3 Godfathers

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There’s something very charming about an outlaw who shows us his good side. Sure, he breaks laws; but in a pinch, his instinct to do the truly right thing blazes in, just in the nick of time. He’s often the anti-hero with a tough, crusty exterior and vulnerable mush inside. The lovable cad.

In John Ford’s technicolor 3 GODFATHERS (1948), based on the 1918 novelette by Peter B Kyne, Ford introduces us to three outlaws who take us on a western journey of survival with a biblical Three Magi theme. And yes, these three outlaws give us their good sides, plenty.

In this film, Ford does what Ford does best. Gathers some of his entourage of actors, finds a breathtaking filming location for a backdrop, develops unforgettable characters with sprinkles of humor, then he masters the western storytelling like no one else. 3 GODFATHERS is a indeed western. But it’s also a heist film, a race for survival film, a spin on the standard hero film, a buddy film, and a romanticized telling of The Three Wise Men/ Christmas story.

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Ford made films from the silents to the 1960s, within a variety of genres including many masterpieces, but it is the western we most associate with his signature work. When you see a Ford western, you know it, and this one is unmistakably Ford. For a demanding director who was infamous for his gruff manner and harsh treatment of his cast, he had a heart-warming sentimental side that shines through in his films.

In 3 GODFATHERS, the sentiment starts even as the opening credits roll. Both Ford and his frequent lead, John Wayne, were very good friends with actor Harry Carey who just passed the year prior. Carey starred in Ford’s silent version of this film from 1916 with the same title. In the opening credits, Ford dedicates the film to him with a silhouette of a cowboy figure resembling Carey with the quote, “bright star of the early western sky.” But make no mistake in thinking this film is a soft, wordy piece. The man was a ‘doer’ of few words. Likewise, 3 GODFATHERS is a visual story telling of action across stunning landscapes, often with horses, mules, and an abundance of thirst.

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Our three outlaws are John Wayne as Robert Marmaduke Hightower (named by Ford for his favorite stuntman Slim Hightower), Pedro Armendariz as Pedro, and Harry Carey, Jr. as William Kearney aka “The Abilene Kid.” Despite choosing opposing sides of the law, marshal Perley ‘Buck” Sweet (Ward Bond) and Hightower connect instantly with report, respect, and humor, even before the 3 outlaws rob the local bank. As Perley and a posse take chase across the desert, Hightower strategically does his best to outwit their pursuit efforts. Perley isn’t daunted, his admiration for Robert only grows stronger.

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In their quest for water and escape, the trio come across a dire scenario. A woman has been abandoned by a derelict husband who has left after forever destroying a water well in his ignorantly “tenderfoot” ways. Worst yet, she is about as pregnant as anyone could be. No means for water, the threesome make do with cactus juice and meager newborn provisions from the wagon where the woman gives birth, thanks to Pedro. There is an especially poignant and gentle scene portrayed by Mildred Natwick as the pregnant woman (supposedly 28 or 30 years old, but she was actually 43 years old at filming) who gives birth to a baby boy, whom she names Robert William Pedro, after his three godfathers.

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In Scott Eyman’s novel, “Print The Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford,” he quotes Natwick’s recall of her experience in working with Ford in this particular scene:

“I’ve never forgotten,” remembered Natwick, “that Ford seemed pleased with the scene and pleased that I done it. I guess because I knew my lines and got through it in [one] morning… I don’t know, you get things by osmosis from a wonderful director, I think. His feeling about what the woman was thinking and feeling.” 

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Natwick’s account was a stark contrast from Harry (“Dobe”) Carey, Jr.’s, for whom Jack Ford was also known as “Uncle Jack.” Despite the fond admiration betwixt his father and Jack, Dobe was not given any special treatment on the set. If anything, Ford was much tougher on him than most. Also according to Eyman’s book, this was Jack’s typical baptism onto his set via a form of fraternity hazing.

Clearly, Ford was a complicated man imbued with contradictions. Perhaps the salty layers of Robert Hightower with a firm moral code is how Jack chose to see himself.

I won’t reveal a full synopsis of this film to spoil it, but I’m confident that at the beating heart of 3 GODFATHERS is its humanity. Each of the three outlaw godfathers reveal their ultimate goodness, and individual strengths and weaknesses to us. Both small characters (like man-hungry, cackling Jane Darwell as Miss Florie) and larger characters alike are brilliantly developed and showcased. You don’t have to be a nativity believer to find appeal in this moral journey these three men face. Their struggle for survival and search for integrity at all costs, in complete devotion to the baby, tugs at the heart strings.

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I’m a sucker for the holidays. I embrace it with child-like wonder and magic. If this is a Christmas film you’ve never seen before, or if it’s been a long time, you owe it to yourself to screen it soon. You can get your chance via TCM in December 15th at 9:30pm ET, 2018. 


*This article is a submission to the Outlaws- The 2018 Fall CMBA Blogathon. I encourage you to read all the entries (click here for each day’s full list: https://clamba.blogspot.com/2018/10/outlaws-2018-fall-cmba-blogathon.html ) in this collective, of which I’m proud to be a part of. Outlaws Bannner - Jesse James

Announcing the 7th Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON

Announcing the SEVENTH ANNUAL What A Character! Blogathon
December 14-16, 2018

GoldDiggersOf193324-650x493When you re-watch your favorite films, what keeps you coming back for more? A great story with sharp writing? No doubt. Beautiful costumes, swanky set designs, and stunning cinematography? Most assuredly. But the performances are key to any movie. While we all look forward to the popular leading actors, it is the stand-out, scene-stealing supporting actors that feel like “home.”

Wise-cracking Eve Arden, nurturing Louise Beavers, sassy Thelma Ritter, double-take pro Edward Everett Horton, tart-tongued Edna May Oliver, gravelly-voiced Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, fatherly Charles Coburn, frazzled Franklin Pangborn, bull frog voiced, barrel-chested Eugene Pallette, cigar chomping Ned Sparks… these and so many more lovable character actors are who we look forward to seeing as our dearest ole chums. We all could use a trusted sidekick.

For the seventh consecutive year, we as the blogathon hosting trio of Aurora of Once Upon A Screen/ @CitizenScreen, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club/ @Paula_Guthat, and yours truly Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled/ @IrishJayhawk66 invite you to join us for the WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON 2018, December 14, 15, 16, as we pay tribute to the brilliance of the supporting players.

Our objective for the What A Character! Blogathon has always been to shed the spotlight on these lesser-known but equally talented thespians, whose names usually appeared below the title. If you wish salute your favorite on-screen character actor- the quirky maid, that ornery hotel manager, frustrated maître D’, sassy best friend, a hot-tempered heavy, flabbergasted father, sarcastic sidekick, grumpy boss, gobsmacked butler- then you’ve come to the right place. Please review the guidelines below first, and leave me a comment.

  • Let at least one of the hosts know which character actor is your choice.
  • Don’t take it for granted we know exactly who you are or where your blog resides – please include the title and URL of your blog, also your Twitter handle if you have one.
  • We will not accept repeats (previously published posts), or duplicates, since there are so many greats worthy of attention, but your choices are not limited to classics. You can choose any character actor from any era and from the medium of television, which has featured talented regulars since the beginning, and continues to do so.
  • Publish your WAC! post on either December 14, 15, or 16, 2018. Let us know if you have a date preference; otherwise, we’ll split publicizing duties equally among the three days.
  • Please include one of our banners (see below) within your What A Character! post.
  • Additionally, we appreciate when you include [one of] the WAC! 2018 event banner[s] included in this post on your blog itself to help us promote the event.
  • Thank you for sending any of us the direct link to your post once you have published it. Searching on social media sites can lead to missed entries.
  • My contact info: prattkellee@gmail.com / twitter~ @IrishJayhawk66 ~or, simply leave a comment below
  • HAVE FUN and spread the word!

Here are the spectacular banners Aurora has created for you to promote on your blogs…

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Participating blogs and their choice of actors:

Walter Abel ~ Another Old Movie Blog

Sara Allgood ~Maddy Loves Her Classic Films

Lionel Atwill ~ Paula’s Cinema Club

Beulah Bondi ~ Once Upon A Screen

Elisha Cook, Jr. ~ Outspoken & Freckled

Jean Dixon ~ One Gal’s Musings

Alan Hale (Sr) ~ Silver Screen Classics

Margaret Hamilton ~ Wide Screen World

Ed Harris ~ Reel Weedgie Midget Reviews

Eileen Heckart ~ The Last Drive-In

Frieda Inescort ~ Sister Celluloid

Skelton Knaggs ~ Bill Shaffer, guest blogger on Outspoken & Freckled

Jack Lambert ~ Caftan Woman

Charles McGraw ~ The Old Hollywood Garden

Stephen McNally ~ CineMaven’s Essays From The Couch

Agnes Morehead ~ In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood

Eugene Pallette ~ Carole & Co.

Elizabeth Patterson ~ Backstory: A Guide To Classic Film

Nat Pendleton ~ Sarah as guest blogger on Once Upon A Screen

Thelma Ritter ~ A Shroud Of Thoughts

Everett Sloane in LADY FROM SHANGHAI ~ Silver Screenings

Kay Thompson ~ The Lady Eve’s Reel Life

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*This WAC! Blogathon is dedicated in memory to two very fine character actors whom we lost this year. James Karen (1923 – 2018) was a hard-working actor who was a personal friend of Buster Keaton and frequent attendee of the Buster Keaton Celebration in Kansas and the TCMFF. Vanessa Marquez (1968 – 2018) was an extraordinary actress of film and TV and an even better friend. She is greatly missed and we continue to hold her close in our hearts.

Thank you to TCM for the tagline inspiration and to all you bloggers and film fans for your ongoing participation and support for seven years running! And a big ShoutOut to my fellow co-hosts who inspire me all year long for being such marvelous and lovely characters themselves!

~Kellee

 

 

 

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