Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on August 7, 1957
Directed by Delmer Daves
Written by Halsted Welles, based on a story by Elmore Leonard
Cast: Glenn Ford, Van Heflin, Felicia Farr, Henry Jones, Richard Jaeckel, Leora Dana, Robert Emhardt, Sheridan Comerate, George Mitchell, Robert Ellenstein, Ford Rainey, Dorothy Adams, Boyd Stockman
I’ve been an enthusiastic reader of author Elmore Leonard’s crime novels for quite some time now, but only recently did I decide to give his Western novels a try, all eight of them, ranging in publication from the 1950s to the 1970s. The reason I’m mentioning this is, though I now love his Westerns as much as his crime fiction, I’ve never made an attempt to check out his many Western short stories, and thus never knew he’d written the source material for Delmer Daves’ outstanding 1957 film 3:10 to Yuma until I watched it a few nights ago.
But even without that knowledge, I still think I would’ve recognized Leonard’s trademark dialogue and plot elements, and though his short story was fleshed out to movie length, its framework remains the same: a man must guard, then deliver, a captured outlaw to an arriving train. The film opens with Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) and his gang robbing a stagecoach in the Arizona desert; from there they ride to Bisbee, where Wade is apprehended. Local rancher Dan Evans (Van Heflin) accepts much-needed compensation in exchange for sneaking Wade to a nearby town, where he’ll guard the prisoner until the 3:10 train arrives to take him to Yuma…hopefully before his gang arrives to retrieve him.
The film was outstanding in every way: acting, directing, photography, locations, and of course the dialogue, which played out both real and sharp, and carried Leonard’s subtle, dry tone. And though I’d heard of director Daves before, I didn’t know his work or style, but man oh man, did I ever notice it here: his framing and camera angles were things of beauty, and he and cinematographer Charles Lawton Jr took advantage of Arizona locations (and a red camera filter) to really give the film a dry, dusty, almost noir-like look. And how he was able to create such tension from two men sitting in a hotel room was masterful.
And this is what made up the bulk of the storyline: Wade and Evans merely sitting in a second-floor room of a hotel, one watching the other, and both taking part in a mental and emotional waiting game as the clock slowly ticked, a nervous and passive Evans standing watch over a calm and collected Wade, whose offers of cash for just walking away, or the opportunity to become business partners, slowly had Evans contemplating these tempting options. It seemed that all of our main characters were flawed in some way, except for Wade (although one could argue that he was flawed, for being a thief and a killer), so it was satisfying to see Evans arc from weak to strong, and passive to courageous.
But it was Ford’s efforts here that really impressed me the most; I’ve only seen maybe a dozen of his films, and most of those were noirs, but none had me sitting up and taking notice like this one did. And it surprised me at first to discover he was playing the villain of the story, but just like the characters in nearly all of Leonard’s novels, sometimes the bad guys aren’t so bad, and here Ford does an outstanding job of playing such a part. After a while I really started to like this guy, and what I thought was interesting was, though Wade and Evans were on opposite sides of the law, and lived entirely different lives, you started to notice a mutual respect—and perhaps even a bond—forming between them.
For whatever reason, I was not expecting 3:10 to Yuma to be as good as it was, but trust me, it was, and I now classify it as one of my favorite Westerns of all time. And though it could be coined a ‘psychological’ Western, and leans more towards the cerebral (not unlike the excellent The Ox-Bow Incident and The Naked Spur), it still delivers enough action and gunplay to satisfy any fan of conventional Western cinema. If you’re going to track this one down, and I highly recommend you do, I would search out the Criterion edition on Blu-ray…a wonderfully restored print that gorgeously showcases the film’s desert backdrops and landscapes. (9/10)