Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews as I go through the process of finishing post and releasing my 12 Westerns in 12 Months during 2020. I am watching these films not from an audience perspective but as a filmmaker, as a student of the genre.


Week Ninety Two: Hell’s Heroes

This early talkie, Wyler’s first according to Criterion, took me by total surprise. It’s another adaptation of The Three Godfathers by Peter B. Kyne, which I was familiar with through the John Ford film. I was uninformed that the source had been made into films so many times, twice by Ford actually. Of the two I’ve seen, Wyler’s is the superior work.

Unlike the Wayne version done years later by the Western master, Wyler chooses to focus on the grit rather than the sentiment. His three “marked men” really feel like bad guys put in a situation where they have an opportunity to do good. The leads are terrific, handling dialog as if they’ve been speaking it movies for years. Wyler’s direction is lean, just capturing the action, the moments, never indulgent.

I also love the length of this movie and wish more films now were around an hour long. So many times, I find myself watching a film that lasts an hour and half which needs 20 minutes cut out of it.

Back to the source material, I am curious to see the other versions. It’s a tragedy that Ford’s first take on the book is apparently lost forever. The Three Godfathers is in the public domain. I may give it a shot myself one of these days.

Seen on Criterion Channel.