downright criminal.”
Perley Sweet: “You heard Mr. Latham when he said $100 dead or alive. I’ll add $50 to it. I’d like ’em dead.”

Robert Hightower, as he leaves Pete to die: “Sorry I called you a chili-dippin’ horse thief back there.”

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