Friday, December 29, 2017

Christmas Movies Month: 3 Godfathers

3 Godfathers (1948)
So many people don’t understand “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Radio stations play versions by everyone from Bing Crosby to Reliant K to Bob and Doug McKenzie. Something that many people don’t realize is that the first day of Christmas (Partridge & Pear Tree Day) is December 25th, and Christmas goes for the next twelve days, into the new year. The twelfth day (January 6th) is Epiphany, which focuses on the story of the Wise Men visiting young Jesus.

The story of the Magi provides the inspiration for a 1948 Western, 3 Godfathers. It’s the story of three bank robbers who take custody of a baby boy. There’s no clergy in the film and no formal church, but there’s much more Bible than you’d expect to find in your average John Ford directed, John Wayne starring film.

Another unusual thing about the film is that the Duke plays a bad guy in the film. Wayne plays Robert Hightower, a cattle rustler who decides to go into bank robbing with the help of two friends, Pedro (Pedro Armendariz), and William the Abilene Kid (Harry Carey, Jr.). They’re Texans who venture to the town of Welcome, Arizona, to commit their crime. They meet a nice guy, Perley “Buck” Sweet (Ward Bond), who welcomes them to town. Turns out he’s the town’s sheriff.

They rob the bank, but during their escape the Kid is shot (along with their canteen of water). If that wasn’t bad enough, they lose their horses in a desert sand storm. They search for a water hole and instead come across a stranded woman who’s in labor. She’s Perley’s niece, whose bumbling husband got himself killed.The robbers help deliver the child, and she names the baby after them: Robert William Pedro. She dies, but not before extracting a promise from the men to care for her baby. “I want all of you to be my baby’s godfathers. You will be, won’t you?” Along with the baby, William, the Kid, takes the woman’s Bible.

The Kid comes across a biblical passage about journeying to Jerusalem and is convinced he’s found a sign they should go to the Arizona town of New Jerusalem. When he sees a bright star in the sky, he’s convinced it is directing them, just as the Magi were directed by a star. He later finds encouragement from Psalm 137, looking for rescue from this strange land.

Things don’t go well for Pedro and the Kid, and eventually Robert is wandering the desert alone with the baby and the Bible. He had scoffed at the Kid’s reverence for the Bible, but in desperation he turns to it and finds a passage of God’s provision of a colt and donkey from Matthew 21. Miraculously, those very animals appear, guiding Robert to civilization.

Robert turns himself in, hoping to provide for the child. He is given a lenient sentence, and the town wishes him well as they send him off to prison at the train station. The crowd sings “Bringing in the Sheaves” and “Shall We Gather at the River?”, conducting a little church service by the rails.

Did I mention the whole film takes place at Christmas time, and Robert brings the child, Perley’s great nephew, into town on Christmas Day? That makes this a most appropriate film to watch on Christmas Day -- or Epiphany.

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