Three Godfathers (1936)

Three Godfathers (1936)Three Godfathers is a western film released in 1936 by MGM Films. It follows the story of three bank robbers who discover an infant and his mother, who is dying, in the desert. The film was remade twelve years later as 3 Godfathers, with John Wayne in the leading role. Three Godfathers was released on March 6, 1936, and has a running time of 82 minutes.

Cast and Crew of Three Godfathers

Three Godfathers stars Chester Morris playing Robert Sangster, Lewis Stone playing James "Doc" Underwood, and Walter Brennan playing Sam "Gus" Bartow. The trio makes up the three godfathers. The supporting cast includes Irene Harvey playing Molly, as well as Sidney Toler, Dorothy Tree, Rober Imhof, William Robertson, Robert Livingston, John Sheehan, and Joseph Marievsky.

Three Godfathers was directed by Richard Boleslawski, and produced by Joseph L. Makiewicz. The film is based on a novel by Peter B. Kyne, and it was adapted for the screen by Edward E. Paramore, Jr., and Manuel Seff.

Plot Synopsis for Three Godfathers

Three Godfathers begins just prior to Christmas in the late 1800s. Robert Sangster, a renegade, arrives in the town of New Jerusalem with the intentions of robbing the local bank. He is accompanied by James "Doc" Underwood, a philosophizing criminal, Sam "Gus" Bartow, an outcast drifter who can’t read or write, and Pedro, a singer. Robert meets up with Molly, a local girl who he once loved. She is now married to Frank Benson, the local banker.

Robert gives Molly his mother’s heirloom watch to congratulate her on her wedding, but makes the mistake of accusing Molly of marrying Frank as a way of forgetting him. Molly, who secretly still had feelings for Robert, returns the gift. Robert gives the watch to the bartender in exchange for free drinks, but later makes the bartender feel guilty by telling him that it belongs to his deceased mother.

The following morning, the people of the town are busy raising money for charity with a bake sale. During the bustle, the four men decide it’s their opportunity to rob the bank. Some of the townspeople chase them into the desert, toting guns. Pedro is shot and killed, and Doc is injured. The remaining three outlaws escape, and find a deserted watering hole. The water is poisoned however, and they head off in search of another. Before arriving at the next water source, they discover a dead man. When they arrive at the watering hole, the find a dying woman and her infantile son. The woman says that her name is Mrs. George Marshall, and that her husband had left in search of water. Doc lies and says that her husband arrived at New Jerusalem, and sent the three of them to go and help her.

Ultimately, Mrs. George Marshall dies, but not before asking them to care for her baby. Robert is less than thrilled at the idea of traveling with a baby, and decides to travel 88 miles to the next watering hole alone. The following morning, the men find that their horses have died from consuming poisonous water. Instead of following Robert to the next watering hole, they head back for New Jerusalem. Robert returns as well, and they set off.

The trio divides up the remaining water, as well as the baby’s milk, and Doc buys Robert’s can with his share of the robbed money. Doc eventually collapses while carrying the baby, and convinces Gus to continue back towards town with the baby. Finally, Doc shoots himself while reciting a line from Macbeth.

Gus and Robert continue walking back towards town, until Gus is driven insane from the extreme heat of the desert. He wanders off into the desert to die. Robert takes a nap, and wakes up to find a note from Doc to Gus, instructing him to take care of the baby. Robert decides to take the money bags and leave the baby behind. Suddenly, he sees a rattlesnake moving towards the infant. Robert shoots the snake, and gives the baby his last drops of water before abandoning him. Robert changes his mind, and returns for the baby.

Eventually, Robert once again finds the poisoned watering hole, and deduces that if he drinks from it, he’ll have one hour to return to New Jerusalem before the poison kills him. Robert makes it back to the city, stumbles into church, and gives the infant to Molly just before collapsing and dying. The baby is holding Robert’s watch.

Critical Reception for Three Godfathers

The 1936 version of Three Godfathers is widely considered to be superior to its 1948 remake starring John Wayne. The original version is a bleaker, tougher affair that isn’t shot through with sentimentality or the Hollywood archetypes of the time. Modern critics praise the film for holding up as a Western more ably than many films shot in the 1950s or later.

Unfortunately, Three Godfathers (1936) is not currently available for purchase on DVD, though it is occasionally shown on classic movie channels.