Sunday, July 28, 2002


The most famous version of this story is the 1948 John Ford film, with John Wayne in the lead, but some critics think this earlier version is better. I haven't seen the Wayne movie, but I was glad to finally see this one, being as I am a fan of both Chester Morris and of Christmas movies. Morris, Walter Brennan, and Lewis Stone are three bandits out to rob a bank at Christmas time in the Old West town of New Jerusalem (yes, there is some heavy-handed symbolism here and there in the film, especially in the final scene). Morris has a bad reputation in town, and an ex-lady friend (Irene Hervey) who, though engaged to someone else, seems like she still might be interested in Morris if he cleaned up his act and settled down. The three men are portrayed sympathetically despite their thieving ways. After the bank robbery (during which Morris shoots Hervey's fiance, who is dressed as Santa Claus), the three escape, but in the desert, they run across a dying woman who asks them to take care of her baby. Somewhat reluctantly, they do. The men wind up sacrificing much in order to get the baby to safety. The story could have gotten sappy but it doesn't. Morris, Stone, and especially Brennan are all very good and carry the movie. The finale, in church on Christmas day, teeters on the brink of sappiness, but does retain a bit of a hard edge.

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