At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

3 BAD MEN (KINO/Lorber)

By • Jul 17th, 2016 •

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BluRay review by Roy Frumkes

John Ford made an effort to have his title removed from the film after studio brass trimmed a half hour from its running time without his blessing. If it was more of Ford’s dumb hijinks they were cutting, I wouldn’t feel too bad. But you know it wasn’t. Today he would have retained his cut for the BluRay – like Ridley Scott was able to do with BLADE RUNNER. But the amazing thing is that the film, for all its odd narrative imbalances, or maybe partially because of them, is pretty wonderful, constantly surprising, and widely considered to be Ford’s best work in the silent era. Despite the studio’s meddling, they were unable to rob the film of its charm and uniqueness. And perhaps, purely by accident, they added to the shorter cut its sense of unpredictability.

George O’Brien, the nominal star though not in the film as often or as long as the titular baddies, is wonderfully relaxed in his portrayal of a good-hearted cowboy, and periodically breaks into a winning Hollywood star smile. Olive Borden’s looks have survived the mutating visions of beauty over the ages, even triumphing over the amount of visual degradation the films negative has accrued. Her sad off-screen tale is recounted by Joseph McBride on his engaging, authorative commentary track.

The film’s title is a tad misleading, as the ruffians referenced act more like three naughty men then three bad men. This is acknowledged by the woman they take under their wing, Lee Carlton (Ms. Borden) whose father has just been murdered by a genuine villainous element sanctioned by the local sheriff, played with preening ruthlessness by Layne Hunter whose buff good looks had him working with some of the biggest female talents of the period. Nothing warm emanates from his transparent blue eyes. We’re looking forward to see him get his come-uppance.

The dramatic and comic interplay between the main characters is so much fun that we can easily wait for the big second act climax – the land rush involving what seems like a literally endless line of covered wagons. This historic event has been depicted many times, but never as grandiosely as it is here. You do get the feeling of what that day was like and, despite the orderly manner in which the government tried to officiate, you can also see where chicanery easily could have claimed the day.

The transfer is good, though the original materials are not. It’s amazing to look at the loving care that people like Chaplin and Harold Lloyd took with their materials, and how much less attention was lavished on the studios’ vault elements such as this example from the Fox library. The studio big wigs may not have anticipated TV, home video, etc., but still…

Dana Kaproff’s passionate score alternates between country western compositions played on guitar, and more strident, silent film recreations. I rewound and listened to some of them a second time.

McBride does well on the audio voice track, explaining how deft Ford was at laying out foreground and background action, and how 3 BAD MEN represented an advance in that aesthetic from earlier works such as THE IRON HORSE (1924 – also available on DVD).

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