Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Three Godfathers by Peter B. Kyne

“What’s a godfather, Bill?” The Youngest Bad Man inquired. “What job does he hold down?”

“You’re an awful ignorant young man, Bob,” replied The Wounded Bad Man reproachfully. “A godfather is a sort of reserve parent who promises to renounce the devil with all his works an’ pomps.”

The Youngest Bad Man smiled wanly. “Well, Bill, all I got to say is that us three’re a lovely bunch o’ godfathers.”
This little novella has inspired at least five movies, two of them from the silent film era. The most famous is 3 Godfathers starring John Wayne and directed by John Ford, which inspired one of my favorite movies, Tokyo Godfathers. So the story has staying power even in modern culture and other lands.

This little story is the backbone of all those films. This is not the story of the Wise Men, it is the story of Bad Men, we are told on the title page. The three Bad Men are on the lam after a bank heist. Searching for water, they come upon a pioneer woman in labor and dying. Her husband is dead and the newborn baby is given into the care of the "three godfathers" who providentially showed up to help it be born. Their journey to get the baby to his relatives is the story of their struggles with their past and their possible redemption. It is heartfelt but also shows flashes of humor which I enjoyed a lot.

It is interesting to see how the films embellished the basics to give their own take and layers of complexity, which are all, nevertheless, still commenting on the basic story. You can get the book free at Project Gutenberg. I'm lucky because my library had it.

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