3 Godfathers Blu-ray Review

4 Stars Sweetly sentimental and engaging western comedy-drama.
3 Godfathers Review Screenshot

In 3 Godfathers the color is beautiful, and the story is engaging in this western classic.

3 Godfathers (1948)
Released: 13 Jan 1949
Rated: Passed
Runtime: 106 min
Director: John Ford
Genre: Drama, Western
Cast: John Wayne, Pedro Armendáriz, Harry Carey Jr.
Writer(s): Laurence Stallings, Frank S. Nugent, Peter B. Kyne
Plot: Three outlaws on the run risk their freedom and their lives to return a newborn to civilization.
IMDB rating: 7.0
MetaScore: 82

Disc Information
Studio: MGM
Distributed By: Warner Archive
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 46 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 03/26/2024
MSRP: $21.99

The Production: 4/5

3 Godfathers is one of those tales to which the movies have often returned. John Ford, the director of this 1948 effort, filmed his original version in 1919 with Harry Carey, Sr. among its stars. He’s dedicated the movie to the actor who had died of cancer the year before, and he’s cast his son as one of the leads in this Technicolor version. Being set at Christmas time, it’s one of those westerns whose reputation has grown over the years, and despite some tropes which will have made their marks in many films that came after and thus make this one feel less than original, it’s a surprisingly gripping narrative enlivened by bursts of comedy and awash in sentimentality the longer it runs.

Cowhands Bob (John Wayne), Pedro (Pedro Armendariz), and Bill (Harry Carey, Jr.) rob a bank and successfully make their escape but find themselves in the Arizona desert with little water and the law led by Buck Sweet (Ward Bond) closing in. In trying to circumvent the posse after them, the trio stumbles on a dying woman (Mildred Natwick) about to give birth, and once she does, she makes the three fugitives her son’s godfathers and makes them promise to do right by him. With the closest town New Jerusalem sixty miles away, the bandits try to make it on foot against the driest and harshest terrain imaginable.

The screenplay by Laurence Stallings and Frank S. Nugent (adapted from the book by Peter B. Kyne) stretches the parallels between the Biblical three wise men and the Christ child and the three godfathers and their newborn babe practically to the breaking point, but the film’s most evocative scenes involve the period just prior to and right after the baby’s birth when director John Ford uses his Death Valley locations to truly make us feel the parching heat and the incessant wind that constitute natural barriers to the bandits’ getaway plans and later pose enormous hurdles they must navigate to save the baby and themselves (the stunning Technicolor photography by Winton Hoch of the winds whipping sand currents over the dunes is hypnotic in its simultaneous beauty and peril). There is also plenty of hijinks as the three galoots struggle with making the baby clean and comfortable, aided by a hope chest left by the mother filled with condensed milk, baby clothes, and books on baby care. With the three men becoming surrogate fathers to the infant, the script neatly turns the lawmen after them into the enemy. There is no denying that the final quarter hour turns more sweetly sentimental than other versions of the story (complete with hymns and Christmas carols and the promise of a love match for Bob), but you’ll find it very hard not to complete the movie without a giant lump in your throat.

John Ford has peppered the movie with a passel of folks he’s used before in countless other films. John Wayne, of course, earns his star billing and is completely effective as the good bad guy even though there’s a strangely scripted moment midway through the film where he returns to his pals after discovering the abandoned mother in a wagon about to give birth. Why the scene wasn’t written that would have given Mildred Natwick another scene as she relates what had happened to her and her husband rather than Wayne’s Bob merely recounting it all to Pedro and Bill after talking to her was a weird decision and plays somewhat awkwardly. Harry Carey, Jr. is “introduced” in the billing, but this wasn’t actually his first movie appearance. He and Pedro Armendariz both play smoothly with Wayne as the title characters. Ward Bond gets a fine screen meeting with the trio in the early going, and so does Mae Marsh playing his loving and accommodating wife. Ford favorites Hank Worden as a fumbling deputy and Jane Darwell as a man hungry depot manager add reliable comic relief to the proceedings. Mildred Natwick is quite touching in her brief appearance while Guy Kibbee and Ben Johnson also offer brief but worthwhile performances.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s 1.37:1 original theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is excellent throughout, and the Technicolor is dialed in just right without ever seeming overly saturated. Flesh tones in the film are especially pleasing. There are no annoying instances of splices and scratches to mar the presentation’s gorgeous visuals. The movie has been divided into 30 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is representative of this era of sound recording. Dialogue has been well recorded and has been combined with Richard Hageman’s background score (heavy on the hymns and period songs like “Streets of Laredo”) and the appropriate sound effects with great professionalism. There are no instances of age-related hiss, pops, crackle, or flutter.

Special Features: 2/5

Three Godfathers (81 minutes, HD): 1936 MGM black and white feature film version directed by Richard Boleslawski and starring Chester Morris, Walter Brennan, and Lewis Stone (all terrific), a remastered in high definition and grittier, less sentimental version of the tale.

Theatrical Trailers (HD): the 1948 version (3:20) and the 1936 version (1:59).

Overall: 4/5

John Ford’s 3 Godfathers is a sweetly sentimental and beautifully filmed comedy-drama. The Warner Archive Blu-ray disc brings this audience favorite to home video with a sparkling video and audio presentation. Recommended!

Matt has been reviewing films and television professionally since 1974 and has been a member of Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2007, his reviews now numbering close to three thousand. During those years, he has also been a junior and senior high school English teacher earning numerous entries into Who’s Who Among America’s Educators and spent many years treading the community theater boards as an actor in everything from Agatha Christie mysteries to Stephen Sondheim musicals.

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Robert Crawford

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Of course, I love this movie more than you because it’s been one of my favorite movies since I was kid back in the 1960’s. I thought including the 1936 film adaptation in 1080p with really good video and audio presentations along with the original trailers for both movies deserves more than a 2/5 stars score for Special Features.
 

Dan McW

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I've noticed with different HTF reviewers over the years that there has to be a hell of a lot of special features just to get even a 4, much less a 5, on the 5-point scale.
 

Josh Steinberg

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The numerical grading is, in my view, the hardest part of the review because it’s trying to condense a reasoned opinion into a single numeric digit. If you were to poll reviewers around the world from all publications, you’d probably find that most of them dislike that part of the job; they’re a necessarily evil.

I just gave 5/5 on special features to Kino Lorber’s release of Stanley Kubrick’s Fear & Desire. They included every bit of extant footage shot by Kubrick prior to his studio work, and commissioned not one but two new audio commentaries, both of which were of high quality. In other words, I felt they had reasonably done all that could be done for that title.

I don’t want to speak for Matt but Warner didn’t really include anything on this disc that would give the viewer insight into how this John Ford production came into being, nothing about its place in film history or in Ford or Wayne’s filmographies, and only a trailer to show how it was original marketed, eschewing the inclusion of vintage newsreels, cartoons and shorts that originally played with the movie that they’ve included on other releases of similar films. Had I been the reviewer on this title, all of those things would have been on my mind when trying to give it a number.

I’ve given discs high marks for special features when they’ve included a small number of outstanding material, and I’ve given discs low numbers when they’ve included large amounts of useless material. But since no two releases are equal there isn’t a simple formula to draw from to assign a number. More meaningful, I believe, is the text the reviewer offers explaining what content is provided and how they felt about that included material - in opinion that tells the reader more about whether or not they’ll find the special features worthwhile than any number ever could.
 

jim_falconer

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Another excellent review Matt.
I will say in response to your one minor quibble, the scene where Wayne comes back from from wagon and relates the story was done on purpose by Ford. John Wayne had never done such a long scripted speech at that point in his career, and Ford wanted to push his acting chops. If you rewatch it, you’ll see there are no cuts in his delivery. It must have taken Wayne quite a while to memorize all those lines for a single take, especially knowing a task master like Ford was watching just a few feet away
 

Dan McW

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I’ve given discs high marks for special features when they’ve included a small number of outstanding material, and I’ve given discs low numbers when they’ve included large amounts of useless material.
I probably fired off my comment a little hastily (and I apologize to the reviewers), but this statement by Josh is something I hadn't taken into consideration.
 

Josh Steinberg

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It’s all good, I honestly struggle with figuring out the number part for special features more than any of the other numbers.
 

Robert Crawford

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Another excellent review Matt.
I will say in response to your one minor quibble, the scene where Wayne comes back from from wagon and relates the story was done on purpose by Ford. John Wayne had never done such a long scripted speech at that point in his career, and Ford wanted to push his acting chops. If you rewatch it, you’ll see there are no cuts in his delivery. It must have taken Wayne quite a while to memorize all those lines for a single take, especially knowing a task master like Ford was watching just a few feet away
I think it’s one of Wayne’s best acting moments in his career. The look on his face and his body language during that long sequence of dialogue is outstanding.
 
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