Capsule Review of the Week: 'Three Faces West' (1940), A Powerful Film with A Mature John Wayne

Leni Braun (Sigrid Gurie), Dr. Karl Braun (Charles Coburn), and John Phillips (John Wayne)--and lots of dust--in an early scene from Three Faces West.

Even in the earliest scenes of this Republic effort, John Wayne clearly shows evidence of a new maturity and an increased confidence. Here Wayne plays John Phillips, a civic-minded citizen of Asheville Forks, North Dakota, who invites a war-refugee doctor (Charles Coburn) and his lovely daughter Leni (Sigrid Gurie) to take up residence in the dustbowl town that otherwise would have no medical man. Despite Leni’s initial reluctance, especially after getting her first glimpse of the dust-covered house Philips has found for them, the dutiful doctor tries his best against overwhelming odds to help the locals. At the same time, Phillips leads the local farmers in their battle against crop failure, with contour farming, windbreaks, and other useless ploys against the all-powerful climate.

Over time, and while facing crushing obstacles, Phillips and Leni fall in love and plan to marry. But first, the community agrees to abandon their fields and caravan west to Oregon, where the government has offered them new lands—and hope. Leni then learns from a telegram that her former fiancé, who was thought dead at the outbreak of the European war, is not only alive, but on his way to San Francisco to pick up where he and Leni left off.

The plot then moves into some intriguing and far more serious themes, with anti-fascist sentiments, Moses-like overtones, and a strong sense of we’re-all-in-this-together. Highly worth watching. Charles Coburn, the doctor, is especially good as the film’s steady conscience.

Featured actors: John Wayne, Sigrid Gurie, Charles Coburn, Spencer Charters, Helen MacKellar, Roland Varno, Sonny Bupp, Wade Boteler, Trevor Bardette, Russell Simpson, Charles Waldron, and Wendell Niles

Original screenplay by F. Hugh Herbert, Joseph Moncure March, and Samuel Ornitz

Directed by Bernard Vorhaus

Produced and distributed by Republic Pictures

Release date: July 3, 1940

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