Directed by: Delmer Daves
Written by: Halsted Welles (screenplay), Elmore Leonard (story)
Starring: Glenn Ford, Van Heflin, Felicia Farr, Richard Jaeckel
This week I filled one of the many unfortunate gaps in my to-watch list of classic Westerns thanks to the blu ray release of Delmer Daves’ original 1957 adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s ‘3:10 to Yuma’. A film that certainly benefits from a high definition upgrade thanks to some stunning black and white photography.
‘3:10 to Yuma’ is the first in a long line of Elmore Leonard stories adapted for the big screen. Taken from a short story of the same name, Leonard’s sense of suspense is certainly present, along with his affection for morally ambiguous anti-heroes. Glenn Ford plays Ben Wade, an outlaw who crosses paths with rancher Dan Evans (Van Heflin) during a stagecoach robbery. Evans and his two kids stand by as Wade and his posse commit the crime, establishing Evans as a passive player in the aggressive architecture of the old west.
Post-robbery, the gang stops by a small town for a drink where, due to the distraction of a pretty barmaid, Wade is captured. In the meantime, his right-hand man Charlie Prince has escaped, bringing the news of the arrest to the remaining members of the gang. When the town marshall asks for help transporting their prisoner, Dan Evans reluctantly volunteers thanks to a two-hundred dollar paycheque. While Evans would prefer not to get involved, he’s forced to take the job out of desperation thanks to tough times at the ranch.
The plan is to throw Wade’s gang off their tracks as they attempt to deliver Wade on a 3:10 train to Yuma. At one point he’s temporarily housed at Evans own home and eats dinner with his wife and kids. Tensions grow as Wade charms Evans wife while sounds of an encroaching posse raises concerns of an attack. From there, the prisoner is transferred to Contention City and kept in a hotel room for a good chunk of the film. It’s here that the outlaw and rancher engage in conversation as Wade attempts to bribe Evans to set him free. A strange unspoken bond is formed after Evans saves Wade’s life during an attempted assassination by one of his victim’s relatives.
What makes 3:10 to Yuma special is its interest in the politics of the old west and the various paths its characters take to adapt to their harsh environment. Elmore Leonard is less concerned with big vistas, gun fights, and stage coach chases. Instead, the majority of the film plays out in intimate locales as we observe Wade and Evans engaging in psychological warfare. One has taken the honourable path while the other is willing to do whatever it takes not only to survive, but thrive in the old west.
Director Delmer Daves handles the material gracefully, allowing Charles Lawton Jr.’s sharp black and white photography to establish the aesthetic. As a first time watch, I went into 3:10 to Yuma with the James Mangold remake continually lingering in the back of my mind. I did enjoy the remake and from what I recall and it seems as though it was pretty faithful to this original, outside of a few big action sequences. To be honest though, I don’t think that was completely unwarranted. Delmer Daves’ film is fairly sparse and dialogue heavy. It’s a western that confronts the politics and ideals of its own archetypical heroes and anti-heroes. The relationship between Wade and Evans makes 3:10 to Yuma a classic. Mangold’s additional action beats don’t really add or detract but merely modernized.
Charles Lawton Jr.’s sharp black and white photography is represented beautifully here. There’s no noticeable digital manipulation and the image looks completely natural, as is the usual approach with Criterion’s high definition releases. As for special features, this one is a little bit light. We’ve got new interviews with Elmore Leonard and Peter Ford, the son and biographer of Glenn Ford. That’s it. Unless we’re counting the booklet and pretty packaging, but that’s expected at this point. To be honest, it’s really not a big deal for me as I usually tend to find Criterion’s supplemental materials to be a bit dry. I’m more interested in the technical background of films over the theory and I find their academic commentary tracks to be pretty dull. — Jay C.