3:10 to Yuma

3:10 to Yuma ★★★★

33 Films x 6 Decades: 1950s

Having seen the 2007 remake directed by James Mangold, watching the original version of 3:10 to Yuma is really long overdue. Directed by Delmer Daves, the 1957 version of this tale of criminal Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) being held by citizen and farmer Dan Evans (Van Heflin) with the intent of putting him on the 3:10 to Yuma to face trial and jail, Daves’ film may lack the manic energy of Ben Foster from the remake but nonetheless retains the tension and character-based drama. As Wade and Evans verbally spar, test one another’s limits, and the time slowly approaches 3:10, these two very different men come to form a mutual respect for one another that leads to a gripping conclusion, smart thematic and character development, and is the by-product of strong acting and direction. Though a relatively small-scale western without the big gun battles the genre is so often known for, 3:10 to Yuma makes up for its relatively smaller scope with riveting character drama that hooks you in and never lets go.

For rancher Dan Evans, life has dealt him a difficult hand. Him, his wife, and his two sons, live in poverty in spite of the long hours and hard work they put into raising cattle. They have no active source of water, there is a drought, and any water they could get their hands on would cost them a significant amount of money for each use. Simply put, they cannot make it much longer. When Evans and his boys see Ben Wade and his gang hold up a stagecoach and shoot a man, it proves to be the breaking point for this otherwise stoic man. Not only is his wife surprised that he did nothing and let Wade take his horse, but Dan himself is ashamed. He feels inadequate as a man, leading to his intent to bring Wade in against all odds to the contrary. His wife does not need him to prove anything to her. His boys see him as a superhero regardless. Yet, for Dan, he needs to show himself he still has the nerve and strength to carry out such a task. He needs to feel and act like a man for his own benefit, proving that though he may not be wealthy enough to buy his wife nice dresses or luxurious pearls, he still has worth as a man. He makes up for it in his strength, determination, ability, and masculinity. Thus, by the end, as everybody around him encourages him to give up this pursuit, he knows he can do no such thing. He has committed to this enterprise. Either he sees it to its conclusion or he winds up living the rest of his life feeling inadequate and lesser than others for his inability to bring Ben Wade to justice. It is for peace of his mind and to prove to himself that, despite his financial shortcomings, he is still worth it and good man deserving of the praise heaped upon him by his sons and wife.

It is for this reason that Ben eventually comes around to respect Dan, as he sees the determination against all odds that Dan has to turn in Ben. Though he still plans on breaking out of jail in Yuma, he is largely willing to play along for this man he respects so much to be able to get the satisfaction he wants out of this situation. Though he does not respect him initially, he does eventually come around to see things from Dan’s perspective and wishes to help him in the only way he knows how: let him turn him into the police in Yuma. Of course, 3:10 to Yuma uses this in a way to demonstrate the mutual sportsmanlike respect shared between cops and criminals in the wild west. Though it was a lawless region, the few cops that tried to enforce the law were received with great respect and admiration to the point that their names are remembered even to this day. The criminals squaring off with them admired them in a way, respecting their skill and determination. Though Dan is not a sheriff or even a deputy, Ben is nonetheless able to form this level of respect for him. As these two men plot, scheme, and try to maneuver their way to victory, it was inevitable that the two would come to a twisted form of mutual respect and 3:10 to Yuma shows this in a greatly believable fashion that manages to show the dynamic forged by outlaws and the men who hunted them down in the old west.

As the film is largely reliant upon dialogue, it certainly stands as a rather unconventional western. It has all of the players and pieces to be a typical western, but instead mainly set in a hotel room where Dan keeps Ben holed up until it gets to 3:00 and they can begin walking to the train station. As Glenn Ford and Van Heflin trade verbal blows, the strength of the script and their acting really rises to the surface. The two prove to be admirable sparring partners as they gauge one another’s limits over the course of this afternoon. The direction from Delmer Daves is similarly strong, as it needs to be for such a small-scale film. It could have easily slipped into becoming rather slow or outright boring, but 3:10 to Yuma instead retains a level of intensity that keeps audiences glued to their seat. He builds great tension and anticipation for what is to come, especially in how he utilizes the movements of the men outside. As it goes from being just one of Ben Wade’s men to the entire gang with movements on the roof or on the ground to keep abreast of, Daves laces the film with considerable dread for what is set to come for Dan. The audience can feel what is coming for him and comes to fear this moment as we see him with his wife or walking out with Wade. This is a situation that can only end violently and, as such, Daves does a great job building up to this explosion of violence even if it is rather subdued in retrospect. It nonetheless carries the necessary impact even if this is one of the rare westerns without a huge shootout at the climax.

A gripping character-driven film, 3:10 to Yuma features strong performances from its two leads, strong direction, and great thematic development. For such a small-scale film, 3:10 to Yuma never drags and instead only builds tension and anticipation for what is to come when the train finally arrives before embarking for Yuma at 3:10. Thrilling, smart, and thoroughly entertaining, Delmer Daves’ 3:10 to Yuma is certainly right on par with the remake from 2007.

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