HELL’S HEROES. Universal Pictures, 1929. Charles Bickford, Raymond Hatton, Fred Kohler, Fritzi Ridgeway. Based on the story “The Three Godfathers” by Peter B. Kyne. Director: William Wyler.

   I recently saw William Wyler’s Hell’s Heroes, the first sound version of Three Godfathers, the one with Charles Bickford, Raymond Hatton and Fred Kohler.

   Interesting how this film changed over the years. John Ford’s 1948 version is a gentle, sentimental film about three likable cowboys who happen to rob a bank, rescue a kid and become heroes. Richard Boleslawski’s 1936 version is a melancholy, cynical affair, with Chester Morris, Lewis Stone and Waiter Brennan. All three are out & out bad guys and killers, but the older two soften quickly, and the trek to New Jerusalem becomes a process of redemption for Morris.

   Wyler’s take is more earthy (Bickford spends his time with the local whore, and when they come on the dying woman, the three argue over who will enjoy her first) and he makes a very forceful point about the physical changes wrought by prolonged extreme heat; by the time Bickford carries the baby into New Jerusalem, he’s barely human.

   The ’36 version is still my favorite, and I’ll always love the Ford film, but this one’s interesting. Someday I’ll have to catch the Silent.