3:10 to Yuma

3:10 to Yuma ★★★★★

3:10 to Yuma is such a great film. A lean, tough Western from the pen of Elmore Leonard, directed by Delmer Daves. The film is 90 minutes of pure plot and character. The theme is distilled utterly, to a few dialogue scenes, as the psychological tension ratchets ups on Van Heflin, while Glenn Ford leans back into the film calm and menacing.

Ford, not an actor I have ever loved, is really wonderful in the film (frankly, I am wrong not loving him, because his filmography is chock-full of great films). He is utterly relaxed on screen, but you never doubt that he is really violent, when put in the mood. His interactions with Van Heflin's family are exquisitely judged, the awkward dinner scene a highlight of the film. Ford is just great.

Van Heflin really works in the film as well, as you always feel like he may crumple under the pressure and the need for money. You know he won't, because it is a Western and decent people reside here, even if there is only one per town (or two if you count the town drunk), but there is real jeopardy in him continuing to do what he said he would do. He sweats, his hair is a mess, he looks awful. He is our hero.

High Noon is a great film, of course. But I never doubt that Gary Cooper can handle himself. Van Heflin has me having kittens. 3:10 to Yuma feels like High Noon, but with more tension, more laconic wit, more thematic difficulty. It is a great riposte, or addition, to a great film. I know which one I would take on a train journey.

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