27 March 2008

Movielog, 3:10 to Yuma

3:10 to Yuma, 1957
Written by Halsted Welles
Based on a story by Elmore Leonard
Directed by Delmer Daves
92 minutes

A weathered old rancher (Van Heflin) is rustling cattle with his two sons, when a stagecoach carrying bars of gold is robbed by a gang of robbers run by the famous Ben Wade (Glenn Ford). Wade's an agreeable kind of guy, asking politely for the money and only killing when the stagecoach driver pulls his weapon first. He takes the old man's horses, but only so they won't follow him, and agrees to set them loose near town.

The rancher's name is Dan Evans, and his farm is thirsting to death -- they're in the midst of a drought, and his cattle and family are slowly starving to death. Witnessing a murder is a terrible thing, sure, but as he says, you have to witness all kind of terrible things every day. In his words you feel the conviction of this bleak attitude towards life, which his wife doesn't quite share. She thinks he should have done something about the robbery, although she doesn't know quite what he could have done.

The robber is living large. He and his gang go to the nearest town and are served drinks by the pretty young bartender. He reports the robbery to the town marshal, although he doesn't fess up to it himself, and when the rest of the gang hightails it to move on to the next location, he sticks around and charms the young woman -- if there's anything this thief lacks, it isn't charisma.

Of course, sticking around was a bad move, because he's quickly recognized and put under arrest by the local law enforcement. And the rancher agrees to take part in an audacious plan to get him onto the train to Yuma, not so much for the ideals of it but for the $200 he's promised in exchange for the dangerous assignment.

It's funny how much plot there is in the above, because the various machinations of the storyline really only exist to get the two men into a closed motel room, with Wade trying to tempt Evans into letting him go free. It's a tempting argument, as Wade at one point offers $10,000 just to drop the gun and let him walk out of the door.

There's not much to say here without ruining the pleasures of the film, but in the performances of these two (and the supporting players, such as Leora Dana as Evans' wife, and Henry Jones as the lovable town drunk) the film comes alive, and as the tension mounts and Wade's gang gets closer, we find out what really drives these men.

It's a common complaint about 3:10 to Yuma that it ends rather anticlimactically, but the truth is that not much would be gained with a lengthy shootout. Everything that needs to be said is said, and you can read the subtext in the faces of the leads.

This film was remade last year with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale in the lead roles, and having seen the 1957 version I'm very interested in seeing what the more modern filmmakers can do with it. I'll see it soon and movielog it when I do.

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