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3 Godfathers is a 1948 American Western film directed by John Ford and filmed (although not set) primarily in Death Valley, California. The screenplay, written by Frank S. Nugent and Laurence Stallings, is based on the novelette of the same name written by Peter B. Kyne. Ford had already adapted the film once before in 1919 as Marked Men. The original silent adaptation by Ford is thought to be lost today. The story is something of a retelling of the story of The Three Wise Men in an American Western context.[2] Ford decided to remake the story in Technicolor and dedicate the film to the memory of long-time friend Harry Carey, who starred in the 1919 film Marked Men. Carey's son, Harry Carey, Jr., plays one of the title roles in this 1948 film.

3 Godfathers
3 Godfathers 1948 poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Ford
Produced byMerian C. Cooper
Screenplay byLaurence Stallings
Frank S. Nugent
Robert Nathan
Based onThe Three Godfathers
1918 novelette
by Peter B. Kyne
StarringJohn Wayne
Harry Carey Jr.
Pedro Armendáriz
Music byRichard Hageman
CinematographyWinton Hoch
Edited byJack Murray
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • December 1, 1948 (1948-12-01)
Running time
106 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2,841,000[1]



Cattle rustlers Robert Hightower (John Wayne), Pedro "Pete" Rocafuerte (Pedro Armendáriz), and William Kearney (Harry Carey, Jr.) rob a bank in the town of Welcome, Arizona, but William is shot in the shoulder and they have to flee into the desert, pursued by a posse led by Sheriff Buck Sweet (Ward Bond), who shoots a hole in their water bag (that they do not notice until after all the water has leaked out). They eventually lose their horses in a desert sandstorm and end up walking. Desperate for water, they head for a water hole, which has, however, been destroyed by the misguided efforts of a bumbling tenderfoot, who then chased after his livestock and did not return.

In a covered wagon left nearby lies the man's wife (Sheriff Sweet's niece), who is about to give birth. With the help of the trio, she has a boy, whom she names Robert William Pedro after her benefactors. Before dying, she extracts a promise from them that they will take care of him. Moved, the three desperadoes try to keep their promise despite the acute lack of water.

William is certain a higher power guided them there and likens their situation to the Three Magi finding the baby Jesus in a manger. He convinces the others to head for the town of New Jerusalem, which lies across a wide expanse of desert. While crossing a salt flat, William dies; later, Pete falls and breaks his leg. He asks Robert to leave him his pistol, for "protection from coyotes." As Robert walks away, he hears a single gunshot.

Finally at the end of his strength, Robert nearly loses hope, but in his delirium, the ghosts of his two friends appear and refuse to let him give up. He contemptuously tosses away the woman's Bible, then goes back for it and reads a passage telling of the appearance of a donkey and a colt. Just then, the animals actually show up. With their help, he finally reaches New Jerusalem and enters a cantina where people are singing Christmas carols (it being Christmas or Christmas Eve), and then collapses just as Sheriff Sweet catches up with him.

Robert is arrested, but because of his heroism and refusal to give up custody of his godson to the Sweets (whom he has now befriended), he is viewed by the townspeople as a hero even before the trial comes to its conclusion. In the end, he is sentenced to the minimum of a year and a day and, as he leaves to serve it with a promise to return, he is given a rousing farewell by the entire town.


Points of interestEdit

This film was dedicated to John Ford's friend and early star, Harry Carey, who died in 1947. His son, Harry Carey, Jr., played one of the title roles.

It is believed that Pedro Armendariz dubbed his own voice into French for the film considering that he spoke French well enough to appear in the film Lucrèce Borgia (1953) as the leading man and in at least one other French film. However, none of the French voice actors are credited.


The film has maintained its positive reception. It holds an 82% "Fresh" score on Rotten Tomatoes based on 11 critics.

According to MGM records, the film earned $2,078,000 in the US and Canada and $763,000 overseas, resulting in a profit of $450,000.[1][3]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study.
  2. ^ Higham, Charles; Greenberg, Joel (1968). Hollywood in the Forties. London: A. Zwemmer Limited. p. 112.
  3. ^ "Top Grossers of 1949". Variety. 4 January 1950. p. 59.

External linksEdit