Saturday, March 12, 2011

John Ford's "3 Godfathers" (1948)



Three close friends are on a desert. One of them is on the ground, dying of thirst. Another one is kneeling next to him, trying to help. The third one seems slightly out-of-touch but his simple gesture is as grand as it gets: He shadows his friend's face with his hat. There's acceptance, distance, but also profound care, and a sense of community.


For those who have doubts that this simple gesture has such great implications, Ford makes his near-cosmic intentions very clear. When his friend is already dead, and Robert is going to lower his hand, ending the gesture, we are left face-to-face with the sun for a very brief moment. Watching this, I remembered the last line of Rossellini's Louis XIV, 'neither the sun, nor death, can be looked at directly'.




When at the end of the film the same gesture is repeated, without the sun, or the death, but a profound joy and a possibility of love (and again, a sense of community), the film comes full circle, from Death to Life. Tag Gallagher talks about 'magic moments', 'especially the finale, when sparkling cutting and framing rhyme swingy girls singing'.



4 comments:

edo said...

I really love this one. Wish it were more oft discussed.

Yoel Meranda said...

i agree. there wasn't much written about it even in Tag's book. i mean, i don't think it's a major Ford either but still it's very beautiful and it has moments that are just as great as anything in Ford. the wonderful slapstick in the earlier part of the film (reminding me of my favorite ford: donovan's reef) nicely balances out the impending asceticism to follow, i think.

and when they start playing the 'silent night', i couldn't keep myself from crying.

also, as i wrote to a friend yesterday, i find the whole issue of 'talking or not talking Mexican next to a baby' politically really interesting and profoundly Fordian. i like how that whole issue is played out. it goes to the very heart of racism.

a question: are there any other supernatural moments in ford, like the one here with the dead friends walking?

Ann Dettmar said...

there's one at the end of THE LONG GREY LINE, when Marty Maher's lifelong service at West Point is honored with a parade which pales when his late wife and father come walking towards him, waving happily. The twist is that Marty was never that impressed with the parades, his first impression of them was that West Point must be "a prison ... or a madhouse". But his wife loved them. And she and his father where the ones that kept Marty in West Point every time he wanted to leave.
Maybe Marty really started loving the Point only after it was the only community left to him. But he always loved his wife, and his father. So when they come to greet him, he really is honored and pleased.

Drew Willard said...

One of my all-time favorites - and the first 'John Wayne movie' I ever saw. I love this blog's analysis of this scene. As I recall, the last thing Robert Hightower says to his godson - is in Spanish: "Vaya con Dios, companero..." Another subtle and adept gesture as this character transcends his racial bias.