Monday, November 23, 2015

Tonight's Movie: 3 Bad Men (1926)

Tonight I watched 3 BAD MEN (1926), one of the movies on my list of 10 Classics to see for the first time in 2015.

A couple of years ago I watched THE IRON HORSE (1924), which like 3 BAD MEN is a silent film directed by John Ford and starring George O'Brien.

THE IRON HORSE didn't do much for me, despite my admiration for both Ford and O'Brien, but my reaction to 3 BAD MEN was quite the opposite; it was really lovely, a special film which I'm glad to have finally seen thanks to a push from my list. This is a movie I'll be wanting to watch again in the future.

Olive Borden stars as Lee Carlton, who is heading west in a covered wagon with her father when they are set upon by horse thieves and her father is killed.

The titular three bad men, played by Tom Santschi, J. Farrell MacDonald, and Frank Campeau, had originally been thinking of stealing the horses themselves. However, after witnessing what Lee goes through at the hands of the bad guys who got there first, the "bad men" come to Lee's aid and virtually adopt her; they help her get to the site of the Dakota land rush, chase off the lecherous, evil local sheriff (Lou Tellegen), and set her up with handsome pioneer Dan O'Malley (George O'Brien).

It transpires that the sheriff had led on Millie (Priscilla Bonner), younger sister of one of the "bad men," with promises of marriage but then abandoned her. After the sheriff commits further evil acts the "three bad men" determine to take care of him once and for all, while also protecting Lee and Dan in the process.

That's a simplistic recounting of the story, but what makes it special is the poetry with which it's told. It was mostly filmed on location, including in Lone Pine and the Mojave Desert, and Ford makes great use of nature's backdrops; the wagons trains are impressively long yet at the same time seem to be mere specks as they cross the endless landscapes.

The performances and staging are beautiful. There are moving moments, such as the scene where Dan learns Lee's father has been killed, which builds to a sweet kiss between the two. There's also some wonderful Fordian humor; a couple of scenes had me chuckling out loud. It's a compelling film from start to finish, building to a beautiful ending.

I always love George O'Brien, and he's terrific as the Irishman that the "bad men" immediately deduce would be a great catch for their little lady. I believe this was the first film in which I'd seen Olive Borden, and she's great as the spunky young Lee, with a nice sense of humor. That same year O'Brien and Borden costarred in FIG LEAVES (1926).

Tom Santschi, playing the biggest and meanest of the bad men, has soulful eyes and gives a tender performance as a man who turns out to have quite a noble character, as do his comrades.

This is a special film which is well worth seeing. Recommended.

3 BAD MEN was filmed by George Schneiderman. It runs 92 minutes.

3 BAD MEN is available on DVD in the Ford at Fox "Silent Epics" collection or in the giant Ford at Fox Collection. I was fortunate enough to pick up that set on sale at Fox Connect last year.

October 2016 Update: I had the opportunity to revisit this film with live piano accompaniment at the 2016 Lone Pine Film Festival.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Tom Santschi! His performance is outstanding and I hope to get the chance to see more of his work.

8:02 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I had never heard of him before and was touched by his performance. I would also be interested to see more. I'll be trying to read up on him soon.

Best wishes,

8:27 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I've known the name of Tom Santschi for ages. His claim to movie fame was the epic fight in which he engaged with William Farnum in THE SPOILERS (1914). For years this was famed as THE movie fight of all time. And every time the movie was remade, the fight was restaged and a lot of publicity generated.

The remakes and their respective brawlers were:
1923 -- Milton Sills and Noah Beery
1930 -- Gary Cooper and William "Stage" Boyd (not Hopalong Cassidy Bill Boyd)
1942 -- John Wayne and Randolph Scott
1955 -- Jeff Chandler and Rory Calhoun

The '42 version includes Marlene Dietrich and is a lot of fun. I saw the '55 but frankly can't remember much of it. Haven't seen the others.

10:30 AM  

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