Friday, April 1, 2022

"The Three Godfathers": A Christmas Allegory Interpreted By John Ford, William Wyler, Richard Boleslawski and Edward Le Saint

John Ford didn't just make the 1948 "3 Godfathers", he made another, before the John Wayne feature. Also, there was a forgotten, overlooked, 1929 version by director William Wyler . Not to forget one by Richard Boleslawski and another by Edward Le Saint.

Above, the 1913 "First Edition" of Peter B. Kyne's novella, "The Three Godfathers", that first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post", and below, the author.

"The Three Godfathers" novel has five main characters:

Tom Gibbons, referred to as "The Worst Bad Man".

Bill Kearney referred to as "The Wounded Bad Man"

 Bob Sangster referred to as "The Youngest Bad Man"

 "The Woman", and

 Robert William Thomas Sangster "The Baby"

The novella's plot:

Four men rob a bank in Wickenberg, Arizona. One of the four is shot and killed, but the other three, "Gibbons", "Kearney", and "Sangster" flee into the Arizona desert, but one of the three was shot. They come upon a covered wagon and a woman left by herself in labor, she delivers her baby boy, but dies shortly afterwards. Before her death, the woman asks the three men to become her child's "Godfathers".

Crossing the desert toward the next town, two of the men die from lack of water and wanting to keep the baby boy, which they have named, "Robert William Thomas Sangster", alive. The last man "Samgster", makes it to the town of "New Jerusalem", having been pursued by coyotes, but with the help of a burro he found.

As my reader can tell by the name of the town the last bank robber reaches, this was a revision of the Christmas story by Peter B. Kyne's.


The first four motion pictures I will be discussing have a common denominator, Carl Laemmle, the owner and founder of "Universal Pictures", who had purchased the film rights to the novella.


THE THREE GODFATHERS released on June 19, 1916


This silent picture was the first version of Kyne's novella filmed and was directed by Edward LeSaint. Between 1912 and 1926, he directed a combined 137 features and shorts, and, between 1911 and 1940, LeSaint had 327 acting roles.

The screenplay was co-written by LeSaint, one of nine he co-wrote, and Harvey Gates. Gates wrote the screenplay for the first sound filmed version of Oscar Hammerstein II's play, 1929's "The Desert Song", in 1935, Harvey Gates adapted the story the "Werewolf of London" was based upon.

The motion picture was filmed in California's "Mojave Desert". 

The Main Cast:

Harry Carey, Sr. 
portrayed "Bob Sangster". "B" Cowboy star Carey's career started as a stunt man in 1909. In 1911, D.W. Griffith signed Harry Carey to an exclusive contract, and prior to this motion picture. Carey had started a series of Westerns, with the "good-hearted outlaw Cheyenne Harry",  who Carey played through 1936. In 1917, the actor appeared in the John Ford Western, "Straight Shooting", with the start of a friendship that lasted until the actor's death.

Stella Razeto portrayed the added character of "Ruby Merrill, The Mojave Lady". Between 1913 and 1915, Razeto only appeared in "Shorts" until 3rd billing in the 1915 mystery "The Circular Starcase" directed by Edward LeSaint. Between 1917 and 1934, Stella Razeto stopped making motion picture, but at the end of her career in 1949, she had appeared in 103 roles from a combination of shorts and features and was married to LeSaint.

George Berrell portrayed "Tim (Not Tom) Gibbons". Berrell was mainly a stage actor, but over his film career, including John Ford's "Straight Shooting", appeared in 55 movies.

Frank Lanning portrayed "Bill Kearney". Lanning played Native Americans in several silent films. In 1927, the actor had a major role in "The Unknown" by director Tod Browning, and starring Lon Chaney, Joan Crawford, and Norman Kerry. In 1934, Frank Lanning was in the cast of the Cliff Hanger, "The Return of Chandu", starring Bela Lugosi in one of his rare non-villain roles. I couldn't locate a picture of the actor from this picture, but the following is from 1925's "The Fighting Ranger".

Joe Rickson portrayed "Rusty Conners". Rickson appeared in "B" Westerns starting in 1913 with many forgotten silent cowboy actors such as Buddy Roosevelt, Neal Hart, Wally Wales (actually Hal Taliaferro), and known "B" Cowboys such as Harry Carey, Buck Jones, Tom Mix, and William Boyd.

Jack "Hart" Hoxie portrayed "Sheriff Pete Cushing". Hoxie was born in what was Kingfisher Creek, Indian Territory, now the state of Oklahoma and his mother was a half-Nez Perce Native American, or possible Cherokee? Between 1910 and 1933, Jack Hoxie appeared in 136 Western movies.

The Screenplay:

The story opens with "Ruby Merrill", who works at an orange packing company, suffering a nervous breakdown and entering a hospital. When she is released, "Ruby" heads West and becomes dance hall hostess "The Mojave Lady". The setting of the story has changed from Arizona to California.

"Ruby" meets a cowpoke named "Bob Sangster" and the two fall in love, but his past as a convict for stealing horses hangs over the couple. Next, three other convicts, "Bill", "Tim" and "Rusty", that "Bob" knows comes to town and talks him in joining in a bank robbery. 

The four rob the "Wells Fargo Bank", but in the gun battle with "Sheriff Pete Cushing", "Rusty Conners" is killed and the others get away. "Bob", "Bill", and "Tim" find themselves in the Mojave Desert.

The three bank robbers come across a woman in a covered wagon that has been left by herself and is in labor. She gives birth and before dying asks the three to become the baby boy's "Godfathers" (Trivia: it is obvious in a one seen that the baby boy is being played by a baby girl). 

The three head back to the town they robbed the bank in, but only "Bob" and the baby make it back alive, as "Tim" and "Bill" die from the hardships of the Mojave Desert.

"Bob" and "Sheriff Cushing" return to the desert to recover the money from the robbery. Looking over the area, the Sheriff finds the woman's family bible and makes the discovery she was his sister. 

In the end, he forgives "Bob" for the robbery, and thanks him for saving the life of his nephew. "Sheriff Pete Cushing" gives "Bob Sangster" and "Ruby Merrill" a portion of the reward money to start a new life together.

Apparently the following two stills are all the remain of the motion picture.  

Next there was John Ford's first version of Peter B. Kyne's novel.

MARKED MEN released on December 21, 1919

The credits and the above poster, read that the motion picture was directed by "Jack" Ford, the alias John Martin Feeney was using at the time.

The screenplay was by H. Tipton Steck, who wrote both Western shorts and features for John Ford. In 1919, Steck wrote the Ford Western shorts, "The Indian Post", "Gun Law", "The Last Outlaw", and the feature length version of Brete Hart's "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" starring Harry Carey, and, "Rider of the Law" also with Carey.

This "Lost Motion Picture's" screenplay is basically a remake of the 1916 motion picture.

The Main Cast:

Harry Carey did not portray "Bob Sangster", but "Cheyenne Harry", mentioned above, for the 13th time since 1916's "A Knight of the Range". He would appear as that same character another 10 times before the end of 1919.

Winifred Westover
portrayed "Ruby Merrill". Her film career of 28 roles, lasted from 1916 to 1930, with a break in 1921 to marry "B" Cowboy star and owner of half of the Santa Clarita Valley, William S. Hart.

Above Winifred Westover and Harry Carey.

Joe Harris portrayed "Tom Gibbons". Harris was mainly a silent "B" Western supporting actor between 1913 and 1923. 

Ted Brooks portrayed "Tony Garcia", the "Bill Kearney" character. Between 1917 and 1921, Brooks only appeared on-screen 11 times and they were all Westerns. I could not locate any photo of Ted Brooks.

Charles Le Moyne portrayed "Sheriff Pete Cushing". Between 1915 and 1937, Le Moyne appeared in 76 "B" Westerns. 

The Screenplay:

"Harry Cheyenne" and his two pals, "Tom Gibbons" and "Tony Garcia", seen below in the water, have broken out of jail and go their separate ways.

"Harry" has met and fallen in love with "Ruby Merrill", described as a decent girl who has been forced by circumstances to become a waitress at a dance hall, in the town of Trade Rat. One day at the mining camp, "Tom" and "Tony" show-up and discover that "Harry" is there. The two want to rob the local bank and ask "Harry" to join them.

"Harry" wants to lead a decent life now, but feels obligated to help "Tom" and "Tony" rob the bank, because they helped him escape jail. The robbery goes off and the three are followed for a while by "Sheriff Cushing" and a posse. 

In the desert the three come across a covered wagon with a pregnant woman who has been left alone. She delivers her baby and, before dying, ask "Harry", "Tom", and "Tony" to be his godfathers. The three decide to return to Trade Rat with the baby and the money from the robbery. On the way the desert conditions cause the deaths of "Tom" and "Tony".

"Harry" makes it back to town, reunites with "Ruby", "Sheriff Cushing" pardons him, because it turns out the woman was his sister and the baby his nephew.

Three years later, John "Jack" Ford filmed the Peter B. Kyne's novella for a second time, or did he?

ACTION released on September 12, 1921

The motion picture is another one that is "Lost" and somehow, the screenplay was supposed to be based upon Peter B. Kyne's "The Three Godfathers". Many websites and reviewers that I read, including "IMDb", describe the story with the exact wording, below, on the website "TMDB" as if it was just copied to avoid any research on the actual motion picture:
Three Outlaws came across a stranded baby and must decide to save the child or escape from the law.

what was also mentioned, in everything I read, as an additional source of the screenplay was found in a review from the "San Francisco Chronicle" for September 4, 1921". The review gives 
the more probable source, the pulp Western magazine short story, "The Mascotte of the Star", by writer J. Allan Dunn. 

The screenplay was written by the previously mentioned Harvey Gates.

Every website, even those using the above description, list characters not associated with Kyne's novel in anyway, but with Dunn's short story. 

The Main Cast:

Hoot Gibson portrayed "Sandy Bourke". After appearing in nothing but shorts starting in 1910, this was "B" Cowboy Gibson's first feature length motion picture.

Francis Ford portrayed "Soda Water Manning". John Ford's older brother back in 1914, directed himself as "Sherlock Holmes" in the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story "A Study in Scarlet". Among his brother John's films Francis would appear in, are, 1940's "The Grapes of Wrath", 1941's "Tobacco Road", and 1949's "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon".

J. Farrell MacDonald portrayed "Mormon Peters". MacDonald was in the cast of both Ford's 1919 "Outcasts of Poker Flats" and "Marked Men". 

Clara Horton portrayed "Molly Casey". Horton played "Becky Thatcher" in the 1917 "Tom Sawyer" and 1918 "Tom and Huck". 

The Screenplay:

It appears that the mix-up comes from the fact the story is about three cowboys, but not three bank robbers, or outlaws. Perhaps someone initially thought director Jack Ford was remaking Kyne's novel. Otherwise, no site, not even "TCM", which has the correct plot, explains why so many others think this Western is a remake of "The Three Godfathers".

Saloon owner "J. Primrose", played by William Robert Daly, wants the mine and somebody kills "Pat Casey", played by Buck Connors, and his daughter "Molly" inherits the ranch and mine. Next, "Primrose" starts to manipulate circumstances to get the mine away from "Molly". Enter the three friends who stop him, while "Sandy" and "Molly" fall in love in standard "B" Western formula, but not in anyway like either the 1919 movie "Marked Men", or Peter B. Kyne's novel  "The Three Godfathers".

Returning to the actual Peter B. Kyrne's novella was new a "Universal Pictures" production.

HELL'S HEROES premiering December 12, 1929 in Elizabethton, Tennessee

This was the first all-sound motion picture from the studio's contract director, William Wyler. Of Wyler's first 32 films, between 1925 and this picture, 21 were short subjects. 

I look at the later career of William Wyler, whose work, at times, became confused with director Billy Wilder, because of the similarity in the sound of their names. My article, "Director WILLIAM WYLER --Director BILLY WILDER: Clearing Some of the Confusion Among Classic Movie Lovers", can be read at:

The novella was adapted by Tom Reed. Reed had made the original title cards for 1925's "The Phantom of the Opera", and was the dialogue arranger for the part talkie, part silent, 1929 version of the Jerome Kern musical, "Show Boat". In 1931,  Tom Reed wrote the screenplay for director James Whales "Waterloo Bridge", in 1932 he wrote the screenplay for Bela Lugosi's "Murder in the Rue Morgue", and in 1935 co-wrote James Whales "Bride of Frankenstein"

C. Gardner Sullivan wrote the actual screenplay and started in 1912 writing short subjects until mid-1915. Among the major motion pictures Sullivan worked on, were Lon Chaney's 1925 "The Monster", and William S. Hart's 1925 "Tumbleweeds". While in 1930 it was "All Quiet on the Western Front", in 1938 Cecil B. DeMille's "The Buccaneer", in 1939 his "Union Pacific", and in  1940, it was DeMille's "Northwest Mounted Police".

The Main Cast:

Charles Bickford portrayed "Bob Sangster". This was Bickford's second on-screen appearance and among his future work was Cecil B. DeMille's 1936 "The Plainsman", Lewis Milestone's 1939 "Of Mice and Men", Cecil B. DeMille's 1942 "Reap the Wild Wind", David O. Selznick's 1946 "Duel in the Sun", George Cukor's 1954 "A Star is Born", Otto Preminger's 1955 "The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell", and William Wyler's 1958 "The Big Country".

Raymond Hatton portrayed "Tom 'Barbwire' Gibbons". Hatton would become a side-kick for several major "B" Cowboys and appear in "Republic Pictures" "The Three Mesquiteers" series with John Wayne, Duncan Renaldo, and Robert Livingston. He would also play a prospector in director Roger Corman's 1955 Science Fiction, "The Day the World Ended". My article, "An Overview of 'THE THREE MESQUITEERS': A Classic "B" Western Series", will be found at:

Fred Kohler portrayed "Wild Bill' Kearney". This was not really the typical role for Fred Kohler, who played "heavies" in most of his 144 motion picture roles between 1911 and 1939.

Above, Fred Kohler and Raymond Hatton.

Look at the rest of the cast and you'll see Buck Connors as "Parson Jones", Mary Gordon, "Mrs. Hudson" in the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce "Sherlock Holmes" films, as a member of the "Church Choir", and don't blink, or you'll miss John Huston as a "Member of the Church".

The Screenplay:

Four men, "Bob Sangster", "Barbwire Gibbons", "Wild Bill Kearney", and "Jose", played by Jo De La Cruz, rob the bank in the town of New Jerusalem. During the robbery both "Jose" and the cashier, no name of actor on cast list, are killed and "Barbwire" is shot in the shoulder.

The three outlaws escape the posse and flee into the desert. 

A sandstorm comes up and after the storm subsides, the three men are without their horses and have to walk.

They're now forced to conserve water and hope to find a watering hole.

The three reach a watering hole and discover it's dry, but there's a covered wagon standing alone near it.


Inside, the three men discover a woman, played by Fritzi Ridgeway, who's pregnant and in labor.

The woman delivers her baby boy and unaware that the three are both bank robbers and killers. Before dying, she asks them to take the baby to its father in New Jerusalem, the cashier that was killed during the robbery.

The three realize their only hope of survival and the baby's is to reach New Jerusalem. They start walking back to the town they're wanted men in. "Barbwire" from his shoulder wound and the desert heat is the first to die.

According to the website for "True West Magazine":
This being 1929, when you could basically get away with anything in filmmaking, every scene in the desert is with a real baby. During one particularly outrageous scene, one of the bad guys keeps poking the newborn infant with a stick, and he’s really poking a newborn infant with a stick.

Hell’s Heroes offers some wonderful visual shots, including a very fast tracking shot that I’m convinced David Lean stole for 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia.

"Wild Bill" and "Bob" bed down for the night and the following morning "Bill" is nowhere in sight. "Bob" finds a note on the baby telling him that his friend went off into the desert to die alone and wishes him luck getting the boy back to New Jerusalem, it is "Christmas Day"!

The note also tells "Bob" the "Bill" did this as a Christmas present to the two, giving them more water to share. 

"Bob Sangster" arrives at a watering hole that he knows is toxic and contains alkali. He drinks the water to hopefully give him enough strength to get the baby boy back to New Jerusalem.

"Bob" makes it back to the town, hears the townspeople in the church singing "Silent Night", walks to the church entrance, enters and collapses, his mission for the mother completed, "Bob Sangster" dies without saying another word.

Next, "Universal Pictures" was replaced  by "Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)".

THE THREE GODFATHERS released on March 6, 1936

This version of Peter B. Kyne's novel was directed by Polish born, Richard Boleslawski. Among his films from the previous year, were both the Ronald Coleman, and Lorretta Young, biographical motion picture, "Clive of India",  and author Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables" starring Fredic March and Charles Laughton.

There were four writers involved in turning Kyne's novel into a screenplay.

Edward E. Paramore, Jr. was a "B" Western writer. In 1929 he worked on Gary Cooper's "The Virginian", in 1930 Paramore worked on Richard Arlen's "The Santa Fe Trail", later Edward Paramore wrote the Richard Dix 1942, "Tombstone: The Town Too Tough to Die".

Manuel Seff co-wrote the screenplay for the musical, 1933's "Footlight Parade" starring James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, and Dick Powell. He also wrote the 1935 musical "Gold Diggers of 1935".

Joseph L. Mankiewicz
was both the film's producer, his first, and an uncredited screenplay writer. 

Ainsworth Morgan only co-wrote six screenplays and this was his only uncredited one and third screenplay overall.

The Main Cast:

Chester Morris portrayed "Robert 'Bob' Sangster". Morris was a stage and radio actor at the time and had been nominated for the "Best Actor Oscar" for the 1929 crime drama, "Alibi". Morris co-starred with Wallace Beery and Lewis Stone in the prison drama, 1930's "Big House", he starred in the 1930 "The Bat Whispers" based upon a play by authoress Mary Roberts Rhinehart. Later he would portrayed detective "Boston Blackie" in a series of motion pictures and on a television series.

Lewis Stone portrayed "James Underwood aka: Doc". In 1932, Stone played "Nayland Smith" going after Boris Karloff in author Sax Rohmer's "The Mask of Fu Manchu". In 1937, Lewis Stone would first play "Judge Hardy" in "You're Only Young Once", that turned into the very successful "And Hardy" series starring Mickey Rooney.

I look at Stone's "Fu Manchu" motion picture is part of my article, "Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee: Fu Manchu the Movies" at:

Walter Brennan portrayed "Sam Bartow (On some sites his name is "Barton" ) aka: Gus". Brennan had been acting on-screen since 1925. Like for "The Neighbor with Ax" in 1935's "Bride of Frankenstein", he's Brennan. After this picture that character actor was seen with 6th billing in director Fritz Lang's 1936 "Fury" starring Sylvia Sydney and Spencer Tracy, director Cecil B. DeMille's 1938 "The Buccaneer", 1939's "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle" starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers, Cecil B. DeMille's 1940 "Northwest Passage" starring Spencer Tracy and Robert Young, and director John Ford's 1946's "My Darling Clementine" playing "Old Man Clanton" and starring Henry Fonda as "Wyatt Earp". 

That last motion picture is part of my article, "The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral' as Reinvented by Hollywood", at:

Irene Hervey portrayed "Molly". Hervey started her on-screen career in 1933, after graduating from the "MGM Acting School" and given a contract with the studio. Among her films is the Warner Oland, 1935, "Charlie Chan in Shanghai", in 1939 Hervey was in the Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart "Destry Rides Again", in 1942 the actress co-starred with Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill in "Night Monster" and in 1952 she switched to television guest appearances.

Sidney Toler portrayed "Professor Amos Snape". He had been acting on-screen since 1929 and in 1938, Toler took over the role of "Charlie Chan" from Warner Oland, who had passed away. I could not locate a photo of the actor for this motion picture.

The Screenplay:

The story opens the week before Christmas, on a rise overlooking the town of New Jerusalem, are "Bob Sangster", who's returning to his home town, "Doc Underwood", who has a Ph.D, and seems out of place with four outlaws, "Gus Bartow", an elderly cowhand, and "Pedro", played by Russian emigre, Joseph Marievsky, who likes to play his guitar and sing.

The whole town is at an early Christmas social celebration and "Gus" and "Doc" are welcomed and "Pedro" accepted, but it is "Bob" that causes immediate concern. 

"Bob" crosses to "Molly", the girl he loved, but is about to marry "Frank Benson", played by "B" cowboy actor and future "Three Mesquiteer", Robert Livingston. "Bob" and "Molly" dance and after, he shows "Molly" a watch and says it was his mother's and wants her to have it. She refuses, he grabs her, she slaps him, and thanks "Bob" for showing her what he really is like and tells him to give the watch back to the woman he stole it from.

The next morning, "Frank Benson", the bank president, is trying on a "Santa Claus" suit, when the four men enter the bank. "Frank" offers no residence to being held up, but "Bob" kills him in cold blood saying:

There ain't no Santa Claus!

In the short shootout, "Pedro" is killed and "Doc" is wounded in the arm. The three flee into the desert and reach the first watering hole, but it's marked "Poison Water".

As they move toward the next waterhole, they find a body, they will learn later, is "George Marshall", a tenderfoot who killed himself. Arriving at that next watering hole, the three see a covered wagon and find that the well was dynamited by "Marshall" thinking he could unclog it and get water.

Inside the covered wagon is a dying woman, "Mrs. Marshall", played by Helen Brown, and her baby. 

Before she dies, "Mrs. George Marshall" gives her baby to the three men to care for. They bury "Mrs. Marshall" and camp for the night and discuss the baby's future.

"Doc" and "Gus" want to take the baby with them, but "Bob" thinks it will be a hardship for the baby and is for:

putting him out of his misery.

In the morning the three men find their horses dead, they attempted to drink the contaminated water from the dynamited well.

The three bank robbers find milk for the baby and "Bob" hands the other two cans of it to drink, but nothing for the baby. "Doc" whose wound is festering, uses his share of the gold to buy a can for the baby. "Doc" now starts carrying the baby, but later after writing out his will and giving it to "Gus" to keep for him. "Doc" realizes he can't go on any further and tells "Bob" and "Gus" to take the baby. As the two men walk away, a shot rings out from behind them.

That night, as "Bob" and the baby sleep, "Gus" says a prayer, leaves his share of the gold and "Doc's" will beside the baby and walks out into the desert.

The next day, "Bob" reads "Doc's Will", but it's only a note to him to:

give the kid a break
Instead, "Bob" leaves the baby behind and start to walk away, the baby wails, "Bob" turns and shoots a rattlesnake. Calling himself crazy, "Bob" picks up the baby and starts out toward New Jerusalem. 

Walking, "Bob" gives the baby the last of the water, drops the packs and the gold and keeps sluggishly walking towards town. Exhausted, "Bob" falls to his knees and actually prays. Suddenly, he sees the signpost at the poisoned well and "Bob" knows it's only five and a half miles to New Jerusalem.  

"Bob" remembers that "Doc" said it would take a man an hour to die from drinking the water in the well. He drinks it and tells the baby:
Here's to you kid

The redeemed bank robber picks up the baby and starts walking. "Bob" is barely standing anymore as he enters town, but everyone is at the church. "Robert 'Bob' Sangster" enters the church, sees "Molly", hands the baby to her, and drops to the floor dead.


As "Molly" is walking down the aisle, the baby is using "Bob's" watch as a teething ring, and someone asks out loud, where did he steal it from? 

"Molly" replies:

It was his mothers

 I now come to the most known version of Peter B. Kyne's novel.

3 GODFATHERS premiered on November 28, 1948 in Washington, D.C.

The main financial assistance to make this motion picture came from co-producer Merian C. Cooper. He had already co-produced with John Ford, 1948's "Fort Apache", and would co-produce 1949's "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon", both 1950's "Wagon Master" and "Rio Grande", and 1952's "The Quiet Man". While John Ford would co-produce Cooper's 1949 "Mighty Joe Young".

If my reader doesn't recognize Cooper by name! You may have heard of his 1933 "King Kong", but may not know he was a spy prior to the Second World War. My article on John Ford's co-producer, "MERIAN C. COOPER: BEFORE 'KING KONG' TO 'CINERAMA", can be found at:

John Ford was not only the co-producer, but the director. Prior to this picture, Ford directed 1948's "Fort Apache", and followed this feature by assisting Elia Kazen directing 1949's "Pinky". That starred Jeanne Crain as a light-skinned African American woman passing as white. The controversial motion picture co-starred both Ethel Barrymore and Ethel Waters.

In 1939, John Ford released his classic "Stagecoach", it took 27-years for the first remake, and another 20-years after that for the second. My article, "Comparing John Ford's 1939 'Stagecoach' to the 1966 and 1986 Remakes", can be read at:

There were three screenplay writers on the film, two credited, and one uncredited. 

The first of the two credited screenplay writers was Laurence Stallings. He started out as the uncredited writer for the World War One 1925 motion picture, "The Big Parade". As a playwright he wrote "What Price Glory", and the play based upon Ernest Hemmingway's "A Farewell to Arms" that became the 1930 Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes motion picture. Also, in 1930, Stallings wrote the screenplay for the Johnny Mack Brown and Wallace Beery 1930 "Billy the Kid". Later, he wrote the screenplay for Cecil B. DeMille's 1940 "Northwest Passage", and would co-write 1949's "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon".

The second of the two credited screenplay writers was Frank S. Nugent. Nugent worked on John Ford's 1948 "Fort Apache", 1949's "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon", 1952's "The Quiet Man", 1956's "The Searchers", 1961's "Two Rode Together", and 1963's "Donovan's Reef".

The uncredited screenplay writer was Robert Nathan. Nathan might be a strange additional writer, because he was a novelist. His screenplay work based upon his novels included two classic's, 1947's "The Bishop's Wife", and 1948's "Portrait of Jennie". Which were remade several times including television dramas into 1996.

John Ford's movie starts out with the following on-screen tribute:

The Main Cast:

John Wayne
portrayed "Robert Marmaduke Sangster Hightower". Wayne had just been seen in Howard Hawks 1948 "Red River", and followed this picture with 1948's "Wake of the Red Witch".
My article, "John Wayne in John Ford's CAVALARY TRILOGY: 'Fort Apache' 1948, 'She Wore a Yellow Ribbon' 1949 and 'Rio Grande' 1950", may be read at:

Pedro Armendariz portrayed "Pedro Roca Fuerte aka: Pete". Mexican actor Armendariz made many motion pictures in his home country, and just before this picture was "Maclovia" co-starring the Mexican actress, Maria Felix. He would follow this motion picture with 1949's "Tulsa" co-starring with Susan Hayward and Robert Preston.

In a motion picture dedicated to the memory of his father was:

Harry Carey, Jr. was "William Kearney aka: The Abilene Kid". A close friend of John Wayne, he had just been seen in the 1948 Western, "Blood on the Moon" starring Robert Mitchum, Barbara Bel Geddes, and Robert Preston. Harry Carey, Jr. wrote an excellent autobiography "Company of Heroes: My Life as an Actor in the John Ford Stock Company".

I want to point out five members of varying degrees from "The John Ford Stock Company" seen in this motion picture.

Ward Bond portrayed "Pearly 'Buck' Sweet". Prior to this motion picture, Bond, was in John Ford's 1939 "Young Mr. Lincoln", 1939's "Drums Along with Mohawk", 1940's "Grapes of Wrath", 1940's "The Long Voyage Home", 1941's "Tobacco Road", 1945's "They Were Expendable", 1946's "My Darling Clementine", and 1948's "Fort Apache". After this feature Ward Bond was in 1950's "Wagon Master", 1952's "The Quiet Man", 1955's "The Long Grey Line", 1956's "The Searchers", and 1957's "The Wings of Eagles"

Mae Marsh portrayed "Mrs. Pearly Sweet". Her on-screen career started in 1910 and in 1915 Mae Marsh co-starred with Lillian Gish in director D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation". For John Ford her career included 1939's "Drums Along the Mohawk", 1940's "The Grapes of Wrath", 1941's "Tobacco Road", 1941's "How Green Was My Valley", 1946's "My Darling Clementine", 1948's "Fort Apache", after this picture, 1952's "The Quiet Man", and 1956's "The Searchers".

Mildred Natwick portrayed "The Mother". Prior to this picture, Miss Natwick, was in John Ford's 1940 "The Long Voyage Home", her first motion picture, and after this film. She would be seen in 1949's "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon", and 1952's "The Quiet Man".

Jane Darwell portrayed "Miss Florie". Miss Darwell's honorary membership began with her Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1940's "The Grapes of Wrath". It would be followed by 1946's "My Darling Clementine", and later 1950's "Wagon Master".

Ben Johnson portrayed "Posse Man #1". Johnson brought horses bought from his family ranch to Ford. After this picture he appeared in 1949's "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon", 1950's "Wagon Master", 1950's "Rio Grande", and 1964's "Cheyenne Autumn", Not to forget that Ben Johnson co-starred with Terry Moore and Robert Armstrong in the Merian C. Cooper and John Ford produced 1949 "Mighty Joe Young". My article "Ben Johnson: Roping a 12 Foot Gorilla", may be read at:

The Screenplay:

Three cattle rustlers, "Bob Hightower", "Pete", and "The Abilene Kid", ride into Welcome, Arizona.

They have a pleasant conversation with "Sheriff Buck Sweet" and his wife. She asks if they've seen her niece and her husband on the trail, as they're coming from New Jerusalem?

The three men interact with the locals of Welcome. Arizona. 

Next, "Bob", "Pete" and "The Abilene Kid" rob the bank and during the shoot out the "Kid" is hit, his horse falls, and the money is left on the street. The three head into the desert pursued by "Sheriff Sweet" and his posse. 

"Sweet" is able to shoot a hole in the three men's water bag, the pursuit seems to end, and the posse turns back to the train depot. While, the unknowing three robbers also head there to get water from the tank for the engines.

However, the three stop after seeing "Sweet" is posting guards and have to turn back toward the desert.

The three fugitives decide to go to granite tanks, a waterhole in the desert, but a sand storm comes up and they lose their horses. 

When they finally get to the waterhole, it has been dynamited, and there's a covered wagon with a woman in labor in it. She tells the three that her husband attempted to open the blocked well to get water by dynamiting it. Later, he disappeared into the desert chasing the wagons thirsty horses that had gotten away from him

"Pete" helps with the delivery of the baby boy the mother names "Robert William Pedro Hightower", played again by a girl named Amelia Yelda, while "Bob" and "The Kid" get water out of nearby cacti. Before dying, the mother extracts a promise from the three men to protect her son and names them his "Godfathers". After she passes away, the three bury her with "The Kid" attempting to remember bible verses.

Looking through the woman and her husband's things, "Pete" finds the family bible and offers it to "Bob", who slaps it away. "The Kid" believes a higher power has guided the three to the covered wagon comparing the baby to the "Baby Jesus" and the three of them to the biblical "Three Wise Men".

"The Three Godfathers" with the baby now head for the town of "New Jerusalem" located over the salt flats and a mountain. While, the still pursuing Sheriff and the posse arrive at the covered wagon and "Sweet" recognizing the ownership of the property, believes the three men killed his wife's niece and sets out for revenge.

The three robbers reach the salt flat, but from his wound and exhaustion "The Kid" collapses and dies.

Now, "Bob" and "Pete" head out together.

The two men cross the salt flat, but "Pete" breaks his leg. "Pete" asks "Bob" to leave him his pistol:
against coyotes!

As "Bob" carrying the baby walks on toward the mountain, a shot rings out, next, staggering through a ravine, "Bob" finally collapses, but the ghosts, seen in "Bob's" delirium, of his two friends convince him to carry on.

As if by some miracle, "Bob" finds a donkey and her colt, and with them enters New Jerusalem with the baby on the donkey. "Bob" stumbles into a cantina and gets drinks for himself and the baby.

"Sheriff Sweet" arrives as "Bob" collapses from exhaustion. "Bob" is jailed in Welcome, Arizona, because of his and the other two men's rescue of the baby, the town supports him. Especially, "Sheriff Sweet" and his wife after they hear his story which fits with what the posse saw on its way to New Jerusalem.

"Bob" is eating at the Sheriff's house when the verdict comes in.

"Bob" gives his "Godchild" to the "Sweets" for temporary custody of him. When the judge had asked him if he would permanently give up his custody of "Robert William Pedro Hightower" and refused, because of his promise to the baby's mother. The judge was happy to hear that and sentenced "Bob" to the minimal sentence of one-year and a day. As "Bob" leaves for prison, the entire town of Welcome, Arizona, gives him a rousing farewell.

"5" motion pictures, "The Three Godfathers" (1916), "Marked Men" (1919), "Hell's Heroes" (1929), "The Three Godfathers (1936), and the "Godfathers" (1948), all from the same novella, but each different.

Mention the title and most fans of both "John's", Ford and Wayne, will tell you the 1948 feature is the definitive version. Perhaps Yes! Perhaps No! 

Many Western film historians might defer with you, by stating there is no question director  John Ford's 1948 version is the most popular, but they will defer to William Wyler's seldom seen 1929 version as the most authentic.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Jan Sterling: Lingerie - Fate - and a Motion Picture Career

Why Jan Sterling  wasn't considered an "A-List" actress is a riddle many film critics and historians still ask? This is a look...