Movie directed by John Ford; written by Laurence Stallings, Frank S. Nugent and Peter B. Kyne
Genre is not plot, though you might think otherwise considering how we dismiss certain works of art out of hand. Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars couldn’t be more different, but we’re happy to say, “Oy, not another sci-fi flick.” We know what the tropes are and dismiss it out of hand. Whether it’s a costume drama or a thriller, if we’re not in the mood, it isn’t going to fly.
More than that, we know people, perhaps even have friends, who refuse to indulge in some particular genre of entertainment. “I never do horror.” Most of us learn not to indulge in the follow-up discussion about their reasons. I have poked that bear before and it leads nowhere.
The flip side of the coin is the aficionado. “Of course, Sean Connery is the ideal Bond, but if you want a truly great spy film then you need to watch Carlos. Some might say it’s not a spy film, but more a straight thriller. I would have to disagree and here’s why…” There’s nothing quite like it to put you right off a genre for a month or two.
I was raised by a lover of Westerns, which probably should have pointed me away from them, but my Dad was not much of a proselytizer. He liked what he liked and you were welcome to join him or do something else. On top of that, before cable television, you watched whatever was on the idiot box with a fascinating choice between PBS talking heads, Mannix, Happy Days, and Gunsmoke. Sometimes the Western won.
But it takessome time on your own to discern quality from the alternative. Along the way, you develop prejudices: Audie Murphy movies can feel a little odd; John Wayne sure was in a lot of stuff; any gunfight that involves a shot villain plummeting from at least two stories is a winner- bonus points for bouncing off stuff on the way down.
So, it’s interesting to visit old movies that were mostly unavailable in those formative years. That cultivated affinity for Westerns never left, but Hollywood stopped making so many. That means a regular dipping into the classics, sometimes to the dismay of those who had other plans for viewing.
No director stands above John Ford and few of his films offered as much opportunity to portray his beloved outdoors quite like 3 Godfathers. Other movies have made a hash of the story of three men on their own with one or more child, but nothing has ever succeeded at making such brilliant drama. Genre is setting, not plot. Here, that setting allows the story to sear us with the power of the desert. This is a Western because of the time and place and set dressing, but no description of genre can prepare you for the plot. If you have seen other settings of similar tales, then you don’t appreciate what that one change can do, especially in the hands of a master.
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