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THREE FACES WEST (director: Bernard Vorhaus; screenwriters: F. Hugh Herbert/Joseph Moncure March/Samuel Ornitz/Doris Anderson; cinematographer: John Alton; editor: William Morgan; music: Victor Young; cast: John Wayne (John Phillips), Sigrid Gurie (Leni ‘Lenchen’ Braun), Charles Coburn (Dr. Karl Braun), Spencer Charters (Dr. ‘Nunk’ Atterbury), Helen MacKellar (Mrs. Welles), Roland Varno (Dr. Eric Von Scherer), Trevor Bardette (Higgins), Russell Simpson (Minister); Runtime: 79; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sol C. Siegel; Republic; 1940)
“An unusual contemporary Western featuring a compelling theme about refugees making a go of it in their new country among pioneers.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An unusual contemporary Western featuring a compelling theme about refugees making a go of it in their new country among pioneers, and also warning about the Nazi threat to civilization. It’s worth seeing for its uniqueness but it’s blandly directed by Bernard Vorhaus; the patriotic but weakly drawn screenplay is handled by F. Hugh Herbert, Joseph Moncure March, Samuel Ornitz, and Doris Anderson.

Prominent orthopedic surgeon Dr. Karl Braun (Charles Coburn) and his Brahms playing pianist daughter Leni (Sigrid Gurie) are refugees from Hitler’s Austria, who appear on a NYC radio program that locates refugee doctors in rural areas across America where their services are sorely needed. The Viennese refugees are recruited by letter to go to North Dakota and arrive at night in the middle of a heavy dust storm. At the station they are greeted by John Phillips (John Wayne) and the veterinarian Dr. ‘Nunk’ Atterbury (Spencer Charters). They take the exhausted sixtysomething doctor to a number of emergency cases and inform him that there’s an influenza epidemic. The doctor helps a number of people while Leni does the nursing, but she complains to John that he must go home to rest as John keeps taking her father to patient’s homes throughout the night. The next day Leni urges her dad to split, but he says at least let’s attend church services before leaving. There the Minister (Russell Simpson) gives a rousing welcome to the doctor as a savior and later a woman urges the doctor to operate on her crippled son so he can walk again, which the doctor agrees to do. The refugees agree to give the area a chance and Karl even holds off taking an appointment at a well-established NYC clinic to help the community in their hour of need. John tries to keep the community of two hundred or so pioneers together by getting them to follow irrigation practices advised by experts at the university, but finally concedes after one dust storm too many and decides to lead his people to the promised land of Asheville Forks, Oregon. On the journey he argues with vulgar farmer rival Higgins (Trevor Bardette), who unfairly stirs the people up against John and urges they go to California instead. It leads to a fist fight (obligatory in a Wayne Western). Meanwhile John has fallen in love with Leni, but she receives a letter from the man she was engaged to in Vienna, Dr. Eric Von Scherer (Roland Varno), who helped them escape and they thought died in that attempt. Leni, who loves John more than Eric, breaks off the engagement to John out of a sense of duty and goes to San Francisco to meet Eric. There she finds him a changed man, a convert to Nazism and staunch defender of the Third Reich. After Karl calls him a diseased man in the soul and gives him a pro-American lecture, they go onto Oregon and in the new farming community being built by the Dust Bowl evacuees Leni weds John.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”