Sunday, November 3, 2013

3:10 to Yuma (1957)

Director: Delmer Daves                                  Writer: Halsted Welles
Film Score: George Duning                            Cinematography: Charles Lawton Jr.
Starring: Glenn Ford, Van Heflin, Leora Dana and Richard Jaeckel

Not being a big fan of Glenn Ford or Van Heflin, I had come to this film via the excellent remake of 3:10 to Yuma starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. But the original 3:10 to Yuma is just as good, if not a bit better in some ways. Of course, it helps that the original story was written by the great Elmore Leonard and directed by Delmer Daves, a screenwriter himself who directed some interesting westerns in his eclectic oeuvre. The film was shot in black and white and Daves makes the whole thing look very good onscreen. Ever since Stanley Kramer’s High Noon, fifties westerns have been saddled, so to speak, with a theme song. This one is sung by Frankie Laine and, mercifully, doesn’t appear again until the end, except for a brief interlude by a female singer. The theme music is heard throughout the film, however, and does provide a much more interesting leitmotif than Dimitri Tiomkin’s for the earlier film.

The story begins with Van Heflin and his two young sons looking for their cattle. What they find is that Glenn Ford and his gang of outlaws have been using them to block the trail so they can rob a stagecoach. The driver of the coach gets the drop on one of his men and Ford shows his ruthlessness by shooting his own man, then the driver. When Heflin returns home his wife, Leora Dana, is clearly disappointed in him for doing nothing, though he obviously would have been killed had he tried. Meanwhile Ford and his gang of twelve pass through Bisbee, Arizona, and stop for a drink. Ford lingers with barmaid Felicia Farr while the posse is gone, but when they get back they capture him and attempt to get him on the train to Yuma as fast as possible, sending his gang on a wild goose chase in the process. Heflin, who wanted nothing to do with Ford’s arrest but needs the money, volunteers to help when he is offered two hundred dollars by the owner of the stagecoach.

There’s not a lot of action as most of the film is a character study. Heflin is the moral everyman, trapped by circumstances into risking his life for money. Ford is the incredibly likeably villain who has no animosity against Heflin at all. Also along to help Heflin is the venerable Henry Jones as the town drunk, the only other man who volunteered for this dangerous mission. On Ford’s side is an anonymous group of gunmen except for his second in command, Richard Jaeckel, who doesn’t get enough screen time to establish a real character. In the end the decoy proves not to have worked and Ford, in handcuffs, waits for the train with Heflin in the hotel room to see if it arrives before Ford’s men. For anyone who’s seen the remake, the ending is vastly different but no less satisfying because of it. Ford does a nice job as well as Heflin, but the real jewel, in a small role, is Leora Dana as Heflin’s wife. 3:10 to Yuma is a nicely filmed fifties western that has a lot of suspense and provides plenty of entertainment for the casual film buff as well as fans of the genre.

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