Thursday, 23 August 2007
3:10 TO YUMA (Original)
3:10 to Yuma (1957) dir. Delmar Daves
Starring: Glenn Ford, Van Heflin
With the release of the well-casted “3:10 to Yuma” with Christian Bale and Russell Crowe, it’s timely to review the original film from 1957. Elmore Leonard has been around for a long time, and before he perfected his own brand of crime stories, he wrote dozens of classic Westerns, including “3:10 to Yuma”. The film was highly popular at the time and attracted audiences with the against-type casting of Glenn Ford as the bad guy. Fifty years later, the film survives remarkably well. It looks great and provides ample entertainment with all the essential elements of the genre.
The film opens with Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) robbing a stagecoach. Wade is the charismatic leader of the black clad group of thieves. He’s not sadistic though, and is forced to kill one of the drivers in self defense. The group of soon-to-be-wanted men ride into town where they plan their escape across the border. Wade splits up with his men so as not to attract attention to themselves as suspects. But in doing so he opens himself up for capture.
Enter Dan Evans (Van Heflin), a decent, hardworking rancher with a wife and two children. Dan is caught in the middle of the activities when he strolls into the same town looking for a loan to help him through the lengthy drought that’s plagued the land. With no means to secure the loan, he accepts an offer of $200 to help transport Wade to prison. Knowing Wade’s gang will be out to rescue him Evans and the authorities plot a rouse to get Wade on the 3:10 train to Yuma prison (hence the title) under the noses of the gang. Evans has to keep a steady watch on the manipulative and dangerous offender in order collect the money which will save his family from financial ruin. But with the clock ticking down to 3:10pm Wade’s gang eventually catches onto their plan. Evans is faced with two options – let go Wade go and flee to safety or go through with the plan and send Wade to prison at the risk of his own death.
The film’s main strength is its brilliant direction and cinematography. The 1950’s was the golden age of black & white cinematography. Director Delmar Daves and DOP Charles Lawton Jr. craft one of the most beautifully shot films of the era. It flawless composed, lit and choreographed creating an absolute perfect example of classical filmmaking. The film stands up to any of today’s films. It’s very modern. Gone are the dated rear projection process shots of the 40’s. Everything is on location and real. The camera movements and creative composition make every shot a visual treat. The exteriors look like Ansel Adams photographs and rivals anything John Ford has ever done.
Story wise, Elmore Leonard and screenwriter Halstead Welles create a well-told narrative. The opening act is suspenseful. We’re not quite sure what is going on, nor can we predict the course of the action in the film. When the gang leaves Wade alone in the bar, there’s a lengthy courtship scene between Wade and the barmaid. It’s short, but they actually fall in love and the scene ends with a passionate kiss. This isn’t the typical Western bad guy. Jack Palance would never get romantic with a dame. But this is Glenn Ford. He was known as the everyman hero in his films, and Wade was an against-type character. Ford makes Wade an honest antagonist with personal ethics. He is highly effective as such. But where the film fails, is in the second act when Evans and Wade are companions at the station waiting for the 3:10 train. By playing Wade as likeable and honest, there is no suspense or tension between the two. Even with Evans' shotgun pointed at Wade we should continually feel the threat from Wade. But we never get that. Ford is too much of a hero to ever threaten Van Heflin. Watch Henry Fonda’s performance in Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West” for the best example of sinister anti-casting. Therefore, with much of the tension zapped from the story the film drags until the finale.
The finale redeems the film in the end, with an expertly choreographed ambush on the town. Evans is forced to fight off the gangsters and get Wade into the train. The only false moment happens at the very very end when it finally rains on the land. The water/rain effects are quite amateurish considering the technical polish on everything else in the film.
Overall, “3:10 to Yuma” is a great Western. Though without the lasting impact of John Ford or George Stevens film, it ranks somewhere around the “High Noon”, “Bad Day at Black Rock” level of Westerns. Check it out. Enjoy.
Buy it here: 3:10 to Yuma (Special Edition)