Movie star John Wayne deeply enjoyed playing games, such as bridge and dominoes. He wasn’t ever against having a strong drink and sharing good company with his close friends. Wayne was very close friends with filmmaker John Ford and fellow actor Ward Bond, but they had a particular dynamic that informed how the games went.
Three Godfathers tells the story of thieves named Robert Hightower (Wayne), Pete Fuerte (Pedro Armendáriz), and Abilene Kid (Harry Carey Jr.). They rob an Arizonian bank before Sheriff Buck Sweet (Bond) pursues them across the desert. Along the way, the trio comes across a woman (Mildred Natwick), who is dying during childbirth, as they promise to bring her child to society.
According to Carolyn McGivern’s book, John Wayne: A Giant Shadow, the cast and crew had an awful time filming Three Godfathers. They had to film through desert storms, resulting in the sand completely covering them from head to toe. Additionally, they had to work long days from morning until night, as the harsh sun and sand did a number on them.
Wayne and the rest of the cast and crew found solace in the evenings, where they enjoyed cooler weather and games, such as dominoes. It became a running joke on the set, which allowed the actors to poke fun at one another.
Every game of dominoes started with Wayne asking, “What’s worse than going to Hell?” The rest of the group would respond in unison, “Playing dominoes with Pedro Armendáriz as your partner!”
The teams split into Wayne and Bond against Ford and Armendáriz, which always was a source of amusement for the group.
Ford regularly tried to cheat, while Armendáriz would lose his cool with Bond, who was the absolute worst at any game they would dare play together.
“Thank God, fellas … the heat’s off! Ward’s done it again,” Wayne said with a laugh any time he lost with Bond on his team. However, the actor knew it was best to lose against Ford because he was a sore loser who would make life difficult the following day if he didn’t win.
Despite playing dominoes, Wayne and crew knew when it was time to get serious. They were able to complete the film, which was the introductory role for Carey Jr., even though he previously had a handful of other roles on the silver screen.
Wayne and Ford worked together several times over the course of their careers, including The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Quiet Man, and Stagecoach. Three Godfathers is far from their most successful or popular, but it certainly did quite well on its own terms with critics and audiences.
Three Godfathers did quite well with the critics, who gave the film generally positive reviews. At the time of writing, the Ford movie is sitting at an 85% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Additionally, the film went on to make a profit of $450,000 with a reported budget of $1.2 million.
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