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3:10 to Yuma (1957) Movie Review,
This review is from: 3:10 to Yuma (Special Edition) (DVD)
3:10 to Yuma is an interesting blend of Western and Suspense, but more captivating still is its methodical examination of fleeting morals, blind justice, and the charismatic villain at the heart of the conflict.
Notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) and his gang rob a stagecoach transporting significant funds of one Mr. Butterfield (Robert Emhardt) and end up killing the driver in the process. Farmer Dan Evans (Van Heflin) and his son are witness to the tragic events but are unable to help, save for notifying the authorities. When Dan returns home and his son explains the day's harrowing event, his wife appears disappointed by his apparent lack of courage, though his family's safety was foremost in his mind. When Dan is forced to go into town to borrow money for his farm's upkeep, he discovers that Ben Wade has stayed behind and the desperate farmer agrees to help apprehend the nefarious criminal. Upon Wade's capture, Butterfield employs Dan to guard the outlaw until 3:10 when the train to Yuma will arrive and take him to prison. But when Wade's gang arrives in town to free their leader, Dan will find that honor and dedication may only lead to an early grave.
While 3:10 to Yuma may appear to be an action film, it is actually an intricate examination of character, both hero and villain, set against a suspenseful game of cat-and-mouse in the old West. Van Heflin's protagonist represents the forces of good and parallels the difficulties present that don't always allow justice to prevail - at least not at first anyway. Honor and pride play an important role in Dan's decisions, as his wife's initial chagrin instigates his desire to bring Wade to justice. His belief in this subjective moral is so determinate that he even protects Wade from certain death just to attempt to deliver him to the law's judgement.
As unique and interestingly obstinate as Dan's demeanor is, the villain of the film actually overshadows him in charisma and stage presence. Glenn Ford's portrayal of outlaw Ben Wade is one of the finest character studies in cinema, as he approaches the role with a full palette of emotions and intentions, complete with a similar belief in honor and morals that deceptively shifts as the film progresses. The opening scene finds Wade nonchalantly killing one of his own men when held hostage, and such dispassionate violence would lead one to believe the vilest of villains stands before him. However, the narrative follows Wade just as much as Evans and we discover he stays behind in the town of Bisbee to woo the young bartender Emmy (Felicia Farr). His presence is so captivating in fact that not only does he get the girl, but she seems completely unfazed to learn that he is the notorious Ben Wade. When the outlaw is captured by Evans, their witty back-and-forth banter often reveals Wade to be the more entertaining of the two and most often it's hard not to root for the bad guy. The final confrontation with Wade's gang cements what we'd been expecting all along - the line between heroes and villains is a thin one, at least in this engaging battle of wits and integrity.
Though the plot is light on action, the story is heavy on suspense as Dan attempts to carry out his suicidal mission. Mind games replace gunplay and while the film's running time doesn't outstay its welcome, those expecting a nonstop shootout extravaganza may leave unsatisfied, while the film connoisseur will be delighted by the intricate character study. Reminiscent of deliberately paced suspenseful westerns like John Sturges' Bad Day at Black Rock and of course Fred Zinnemann's High Noon, 3:10 to Yuma deserves a place of its own in classic cinema for its daring antagonist and intent focus on the composition of heroism and the trials and tribulations it requires.
- Joel Massie
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Initial post: Oct 10, 2007 10:26:08 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 10, 2007 10:28:09 PM PDT
I just saw Russell Crowe's version of 3:10 - and I must say - overall, I prefer the original. Crowe does a fine job of acting, but the senseless gore and constant violence almost detracts from the heart of the story - the man of great heart and the man who takes human life easily. A few criticisms of the new film - i.e. "Alice", the long suffering housewife, wears makeup and eyebrow pencil - not what one would expect of a woman who is barely able to feed her family. At the risk of giving away the new ending, it is not as honest in my view as the original. The new ending appears contrived. To me, the original had an ending that was believable and left one feeling satisfied. Also, Crowe's attire does not fit with what I would expect in an American western. He appears very Australian, although he has a southern accent that comes and goes (almost gone by the end of the film). 3:10 to Yuma does not need violence and gore to make its point. The story stands on its own. The new version appears to cater to the average 18 year old, rather than remaining honest and true to the story itself.
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