Three Faces West (1940)

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Film and Plot Synopsis

Dr. Karl Braun and his adult daughter Lenchen are Austria refugees who escape the Nazi regime in Europe. Once in America, they seek a place to call home where Dr. Braun can continue his medical practice. They are “adopted” by a farming town in the Mid-West in the heart of the Dust Bowl. The town is in its death throes despite the attempt of the town leader, John Phillips, to keep the spirits and hopes of the town alive. Lenchen wishes to leave but soon begins to fall for John. However, when Lenchen’s Austrian fiancé turns out to be alive, will she stay with John and her father or will she return to her first love?

‘Three Faces West’ Movie Summary

The summary below contains spoilers.
Three Faces West (1940)In the lead up to World War II, refugees from Europe flee to the United States to avoid the horrors of the Nazi regime. The Brauns are two such Austrian refugees. Dr. Karl Braun (Charles Coburn) and his adult daughter Leni “Lenchen” Braun (Sigrid Gurie) appear on a “We the People” radio show looking for assistance to find a place to live where Dr. Braun can contribute with his medical skills along with the assistance of his nurse daughter.

Fortunately, the Braun’s call for help does not go unanswered. A small farm town in North Dakota offers to put the refugees up in exchange for their services. The town is located in an area known as the Dust Bowl where it is subjected to unrelenting drought and nearly constant dust storms. The Brauns are met at the train station by local cow hand John Phillips (John Wayne) and veterinarian Dr. “Nunk” Atterbury (Spencer Charters). Lenchen immediately takes a dislike to the town as John spends the Braun’s first few hours in town taking Dr. Braun to each of the townspeople who need medical help. Eventually, John takes them back to their residence, which is John’s home. An ungrateful Lenchen continues to complain about the conditions and insists that she and her father leave the town. A reluctant Dr. Braun agrees and the two plan to leave the next day.

The following morning, John takes the Brauns to church where they are whole heartedly welcomed by the townspeople. Dr. Braun is approached by Mrs. Welles (Helen MacKellar) after church, and the older woman pleads with the doctor to fix her handicapped young boy Billy (Sonny Bupp). Much to Lenchen’s chagrin, Dr. Braun agrees to examine the boy to see if there is anything he can do. John takes Lenchen home so that she can continue to pack. However, Dr. Braun returns home a few hours later and informs his daughter that he is going to perform surgery on Billy the next day and that he will need to stay an additional ten days to make sure that he recovers. Lenchen is disappointed, but John is excited that the town will have a competent doctor for a few more days. Dr. Braun convinces Lenchen to stay with the town, informing her that the town needs them. Lenchen reluctantly agrees.

Billy’s surgery goes well, and he slowly begins to recover. John attempts to unite the local farmers to attempt to change their farming techniques to better use the limited resources that they have. Nevertheless, the farmers continue to pray for what they need most…rain. While the farmers toil in their land, John attempts to seek help from the Federal government. The Department of Agriculture declines to help the town but offers John and the farmers an opportunity to relocate and purchase new homesteads in Oregon near a dam. John rejects the offer since it would require the farmers to go into debt. John gets drunk and returns home. He gets into a fight with Lenchen who is disappointed in John’s despondency. However, the discussion is interrupted with a rainstorm. John and Lenchen are elated and engage in a passionate kiss. The couple discuss their hope of a potential future together.

When Dr. Braun returns, Lenchen discusses her future with John. Dr. Braun reveals to her that he has been offered a prestigious position away from the small town. Dr. Braun tells her that the didn’t want to inform her of the offer until she didn’t want to leave town. However, Lenchen’s happiness with John is soon interrupted when Dr. Braun receives a letter that informs Lenchen’s fiancé, whom she believed had been killed, is still alive. Lenchen’s loyalties are tested as she feels that her fiancé helped her, and her father escape the Nazi’s in Austria. Lenchen feels the need to go to him as he travels to San Francisco.

Unfortunately, the dust storms return and decimate the town. The townspeople bicker and argue on whether to stay or to make the move to the Pacific Northwest. John champions the relocation and is supported by Dr. Braun. The townspeople decide to pack up and make the 1500-mile trip to the undeveloped portion of Oregon in a convoy of cars. Along the way, Clem Higgins (Trevor Bardette) attempts to lead a revolt to divert the convoy to California instead. John tells the group that in California that they will not be farmers, but migrant workers contending with an overcrowded job market. John grows frustrated with the constant challenges from Higgins and abandons the convoy. Higgins takes over as a power-hungry dictator and withholds supplies and money from the rest of the convoy. Dr. Braun convinces John to return to lead the convoy again and to finish his original task.

Dr. Braun and Lenchen take a detour on the trip and head off to San Francisco to meet up with Lenchen’s fiancé, Dr. Eric Von Scherer (Roland Varno). They find Eric staying at an expensive hotel. They are shocked to learn that Eric has embraced Nazism. The couple’s differences in philosophy causes Lenchen to decide not to marry Eric, and she and her father leave to rejoin the convoy. Some time later, the town settles in Oregon and begins to prosper. The film ends with John and Lenchen marrying in front of the entire town as Dr. Braun approvingly looks on.

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Our Rating

Republic Pictures released Three Faces West on July 3, 1940. Bernard Vorhaus directed the film starring John Wayne, Sigrid Gurie, Charles Coburn.

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