(director/producer: John Ford; screenwriters: from the story by Peter B. Kyne/Laurence Stallings; cinematographer: Winton Hoch ; editor: Jack Murray; music: Richard Hageman; cast: John Wayne (Robert Marmaduke Sangster Hightower), Pedro Armendariz (Pedro Roca Fuerte), Harry Carey Jr. (William Kearney, “The Abilene Kid”), Ward Bond (Perley ‘Buck’ Sweet), Mae Marsh (Mrs. Perley Sweet), Jane Darwell (Miss Florie), Mildred Natwick (Mother), Guy Kibbee (Judge), Hank Worden; Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Merian C. Cooper; MGM; 1948)

Wayne as the Prodigal Son delivering the Christ child seemed a bit of a stretch.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

3 Godfathers is John Ford’s Western tribute to Harry Carey Sr, who starred in Ford’s first version of this many times-filmed story (Marked Man, 1919). The opening credits say “To the memory of Harry Carey, bright star of the early western sky.”

Ford relates this tale to the biblical parable of the Magi. Three Arizona bank robbers (Wayne, Carey Jr and Armendariz) on the run across the Mohave reluctantly give up their freedom to save a baby found in the desert. The child’s abandoned mother Mildred Natwick dies in her covered wagon at childbirth, but not before she makes them promise to take the child to safety and be the child’s godfathers. The trio are faced with an arduous trek during which two of them die. Sheriff Buck Sweet (Ward Bond) and the posse are in close pursuit. It is filmed in Death Valley, where it captures the haunting splendor of the isolated locale. Its most endearing scene has John Wayne arrive in New Jerusalem to lay the baby on the saloon bar on Christmas Day. Wayne responds with “Set ’em up, mister, milk for the infant and a cold beer for me.”

The religious symbols were too heavy-handed to have much affect, except to mar the film into a dull mawkish stupor. Wayne as the Prodigal Son delivering the Christ child seemed a bit of a stretch. At best, it’s one of Ford’s lesser films where the scenery is more spectacular than the over sentimental story.