This is one of the four DVDs I rented several nights ago. I stayed up and watched it early this morning and then Monster, which will follow this appraisal.
I must admit for many years I did not think John Wayne could really act. I suppose it comes from the fact he pretty much played the cowboy in most of his films. Sure he done war films but westerns were his real territory.
Lately I have watched True Grit, The Searches, and now 3 Godfathers, and my opinion has somewhat changed. He is in the top ten on the American Film Insitiutes best actors list. Even though my opinion of his abilities is softening I still believe he is not that good to warrant being on that list. I digress here a bit because that list does not even have an actor of the more modern era in it. Johnny Depp, Robert Downey jr, Sean Penn, to name a few are the equals of Bogart, Stewart, Grant, Gable and company surely??
Anyway it is just a personal observation and all opinions may differ from mine.
But back to the legend of John Wayne! This film took me by surprise. I thought it was going be another western, but it wasn't. It is a western but it is like no other western I have ever seen. John ford was a great director of westerns and he was a director who got the most out of Wayne's acting abilities. Just watch The Searchers, Wayne's best role and one I would rather he had won his only Oscar for rather than True Girt.
3 Godfathers is similar to Ben-Hur in having a very religious backdrop, but without a moralistic tone. This is what makes it so unique among westerns. I knew nothing about this film until I watched it, and the religious tone really floored me. It in a nutshell is a re-telling of Christmas within a western setting. I won't go into a overly detailed synopsis but the plot involves three bank robbers who are escaping the law and bump into a woman about to give birth, who subsequently dies.
Before she does she makes the three men the godfathers of her newborn. And here the film shifts into its religious tone. The men still need to out run the law, and with a baby. They decide to head to a city called New Jerusalem after one reads a passage from the bible. Then the parallel between the three wise men following the star is played out as the three follow a star to their destination.
Two die on the way and of course Wayne makes it with the baby in tow only to be arrested and slapped in jail with a lenient sentence. This is after saying he wouldn't turn his back on his promise to the dead woman to look after the child.
I really liked this film. It has some quite humourous moments where the three struggle to come to terms with feeding and nuturing a baby. It is subtle comic humour and Wayne plays it superbly. It is somewhat dated with the shots between outside and in a studio glaringly obvious. But anyone with a sense of cinema history will see it and recognise how far effects in a film have travelled. It adds a certain charm to watching it, after all it is now sixty years old.
The ending is somewhat absurd as the towns folk cheer the outlaw who has been captured for robbing their bank. But to see the whole film is too realise this isn't a western of the classic type. It is subtle, gentle, and quietly beautiful. It is also a film from a completely different American era of film making. There is an innocence to this film that was soon to be lost. It is to me in one word beautiful, a strange word for a western but there it is. It is wonderful to see a film that didn't need to resort to explict, graphic bloodshed, excessive profanity, and nudity to be good.
I again stress that this is a film on the cusp of the loss of innocence within American society and its film industry. It is a lovely, gentle film, and I truely recommend it. John Ford has made a very quiet, subtle, and gentle masterpiece whilst showing that John Wayne could act.
( I am a John Wayne fan through and through and I hope I don't offend the purists of you out there. I feel that Wayne just lacked range, but the more films I see my view is, as stated , softening. He is a legend and rightly so).
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