Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Review: "3:10 to Yuma" an American Classic

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 45 (of 2007) by Leroy Douresseaux

3:10 to Yuma (1957)
Running time:  92 minutes (1 hour, 32 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Delmer Daves
WRITERS:  Halsted Welles (based upon the short story by Elmore Leonard)
PRODUCER:  David Heilweil
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Charles Lawton, Jr. (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Al Clark
COMPOSER:  George Duning
BAFTA Award nominee


Starring:  Glenn Ford, Van Heflin, Felicia Farr, Leora Dana, Henry Jones, Richard Jaeckel, and Robert Emhardt

The subject of this movie review is 3:10 to Yuma, a 1957 Western film and thriller from director Delmer Daves.  The film is based on the short story, “Three-Ten to Yuma,” written by Elmore Leonard and first published in the March 1953 issue of Dime Western Magazine.  3:10 to Yuma stars Glenn Ford and Van Helfin in a story of a rancher who escorts a notorious outlaw to the train that will take him to prison.

A crippling drought has hit Dan Evans (Van Heflin), a poor rancher, hard.  Fate steps in when Evans and his two young sons run into outlaw Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) and his gang robbing a stage coach of a fortune in gold.  When Wade is later caught, the town marshal of Brisbee offers a bounty to any men willing to escort Wade to the small dusty town of Contention.  There, they’ll board a train and take Wade to the prison town of Yuma.

Desperately in need of money for his cattle, Evans accepts the $200 bounty, in spite of his wife, Alice’s (Leora Dana) protests.  Evans joins the town drunk, Alex Potter (Henry Jones), and, Mr. Butterfield (Robert Emhardt), the owner of the gold, in escorting Wade.  Soon, the trio is held up in a small hotel in Contention with Wade.  They’re waiting for the 3:10 to Yuma while Wade’s gang closes in on the town, fiercely determined to free their leader.

Sometimes a film is so full of stereotypes in terms of characters, setting, and plot that the film is indeed a stereotype.  There are, however, rare occasions when such a film hits all the notes with perfect pitch, and what could have been nothing more than typical (entertaining, but typical) becomes an exceptional movie.  That’s what 3:10 to Yuma is – an outstanding horse opera.  Not only is it a great western, 3:10 to Yuma is also a thriller and a crime drama.

While managing to be a western, this is also a broader story about a man doing something because he should, not that he necessarily wants to put his neck on the line.  This could also easily be a tale set in the city, especially the way director of photography Charles Lawton, Jr. and director Delmer Davis stage 3:10 to Yuma in an interplay of liquid shadows and brilliant light as if this movie were Film-Noir.

As for the elements that are familiar to western movies:  there’s a really, good and humble man, and a cool, overly confident villain (who is also apparently an accomplished lover).  The citizens of two little towns want the bad guy to get his just punishment for his crimes, but most of the men are too afraid to stand up with the hero, whose only stouthearted partners are the portly owner of the stolen gold and the town drunk.  There’s even a lonesome setting – the barren Southwestern dry lands.  The hero also has a worried wife, and two sons who really want their dad to take on the bad guy, and the bad guy’s partners are a gang of nasty bad guys.

Still, all these familiar elements come together in harmony under the gaze of Charles Lawton, Jr.’s perfectly focused cinematography.  The cast work their engaging little drama, with its aspirations of being an epic, all while the strains of George Duning’s thrilling score dances overhead.  How director Delmer Daves transformed the ordinary flick into a memorable western, I’m not sure, but perhaps it is that he captured every moment at the right moment.  Maybe, it’s Glenn Ford’s superb performance as Ben Wade – especially during those intimate moments with Felicia Farr’s Emmy.  Perhaps, it is how Van Heflin and Leora Davis are so convincing as a couple with a long history and an even deeper love.  Or it could be every single thing in 3:10 to Yuma.

8 of 10

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

1958 BAFTA Awards:  1 nomination: “Best Film from any Source” (USA)

2012 National Film Preservation Board, USA:  National Film Registry

Updated:  Wednesday, August 21, 2013

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