Three Godfathers (1936)
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Three Godfathers is a 1936 western that was based on a novel by Peter B. Kyne called "The Three Godfathers," published in 1913. The novel is apparently based on Kyne's own short story, "Bronco Billy and the Baby," which appeared in The Saturday Evening Post in 1910. The Kyne story proved so popular upon publication that it was adapted into a movie several times, starting in 1916 with the release of The Three Godfathers, starring the great western star Harry Carey. Director John Ford then collaborated with Carey on yet another version of the same story entitled Marked Men in 1919. Eleven years later, the first talkie version of the story was directed by William Wyler and released as Hell's Heroes (1930). After director Richard Boleslawski completed the 1936 version of Three Godfathers, John Ford took another stab at the story in 1948 with the release of 3 Godfathers, starring John Wayne and Harry Carey, Jr.
Three Godfathers, also known by its reissue title, Miracle in the Sand, was released during a relatively strange era for westerns. The early 1930s saw a huge surge in the quality and quantity of B-movie western productions, but the opposite was true for major studios' westerns, remaining so for most of the decade. In fact, the big budget western didn't experience a renaissance until the 1939 release of John Ford's Stagecoach. Until that time, the major studios virtually ignored westerns. But during this dry spell for the western, there were some noteworthy titles. Frontier Marshall and The Bad Man of Brimstone were bright spots, but they were largely shot on a backlot, with relatively low budgets.
Three Godfathers was produced by the decade's greatest production studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, even though MGM wasn't known for producing westerns. The fact that the studio made Three Godfathers is all the more remarkable in that it was produced during a time when big budget westerns weren't popular and the Great Depression severely strained studio bank accounts, thus making risky ventures all the more rare. Three Godfathers is also unique because it takes place in the arid and desolate heat of the American Southwestern desert. MGM usually eschewed such a setting for its movies, preferring instead the controlled confines of a studio indoor set or faraway exotic locales, such as the jungles of Tarzan Escapes (1936) or the Chinese landscapes in The Good Earth (1937).
Three Godfathers is equally noteworthy for its director, Richard Boleslawski (AKA Boleslawsky, AKA Boleslavski). Three Godfathers was his first and only western, and a remarkable departure from his usual studio fare. Boleslawski was hired by Irving Thalberg and came to MGM to work as a screenwriter, based on the strength and reputation of his former literary career on the New York stage. Boleslawski was eventually assigned to replace Charles Brabin as director of Rasputin and the Empress (1932). Ethel Barrymore, making her first appearance in a sound film, knew Boleslawski from the New York theatre world, and had insisted on the change of directors.
Director: Richard Boleslawski
Producer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Screenplay: Peter B. Kyne (story), Edward E. Paramore Jr., Manuel Seff
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Editor: Frank Sullivan
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: William Axt
Cast: Chester Morris (Bob), Lewis Stone (Doc), Walter Brennan (Gus), Irene Hervey (Molly), Sidney Toler (Professor Snape)
BW-82m. Close captioning.
by Scott McGee