Three Godfathers (1936 film)

Last updated
Three Godfathers
Three Godfathers FilmPoster.jpeg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Richard Boleslawski
Produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Written by Peter B. Kyne (novel)
Edward E. Paramore, Jr.
Manuel Seff
Starring Chester Morris
Lewis Stone
Walter Brennan
Irene Hervey
Release date
March 6, 1936
Running time
81 minutes
CountryUnited States

Three Godfathers is a 1936 western film directed by Richard Boleslawski and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer starring Chester Morris, Lewis Stone, Walter Brennan, and Irene Hervey. It was adapted from the novel of the same name by Peter B. Kyne. Three bank robbers find a newborn baby and his dying mother in the desert.

Richard Boleslawski Polish theatre and film director, actor

Richard Boleslavsky or Richard Boleslawski was a Polish theatre and film director, actor and teacher of acting.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer American media company

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. is an American media company, involved primarily in the production and distribution of feature films and television programs. One of the world's oldest film studios, MGM's corporate headquarters are located at 245 North Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills, California.

Chester Morris Actor

John Chester Brooks Morris was an American stage, film, television, and radio actor. He had some prestigious film roles early in his career, and was nominated for an Academy Award. Chester Morris is best remembered today for portraying Boston Blackie, a criminal-turned-detective, in the modestly budgeted Boston Blackie film series of the 1940s.


Directors Edward LeSaint and John Ford had previously filmed silent versions of the film titled The Three Godfathers (LeSaint in 1916) and Marked Men [1] (Ford in 1919), both of which starred actor Harry Carey. The first sound version was Hell's Heroes , which was also William Wyler's first all-talking film; it starred Charles Bickford, Raymond Hatton, and Fred Kohler. John Ford would later film yet another version of the film as 3 Godfathers (1948) dedicated to Carey, and starring John Wayne and Carey's son, Harry Carey Jr.

Edward LeSaint American actor

Edward LeSaint was an American stage and film actor and director whose career began in the silent era. He acted in over 300 films and directed more than 90. He was sometimes credited as Edward J. Le Saint.

John Ford American film director

John Ford was an American film director. He is renowned both for Westerns such as Stagecoach (1939), The Searchers (1956), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), as well as adaptations of classic 20th-century American novels such as the film The Grapes of Wrath (1940). His four Academy Awards for Best Director remain a record. One of the films for which he won the award, How Green Was My Valley, also won Best Picture.

<i>The Three Godfathers</i> (1916 film) 1916 film

The Three Godfathers is a 1916 American silent film featuring Harry Carey. The film was remade in 1919 as Marked Men, which also starred Carey.


A week before Christmas, four bandits ride through the desert and pause on a rise over the town of New Jerusalem, the target of their next bank robbery. Bob Sangster (Chester Morris) with a villainous smile, says he is looking forward to returning to his hometown. Doc Underwood (Lewis Stone) is a cultured man with a Ph.D. and the cough of a man dying of consumption. Gus Barton (Walter Brennan), a character who can’t remember his aliases, is looking forward to a chance to loaf over Christmas. Pedro ( Joseph Marievsky) always plays his guitar and sings as he rides.

Lewis Stone American actor

Lewis Shepard Stone was an American movie actor best known for his role as Judge James Hardy in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Andy Hardy film series. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1929 for The Patriot. He appeared in seven films with Greta Garbo.

Walter Brennan American actor

Walter Andrew Brennan was an American actor. He won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1936, 1938, and 1940, making him one of only three male actors to win three Academy Awards.

The saloon is about to close because the whole town, including Blackie (Dorothy Tree), the girl who works at the bodega, is invited to the Christmas social, which is being celebrated a few days early. Doc and Gus are also welcomed to the feast and dance—and a demonstration of the latest in false teeth by the town dentist (Sidney Tole r). Bob’s arrival strikes a chill through the festivities. His conversations become increasingly sinister but when he meets Molly (Irene Hervey), the girl he loved, his face changes, briefly. They dance and while the sheriff (Roger Imhof), Gus and Doc look on, Gus asks “Who is that poisonous critter?” The sheriff replies “A lowdown no account skunk..” Doc asks, “Is he a killer?” and the sheriff answers: “He’ll kill anything from a baby to an old woman.” Doc muses, “I’ve always wanted to meet a real Western killer.”

Dorothy Tree American actress

Dorothy Tree was an American actress, voice teacher and writer. She appeared in a wide range of character roles in at least 49 films between 1927 and 1951.

Sidney Toler American actor, playwright and theatre director

Sidney Toler was an American actor, playwright and theatre director. The second European-American actor to play the role of Charlie Chan on screen, he is best remembered for his portrayal of the Chinese-American detective in 22 films made between 1938 and 1946. Before becoming Chan, Toler played supporting roles in 50 motion pictures and was a highly regarded comic actor on the Broadway stage.

Irene Hervey American film, stage, and television actress

Irene Hervey was an American film, stage, and television actress who appeared in over fifty films and numerous television series spanning her five-decade career.

Meanwhile Bob offers Molly a watch that he says belonged to his Mother. His sweet talk grows increasingly aggressive, as he confronts Molly with the fact that she still loves him, even though she is going to marry Ed Barrow (John Sheehan). Bob seizes her, she slaps him, and then she thanks him for driving away the memory of a strong and silent man and showing her the truth. She gives the watch back, telling him to return it to the woman he stole it from, and walks away. Bob’s comments to himself are ambiguous. The woman who owned it is dead. Did he steal it and kill the owner? Or was it in fact his mother’s? Bob goes to the bodega, which has reopened for the evening, and finds solace in Blackie’s arms. The next morning Bob uses the watch and a long sad story about his Mother to bilk the bodega owner out of his bar tab.

John Sheehan (actor) American actor

John Sheehan was an American actor and vaudeville performer. After acting onstage and in vaudeville for several years, Sheehan began making films in 1914, starring in a number of short films. From 1914-16, he appeared in over 60 films, the vast majority of them film shorts.

Pedro is strolling the street, playing his guitar, singing and keeping watch. In the bank, Frank Benson (Robert Livingston), the young bank president, is trying on a Santa Claus outfit when the bandits come in. No resistance is offered, but Bob shoots him in cold blood, saying “there ain’t no Santa Claus.”

The robbers flee in a hail of gunfire from townspeople. The dentist kills Pedro, and Doc is wounded in the arm. They pause at the first waterhole they pass, but not to drink or water the horses. The well is poisoned and a signpost marks the distances to the next towns or watering holes. Doc refuses any treatment for his arm, and they head to the next good place for water. On the way, they find the body of a man named George Marshall, a tenderfoot by his clothes and brand-new gun (with his name on it) who shot himself. Bob theorizes that Marshall ate locoweed and went crazy. Convinced they will soon be at the good waterhole, the robbers drink deeply from their own canteens. Doc empties his. As they ride, Doc snd Gus sing “Boola Boola,” the Yale fight song. This song, like a lot of the things Doc says and does—and especially the books he reads—are mysterious to Gus, but he admires and enjoys all of it.

When they get to the waterhole, they find a wagon sheltering a dying woman—Marshall's wife (Helen Brown)—and her baby boy. The waterhole has been destroyed: Marshall dynamited it trying to increase the flow, and then went off to find help. They try to lie to her about her husband’s fate and her own, but she knows it is too late and commits her child to their care. They bury her and camp for the night.

Doc and Gus want to take the baby with them; Bob is in favor of “putting him out of his misery. “ In the morning they find that all three horses are dead from drinking at the dynamited well. They must go back to New Jerusalem. Bob hands a can of milk to each man and starts to drink his. Doc buys it for the baby with his share of the gold. His arm is festering, but he wants to be the first one to carry the baby, knowing that he will not last the journey. Along the way, Doc makes a will for Gus, who can’t read, and gives him the book of his choice—a volume of Schopenhauer, which Gus thinks is a book of jokes.

At last, Doc tells them to take the baby and leave him. He burns a packet of letters and asks Gus to give him Macbeth to read (Shakespeare wrote “green books”). Doc doesn’t open the well-worn book, but repeats from memory, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in its petty pace...” The camera stays on Gus and Bob walking away into the desert. When Doc reaches the last words, “signifying nothing” a shot rings out. Gus and Bob pause to look back, then trudge on.

Eventually they both collapse, and Gus asks what will happen if he gives out. Bob says that if the baby can crawl to New Jerusalem he wont stop him

It is night, and Bob is asleep. Gus looks up and hesitatingly says a prayer from his childhood “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild...” He leaves his share of the gold and the will beside the baby and walks into the desert. In the morning, Bob reads the will, which is actually a note to him from Doc asking him to “give the kid an even break.” The camera follows him as he leaves the baby behind; the child wails and he draws and shoots There is silence for a beat and then we see that Bob killed a rattlesnake to protect the child. Telling himself that he is crazy, he picks up the baby and sets off through the desert. He gives the baby the last of the water, and at last they come to the spot where the baby’s father’s body lies. They are only 9 miles—5 hours— from New Jerusalem. Bob drops all the gold, the blankets, everything except the baby. At last in despair he falls to his knees, caked in alkali from head to toe, and prays, struggling with the words and weeping dry-eyed. Suddenly he sees in the distance the signposts at the poisoned well where they paused after the robbery. They are 5 1/2 miles—one hour—from New Jerusalem; he remembers Doc saying that it would take an hour for a man or horse to die from the poison in that well. So, he plans to fill his belly with water and then “go fast.”

Saying “Here’s to you kid,” he plunges his face into the water and drinks deeply.

Bob staggers into town; the streets are deserted, because everyone is in church. He follows the sound of hymn singing, struggling up the steps into the church and down the aisle as the congregation watches, aghast. Molly is in the front row; he kneels and puts the baby into her arms, then struggles to his feet, back pressed against a pillar. Above his head hangs a wreath that suggests a crown of thorns; he turns and falls, dead.

As Molly carries the baby down the aisle someone notices that he is using Bob’s watch as a teething ring and wonders where Bob stole it. Molly says with absolute conviction that it was his Mother’s.


Roger Imhof American actor

Frederick Roger Imhof was an American film actor, vaudeville, burlesque and circus performer, sketch writer, and songwriter.

Willard Robertson American actor

Willard Robertson was an American actor and writer. He appeared in 147 films between 1924 and 1948. He was born in Runnels, Texas, and died in Hollywood, California.

Robert Livingston (actor) American actor

Robert Edward Randall was an American film actor known under his stage name as Bob Livingston. He appeared in 136 films between 1921 and 1993. It seems that his final onscreen role was a minor cameo as the second lift operator in 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle, right at the end. He was one of the original Three Mesquiteers. He had also played The Lone Ranger and Zorro.

Related Research Articles

<i>Lonesome Dove</i> novel by Larry McMurtry

Lonesome Dove is a 1985 Western novel by American writer Larry McMurtry. It is the first published book of the Lonesome Dove series but the third installment in the series chronologically.

<i>Smokey and the Bandit II</i> 1980 film by Hal Needham

Smokey and the Bandit II is a 1980 American action comedy film directed by Hal Needham, and stars Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jerry Reed, Jackie Gleason and Dom DeLuise. The film is the sequel to the 1977 film Smokey and the Bandit.

<i>The Mummys Ghost</i> 1944 film by Reginald Le Borg

The Mummy's Ghost is a 1944 American horror film directed by Reginald Le Borg. In this Universal Studios sequel to The Mummy's Tomb, Lon Chaney, Jr. again takes on the role of Kharis the mummy. The story was continued in the 1944 sequel The Mummy's Curse.

<i>3 Godfathers</i> (1948 film) 1948 film directed by John Ford

3 Godfathers is a 1948 American Western film directed by John Ford and filmed primarily in Death Valley, California. The screenplay, written by Frank S. Nugent and Laurence Stallings, is based on the 1913 novelette The Three Godfathers by Peter B. Kyne. The story is something of a retelling of the story of the Three Wise Men in an American Western context.

<i>The Missing Link</i> (1980 film) 1984 film directed by Picha

The Missing Link is a 1980 French–Belgian animated film written and directed by Picha. Though it was not as successful as Picha's previous film, it was entered into the 1980 Cannes Film Festival.

<i>Walkabout</i> (novel) book

Walkabout is a novel written by James Vance Marshall, first published in 1959 as The Children. It is about two children who get lost in the Australian Outback and are helped by an Indigenous Australian on his walkabout. A film based on the book, with the same title came out in 1971, but deviated from the original plot.

Matt Parkman fictional character on the NBC science fiction drama series Heroes

Matthew "Matt" Parkman, Sr., is a fictional character of the NBC science fiction serial drama Heroes, played by Greg Grunberg. Matt is a police officer, who works for the LAPD and NYPD in Seasons One and Two respectively. He is a telepath; his ability allows him to read minds, and eventually extends into aspects of mind control, as stated by Bob Bishop.

Bob and Sally (1948) is a movie produced in the United States. Running for approximately 71 minutes, the movie was produced by J. G. Sanford at Universal Studios and directed by Erle C. Kenton. Director of photography was Ellis Carter and the original screenplay was written by Mary C. Palmer.

<i>The Secret Man</i> 1917 film

The Secret Man is a 1917 American silent Western film, directed by John Ford and featuring Harry Carey. Two of the five reels of the film survive at the Library of Congress film archive.

<i>A Marked Man</i> 1917 film

A Marked Man is a 1917 American silent Western film directed by John Ford and featuring Harry Carey. It is considered to be a lost film.

<i>Roped</i> 1919 film

Roped was a 1919 American Western/comedy film directed by John Ford and featuring Harry Carey. The film is considered to be lost. Roped is one of at least 25 films in which director John Ford and actor Harry Carey collaborated on between the years of 1917 and 1921. Ford saw Carry as a mentor and their worked on the story ideas for several of their films together.

<i>Desperate Trails</i> (1921 film) 1921 film by John Ford

Desperate Trails is a 1921 American western film directed by John Ford and featuring Harry Carey. The film is considered to be lost.

Out of Time (<i>Heroes</i>) 7th episode of the second season of Heroes

"Out of Time" is the seventh episode of the second season of the NBC science fiction drama series Heroes. It aired on November 5, 2007.

Waterhole #3 is a 1967 Western comedy film directed by William A. Graham. It is considered to be a comic remake of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

<i>Hells Heroes</i> (film) 1930 film by William Wyler

Hell's Heroes (1929) is a Western film, one of many screen adaptations of Peter B. Kyne's 1913 novel The Three Godfathers. Three outlaws, played by Charles Bickford, Raymond Hatton, and Fred Kohler, promise a dying woman they will save her newborn child. This film is also notable for being the first sound production directed by William Wyler.

<i>Lonesome Dove</i> (miniseries) 1989 television miniseries directed by Simon Wincer

Lonesome Dove is an American epic Western adventure television miniseries directed by Simon Wincer. It is a four-part adaptation of the 1985 novel of the same name by Larry McMurtry and is the first installment in the Lonesome Dove series. The novel was based upon a screenplay by Peter Bogdanovich and McMurtry, intended to star John Wayne, James Stewart and Henry Fonda, but the film was never made after John Ford advised Wayne against it. The eventual television miniseries stars Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones. The series was originally broadcast by CBS from February 5 to 8, 1989, drawing a huge viewing audience, earning numerous awards, and reviving both the television western and the miniseries.

<i>Desert Nights</i> 1929 film by William Nigh

Desert Nights is a 1929 American silent adventure/romantic drama film starring John Gilbert, Ernest Torrence, and Mary Nolan. Directed by William Nigh, the film is the last silent film starring John Gilbert.

Episode 29 (<i>Twin Peaks</i>) 22nd episode of the second season of Twin Peaks

"Episode 29", also known as "Beyond Life and Death", is the twenty-second and final episode of the second season of the American mystery television series Twin Peaks. Episode 29 served as the final episode of Twin Peaks for over 25 years, until Twin Peaks: The Return was aired in 2017. Upon its original airing in 1991, the episode was paired with episode 28 to form the second hour of what was then billed as a two-part series finale. The episode was written by the series co-creator Mark Frost, producer Harley Peyton and regular writer Robert Engels and was directed by series co-creator David Lynch, who rewrote parts of the script. It features series regulars Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Ontkean, Richard Beymer and Kenneth Welsh; and guest stars Frank Silva as Killer Bob, Michael J. Anderson as The Man from Another Place, Carel Struycken as The Giant, and Heather Graham as Annie Blackburn.

Molly and Lawless John is a 1972 American western film directed by Gary Nelson and starring Vera Miles and Sam Elliott. The film was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song in 1973.

<i>Chance at Heaven</i> 1933 film by William A. Seiter

Chance at Heaven is a 1933 American Pre-Code drama film directed by William A. Seiter and written by Julien Josephson and Sarah Y. Mason. The film stars Ginger Rogers, Joel McCrea, Marian Nixon, Andy Devine and Lucien Littlefield. The film was released on October 27, 1933, by RKO Pictures.


  1. Scott McGee. "Three Godfathers (1936)". Turner Classic Movies.