Ford At Fox: 3 Bad Men (1926)
The next film in the set is 3 Bad Men, which again showcases the sparkling cinematography of George Schneiderman - whose work is one of the many marvels of this set. In collaboration with Ford, he composes exquisite long shots of western landscapes (most of them shot at Jackson Hole, Wyoming - thanks Joseph McBride!). They are deep focus wonders, rich with chiaroscuro and constantly slashed by intrepid wagon trains, preparing for a land rush into the Dakotas (land wrested away from the Sioux nation). The three bad men aren't so bad, at least after they run into toothsome Olive Borden (former Mack Sennett bathing beauty) after her father is killed by horse bandits (who just happened to beat the naughty trio to the punch). The whiskered heroes are played by Tom Santschi, J. Farrell MacDonald (a Ford Stock Company regular), and Frank Campeau.
Filled with Fordian low humor, including a choice bathing beauty in a barrel farce, it's also a complex take on one of his favorite themes - the noble outlaw making way for a civilization that has no use for them. The three drunken louts defend Miss Borden from the slick advancements of the corrupt local Sheriff, a smug, corrupt bastard whose official cover masks a naked lust for power. This ambivalence about the new order is encapsulated in the final action sequence, where the oleaginous sheriff sneaks behind the line of the land rush and plots to take over Olive's plot of land - as she has the inside dope on a gold vein. In a beautifully orchestrated defense, the three dirtbags give up their lives to the law in order to preserve the future for Olive and her athletic beau (George O'Brien, also of The Iron Horse).
But one can't get away from that photography. It's glorious - and Schneiderman is a guy who deserves further research.