William Wyler’s pre-Code Western is one of many screen versions of Peter B. Kyne’s 1913 novel The Three Godfathers.


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Three outlaws, played by Charles Bickford, Raymond Hatton, and Fred Kohler, promise a dying woman they will save her newborn child.

Four men, Bob Sangster, “Barbwire” Gibbons, “Wild Bill” Kearney, and José, rob the bank in New Jerusalem. José and the cashier are killed, while Barbwire is shot.

The three outlaws escape the posse, fleeing into the desert. However, their horses run off in a sand storm and they have no water.

When they reach a water hole, they find out that it is dry. There is a pregnant woman stranded there, who gives birth to a boy. Before she dies, she makes the three godfathers and begs them to take him to his father, Frank Edwards (who’s the cashier they had murdered).

Bob wants to abandon the boy, but the other two are determined to honor the woman’s wish. They start walking the 40 miles to New Jerusalem. Weakened by his wound, Barbwire eventually can go no further. He makes the others continue on without him, then shoots himself.

When Bob wakes up the next morning, he finds Bill gone. A note explains he went further into the desert to conserve the little remaining water for Bob and the baby.

Bob goes on, discarding his belongings along the way, including the loot. At one point, he leaves the baby, but then picks him up again. His strength gives out just as he reaches a water hole with a sign warning it is poisoned.

Desperate, he drinks his fill, knowing he will have about an hour before it kills him. He stumbles into New Jerusalem’s church, where the congregation celebrates Christmas. With his task completed, he dies without uttering a word.