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August 23, 2016

3 Bad Men

3 bad men poster a.jpg

John Ford - 1926
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

One of my favorite moments in this silent western is the introduction of the character, Dan O'Malley, played by George O'Brien. A large wagon train of settlers is traveling to Dakota in 1876. The movement on screen is from left to right. O'Brien is on horseback, very casually, with his left leg down in the stirrup, while his right leg is draped around the saddle horn. And he's playing his harmonica. The title card reads, "Dan O'Malley had come from Ireland at a smile-a-minute pace."

What is charming about 3 Bad Men is that, except for the land rush, there's an easy going spirit to much of what occurs in the film. O'Brien has no problem appearing goofy, as he does when he first encounters the petite Olive Borden and states the obvious when he sees that the wheel has fallen off the wagon belonging to her father. And what may strike some out of of context as being racist is, to my eyes, John Ford's casual sense of inclusiveness of a frontier with "Dagoes" and "Chinks", as well as a budding entrepreneur who addresses a pastor as "rabbi". Consider that that the film takes place less than ten years before the publication of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

While Ford's characterization of a multi-culti America might raise some eyebrows use to only understanding art through a contemporary prism, the one possibly gay character may indicate a more forward thinking filmmaker. The title characters are looking in a bar for a possible husband for Olive Borden. A couple of the men survey a well dressed and well scrubbed dandy who is ruffled caught between two ruffians, not known that their intentions are harmless. One of the bad men states, "If a man's heart is in the right place, it don't matter what sex he belongs to."

Having Joseph McBride provide commentary provides an extra bonus to this blu-ray upgrade from the previous "Ford at Fox" DVD set. McBride discusses both the making of the film, as well as some general observations about John Ford from his own interviews and research. McBride also shares information on the making of 3 Bad Men from interviewing Priscilla Bonner, who's role in the film, the sister of one of the "bad men", was severely cut by the studio.

I wish there was more information regarding what had been cut from Ford's original version. The three bad men of the title, wanted for robbing a bank, inexplicably come to the aid of Olive Borden, discovering her following an ambush by an outlaw gang. That gang works for the sheriff of Custer, the ramshackle Dakota town that passes for civilization. The sheriff, played by Lou Tellegen, is the real villain here, trying to bully a prospector into revealing the location of gold found in protected Indian territory, as well as riding roughshod over the townspeople. While Ford's heroes here are a trio of outlaws who function independently, Ford has no sympathy for the outlaws protected by the sheriff's badge. Whatever makes the three men "bad" is considered lightly, with more emphasis placed on their idiosyncratic sartorial choices.

Tellegen's sheriff is notable for his fancy suit, and his white had with a very wide brim. The hat looks very similar to the one worn by James Stewart in Ford's last western, Cheyenne Autumn. In that film, Stewart plays a comic version of Wyatt Earp. Cheyenne Autumn also marked the last screen appearance of George O'Brien.


Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 23, 2016 02:31 PM