3:10 to Yuma (1957) [Blu-Ray]
Director : Delmer Daves
Screenplay : Halstead Welles (based on a short story by Elmore Leonard)
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1957
Stars : Glenn Ford (Ben Wade), Van Heflin (Dan Evans), Felicia Farr (Emmy), Leora Dana (Mrs. Alice Evans), Henry Jones (Alex Potter), Richard Jaeckel (Charlie Prince), Robert Emhardt (Mr. Butterfield), Sheridan Comerate (Bob Moons), George Mitchell (Bartender), Robert Ellenstein (Ernie Collins), Ford Rainey (Bisbee Marshal)
Much like Fred Zinneman’s classic western High Noon (1952), a film with which it is frequently compared, Delmer Daves’s 3:10 to Yuma is a beat-the-clock psychological western that hinges on a fundamentally decent, but increasingly desperate protagonist who ultimately finds himself alone in his determination to live up to a responsibility that may cost him his life. In Zinneman’s film, Gary Cooper plays Will Kane, a marshal who, upon learning that a vengeful outlaw is coming back to town, must return to the gun for a few hours after having hung up his badge in exchange for matrimony. At the time, Cooper was already an established paragon of American screen virtue and heroism, having played such iconic roles as Mr. Deeds and Lou Gehrig and won an Oscar for playing war hero Sergeant York. Thus, his stalwart reticence in the face of cowardice and villainy in High Noon only makes sense.
3:10 to Yuma is somewhat more complicated in that its stalwart hero, an affable, plain-spoken rancher named Dave Evans, is played by Van Heflin, also an Oscar winner, albeit one of a decided different caliber. Rough hewn and slightly odd-looking, Heflin was a superb character actor who at the time was best known for his role in Shane (1953) as determined rancher Joe Starrett, an honorable man who nevertheless plays second fiddle to Alan Ladd’s titular gunslinger. In 3:10 to Yuma, Heflin gets to take center stage, and one of the film’s best qualities is that his mild-mannered character, who always feels slightly out of his depth, is never fully upstaged by the story’s villain, a charming rouge outlaw named Ben Wade, who is played against type by Glenn Ford (only a year earlier Ford had played the upright title character in Daves’s romantic Technicolor western Jubal). Wade gets all the best lines, but it is the empathy and believability of Dave Evans, whose studious desperation to provide for his family and insecurity about his own manhood leads him to take on a potentially suicidal mission, that makes the film stick.
Although he is described as a great shot, Evans is hardly a man of violence, which is why his decision to escort Wade to the 3:10 train out of Contention City, Arizona, bound for the federal prison at Yuma is so out of character. Wade is a notorious outlaw and killer, and at the beginning of the film we see just how ruthless he can be as he guns down both a stagecoach driver and one of his own men while robbing the stagecoach of its gold. Evans witnesses the event with his two sons and is figuratively emasculated by Evans and his gang when they take their horses to keep them from going for help. In a more simplistic film, Evans’s driving motivation would be vengeance for this humiliation, but 3:10 to Yuma is a more thoughtful and nuanced story, grounding Evans’s actions in a more complex matrix of masculine desire, particularly his need to see himself as a good provider to his family despite a seemingly never-ending drought that is killing off all his cattle and his livelihood along with it. His relationship with his wife Alice (Leora Dana) bears the strain of not just economic hardship, but the very notion of survival, which gives their scenes together a sense of lived-in reality. Alice is not the typical western’s embodiment of civilized virtue garbed in feminine beauty, but rather a woman of resilience and trust who is nevertheless not entirely immune to Wade’s substantial charms.
The film builds to a tense climax in which Evans, with only the help of Mr. Butterfield (Robert Emhardt), the portly owner of the robbed stagecoach, and Alex Potter (Henry Jones), the town drunk, holds Wade in a hotel room while the clock ticks away and Wade’s gang amasses outside, making the path to the train station a virtual impossibility. Rather than deploying overt violence toward his captor, Wade chips away at Evans’s resilience, offering him increasingly large bribes before eventually appealing to his survival instinct: to continue on with his mission is literal suicide. The manner in which Ford plays Wade creates a cunning back-and-forth between the manipulative and the empathetic. At times he seems like he’s playing Evans’s insecurities with vicious glee, and at other times he seems like he genuinely likes the guy and doesn’t want to see him hurt. The fine line between his viciousness and his humanity remains a tantalizing gray zone that begs us to draw our own conclusions about his character. Perhaps he’s rotten to the core, or perhaps he still has glints of decency that are rekindled by spending time with someone as decent as Evans, whose determination to do what he said he would do represents the western genre’s ultimate virtue. It is testament to Van Heflin’s performance that Evans doesn’t come off with one-note righteousness. His sweaty visage and nervous eyes remind us that he is a man under immense pressure who could snap and run at any time (or take one of Wade’s tempting bribes), yet stays the course for reasons that are simultaneously obvious and unfathomable.
Based on an early short story by Elmore Leonard and scripted by veteran television writer Halstead Welles (much of whose early work was, fittingly, for the anthology series Suspense), 3:10 to Yuma is often cited as the high point of director Delmer Daves’s long, but often underappreciated career, although it is just as often dismissed as a High Noon knock-off. The film is really somewhere in-between. Daves and cinematographer Charles Lawton Jr., who had previously worked together on Jubal, elevate the film’s narrative tension with hard black-and-white photography that stresses the cracks in the dirt, the rough-hewn material of the clothing, and the beads of sweat on the characters’ brows, especially Evans’s; it is easily one of the sharpest looking westerns of its era. However, the storytelling is a bit lumbering at times, as the film only really builds heat in its final third. Granted, the slow-burn nature of the opening passages are part of what builds the head of steam that makes its final moments so memorable, so we can forgive some of the more languid passages that feel like they could use a few snips in the editing room. And, in the end, what we remember about the film is not the pacing of each scene, but the building tension between Wade and Evans, two men who are worlds apart and yet, within the film’s world of meaning, find some kind of common ground, which more than anything exemplifies Daves’s generous view of human nature, even in the wild west.
|3:10 to Yuma Criterion Collection Blu-Ray|
|3:10 to Yuma is also available from The Criterion Collection on DVD.|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||May 14, 2013|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Criterion’s edition of 3:10 to Yuma replaces Sony’s 2007 DVD with a new, restored 4K digital film transfer made from a 35mm fine-grain master struck from the restored 35mm negative. The results are duly impressive, as the high-definition image brings out a great sense of depth and texture and is particularly effective in rendering the hard contrast and deep blacks that cinematographer Charles Lawton Jr. achieved by employing a red filter. The detail is exquisite, as we can see the pores in the characters’ skin and the rough threads of their clothing with amazing precision. The disc features both an uncompressed monaural soundtrack restored from the original 35mm D/M/E magnetic master and an alternate DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix. The six-channel mix subtly opens up the soundscape and adds more spatial heft to the sounds of gunshots and locomotive engines. Purists will probably choose the monaural mix, but the 5.1 soundtrack is a good example of how an older soundtrack can be modernized without feeling forced.|
|The disc includes two new video interviews, one with author Elmore Leonard and one with Glenn Ford’s son and biographer, Peter Ford. Leonard’s interview focuses quite a bit on his early career as a pulp story writer for western magazines and the film adaptations of several of these stories, including 3:10 to Yuma, which he greatly admires, while Ford’s interview is more of a dishy look at Glenn Ford’s womanizing dark side, although the ribald stories of his father’s extramarital dalliances and having a bunch of stuntmen take his son to a porn theater to teach him about the birds and the bees is somewhat redeemed by the latter part of the interview in which he discusses his father’s role in fighting for civil rights.|
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