Three Godfathers

John Ford, Etats-Unis, 1948, Warner bros.


A woman is about to give birth in the middle of the desert, in a carriage. Three men, some outlaws on the run, randomly find her and don’t quite know how to deal with this emergency. Amongst them is a Mexican, who is married and has children, he is designated by the others to go and assist the parturient in giving birth. When the Mexican arrives in front of the caravan, the dialogue scene between him and the woman is filmed in an unusual way. Where we expected shots and reverse shots between the two characters, Ford is never going to show us the woman. He does a link shot – between a wide shot and a close up - in the direction of the Mexican filmed framed in the carriage entrance. Those two shots appeared to have been filmed in anticipation of the reverse shot on the woman, which should have been taking place between then normally. John Ford has probably decided during the editing not to show this reverse shot. Then Ford will abandon the carriage and will hide the giving birth scene entirely. He deliberately remains with the other two characters, behind a sand dune, doing something indirectly linked to the main scene: find water for the baby and the mother. We therefore witness shots that look like a documentary: how to get water from a barrel cactus. This secondary action blinds the main action: the birth. Even the soundtrack hides the screams of pain which must be those of the woman. It’s through an off-camera whistle from the Mexican that John Ford links the two spaces: the Mexican indicates to his two fellows that the baby is born, but the vision of the mother and the baby is still hidden for the moment inside the carriage.