3 Godfathers Blu Ray Review 1936 and 1938 (2024)


Warner Archive Collection Double-Feature Blu-ray $21.99

3 Godfathers (1948) 106 min. / Technicolor / 1.37:1 / SDH
Three Godfathers (1936) 81 min. / B&W / 1.37:1 /SDH

Peter B. Kyne’s 1913 novelette had already been filmed four times, including by John Ford in 1919, when Ford decided to revisit it with John Wayne, Ward Bond, and Harry Carey Jr., the son of Ford’s old friend who had passed away a year earlier and who had starred in the earlier Ford version. A labor of love from Ford; despite the rather grim theme it’s one of his most lighthearted and cheerful movies, as befits the holiday spirit that birthed it. Even audiences that aren’t particularly western or John Wayne fans appreciate 3 Godfathers for its moral theme and colorful background.

Wayne, Carey Jr., and Pedro Armendáriz are respectively Bob, Billy, and Pedro (hence the baby's name, Robert William Pedro) who come across a dying woman after her “damn fool husband” has accidentally destroyed the water hole and wandered off into the desert to die. Ward Bond is Sheriff Perley "Buck" Sweet, who begins genially enough but as the chase goes on is more and more insistent that Wayne & Co. not be taken alive (Buck doesn't know about the baby, see). Wayne and his friends have no water, and have to survive on what they can squeeze from cacti and on a few cans of condensed milk for li'l Robert William Pedro. Still, they're a tight-knit group, their devotion to the kid is wonderful, and the religious message of the movie never becomes didactic. As usual with a Ford film, the settings and minor characters and the "look" of the picture are all outstanding; I'm not sure any filmmaker save maybe Ozu ever framed a scene as well as Ford. By turns exciting, funny, touching, and suspenseful,3 Godfathersis probably Ford's most successful Christian-themed movie, is one of my favorite westerns, and beyond that just a swell way to spend a couple of hours. Ford fans will recognize his stock company in virtually every speaking role in the film.

Surprisingly, although the film is an Argosy production from John Ford and Merian C. Cooper, it was distributed by MGM rather than RKO, probably because MGM held the rights after producing their version in 1936, included with this disc as an extra but actually much, much more - a treasure to discover.

For the earlier version, in place of affable bank robber John Wayne we have Chester Morris as a ruthless desperado who’d clearly throw the baby in front of the sheriff’s horse to slow him down. Lewis Stone is the aging bandit with a heart of gold, and Walter Brennan is their loopy old partner who’d like to be a better person but can’t figure out quite how to accomplish that. For both Stone and Brennan, saving that baby just might mean redeeming their souls, and eventually even Morris decides to give the kid a break, if he can live long enough.

The new Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray was my introduction to this version of the film, and I was captivated by the differences between this and the much-better-known Ford production. It is a powerful double-feature and a textbook session in how two films can adapt the same source material and yet have such different points of view.

Richard Boleslawski (nee Boleslavsky) was a Pole who emigrated to the U.S. and became a popular director and acting coach; amongst his notable films were Men in White with Clark Gable, Rasputin and the Empress with the three Barrymores, and The Garden of Allah with Marlene Dietrich. He died of a heart attack while filming The Last of Mrs. Cheney with William Powell and Joan Crawford, only a year after completing Three Godfathers.

Joseph Ruttenberg deserves acclaim for his brilliant cinematography on the film, with startling close-ups providing a powerful punch to the storytelling. Ruttenberg’s decades-long run at MGM gave us Fury, the 1941 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Mrs. Miniver, Gaslight, and Somebody Up There Likes Me; he stayed at the studio long enough to direct Elvis Presley movies in the 1960s.

The Disc Itself

Brilliant! Both the color and B&W versions of the film glow in high-def restorations; if I wanted to show off my superior TV and audio capabilities, this disc would be Exhibit A of how good older classic films can look when restored properly. Putting both films on one disc at a standard Blu-ray price makes this one of the best discs and values of the year; trailers for both films are included. A gem.

Shortly before Christmas, three bank robbers fleeing from the posse come across a dying woman about to give birth in the desert, and promise her that they'll see her baby to safety – across a scorching desert. Without water. With the sheriff and his men in hot (you should forgive the expression) pursuit!

3 Godfathers Blu Ray Review 1936 and 1938 (2024)
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