Released in 1940, Three Faces West is a lesser known entry in John Wayne’s long and varied filmography. Part The Grapes of Wrath and an anti-Nazi propaganda movie, Three Faces West is a bit of an odd duck when considering the actor’s body of work. While it holds some historical curiosity, only the biggest of Wayne’s fans will likely find the movie of interest.
Austrian refugee Dr. Karl Braun (Charles Coburn) and his daughter, Leni (Sigrid Gurie) are invited to work in the rural farming town of Asheville Forks, North Dakota. Met at the train station by farmer John Phillips (John Wayne) and his veterinarian uncle, “Nunk” Atterbury (Spencer Charters), the Braun’s are shocked by the bleakness that surrounds them. Smack in the middle of the Dust Bowl, Asheville Forks is thick with sand, and disease is rampant. Obviously, it’s a poor community, and the residents live in homes that are little more than shacks.
John Phillips opens the ground floor of his home for the Braun’s to live in. They have little time to settle in, as Dr. Braun is called upon to care for a group of dying children. The severity of the situation makes the doctor wonder if they’ve made a mistake. Leni, upset, and wanting to return to Vienna, tries to convince her father to leave. However, he is moved to stay by a local mother who needs an operation performed on her son to save his leg. Leni eventually comes around, helped by some persuasion from John, who happens to be falling for her.
Three Faces West could have served as an interesting look at life in the Dust Bowl. For whatever reason though, the film isn’t content to stay in one place. As the dust storms worsen, John Phillips learns about new and fertile tracts of farmland created by a dam-building project in Oregon. He attempts to convince the townspeople that packing up and moving there is a great idea. They eventually agree with him, and they begin a journey that takes them from North Dakota to California’s Death Valley, finally arriving in Oregon. Just to make things interesting, there’s another subplot involving Leni’s former love, a Viennese soldier whom the Braun’s believed had died fighting the Nazis. All of this happens in a mere 79 minutes.
Wayne’s character is surprisingly grounded in this film, simply doing what he thinks he needs to do to survive. Probably best known as the sugar daddy in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, character actor Charles Coburn contributes a solid performance, though his tendency to sermonize gets a bit tiresome. Sigrid Gurie is fine, but nothing about her work stands out.
Presented in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio, Olive Films 1080p transfer is a good one. Though there are some white specks throughout, considering the film is more than 70 years old, this print is fine.
The only audio option is a fairly typical mono mix. The dialogue is quite clear. The only thing I noticed was that the score was occasionally a few notches above the dialogue.
No subtitles are included.
No special features are available.