3 Bad Men (John Ford / U.S., 1926):

The westward rush, "Old World blood and colonial strains," a further foundation of John Ford’s cinema. Dakota in the 1870s is a scrubby valley watched by the Sioux and lined with eager pilgrims, one caravan carries the Virginian cowgirl (Olive Borden) and the Irish buckaroo (George O’Brien). A quick montage of bounty posters dissolves to the trio of outlaws (Tom Santschi, J. Farrell MacDonald, Frank Campeau) silhouetted against rocky formations, inveterate desert rats and basically soft-hearted despite a propensity for holding up stagecoaches. "Our business is gettin’ crowded," too many cutthroats nowadays, they join the travelers in Custer City and become jesters, matchmakers, mangy guardian angels. Ford in his innate terrain between Cruze’s The Covered Wagon and Walsh’s The Big Trail, with a dazzling eye for intricate set-ups plus a rough draft for his own 3 Godfathers. His America is a land still in fragments, a nation of stampedes finding its inner balance: frames are composed with the continuous bustle of people and vehicles, and then there’s the stillness of a congregation moments before a wagon set ablaze crashes through the church wall. History is vaudeville when it isn’t tall-tale, MacDonald’s caterpillar eyebrows and Campeau’s cardsharp slyness under a Lincolnesque stovepipe hat are irrepressible comic magnifications while the furious Santschi smashing through one door after another is a flash of Paul Bunyan. A vengeful bullet is saved for the corrupt sheriff with white hat and dandified bullwhip (Lou Tellegen), but the plow remains as emblematic as the six-shooter, "the real wealth is soil." The land rush is filmed with the camera amid charging hooves and more than a touch of Remington, the bandits’ resigned serenity in their final stand is absorbed by Peckinpah. "One last riddle, positively the last." The coda equates desperadoes and toddlers as Eden's precarious hope, just the conclusion for this Biblical sagebrush. With Priscilla Bonner, Otis Harlan, Phyllis Haver, and Alec Francis. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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