125 of 130 people found the following review helpful
From a time when men had to prove they were men.,
This review is from: 3:10 to Yuma (DVD)
'3:10 To Yuma' is a stark monochrome Western that has been praised for its suspense and high moral tone. Van Heflin, in a darker variant on his role in 'Shane', plays a character who picks up where most Westerns leave off. The genre is usually concerned with taming wild loners or men with pasts. rewarding them with the joys of civilisation. Heflin has seen what civilisation really means. He lives on a drought-dry farm with a wife and two children he often fails to feed. The grind of fruitless labour has worn them all down, and Heflin's identity as a man, having been once the greatest shot in these parts, is now undermined by humiliation in front of his family by outlaws stealing his cattle and horses, or forced to beg money from indifferent acquaintances. His wife can't understand that his inability to 'be' a 'man' is the result of the civilisation she represents.
What's a poor honest farmer to do when he sees murderers and thieves throwing money around, drinking their fill, bedding beautiful strangers, and generally living the whooping-it-up life? Glenn Ford is the not-completely-irredeemable leader of a gang of devoted sadists so feared throughout the region that no lawman dares touch him. Such men are usually let down by their sexual desire, and when he leaves his gang to schmooze a barmaid, he is captured by the locals. Knowing that they will be no match for the manpower or ruthlessness of the gang when they return to rescue Ford, the sheriff plans a decoy, which will need two foolishly brave men to take the bandit to the train station at Contention City. The initally reluctant Heflin accepts the job when a farm-saving reward of $200 is offered.
In many ways, 'Yuma' works against the conventions of the Western as it seeks, like the hero to avoid action and the inevitable climactic shoot-out for as long as possible. The film's centre-piece is a lengthy, stagy sequence in a hotel room in which Heflin holds Ford prisoner - potential ponderousness is offset by the terrific acting of the two aging actors, one goading and testing the other, tempting with crooked offers that are all too tempting; the other struggling manfully to resist. At first, Heflin's taking the job is strictly economical - he needs the money. Then it becomes ethical, a stand against socially disruptive forces threatening the community. It is also a test of the masculinity that has long been buried by family duties. Finally, it is an existential struggle, with Ford as the man Heflin could easily become (and perhaps once was?), and his men as the instruments of inexorable Fate the farmer must face and outwit on his own, stripped of support, just as Man must eventually face Death.
The film's mise-en-scene is suitably austere, the black-and-white cinematography emphasising sharp contrasts, the alienating outlines of buildings and landscapes, and the vulnerable men and women who walk through them - sometimes watching 'Yuma' is like leafing slowly through an album of stark 19th century photographs taken of the West. The 'city' in which the film is mostly played out initially seems like a ghost town, and a surreal funeral sequence interrupting, or accentuating, the tension, gives a quality of dream. Delmer Daves' direction is not self-effacing - every shot is meticulously, often heavily composed, character patterns structured in frames creating a sense of constriction and claustrophobia that serves to turn the plot's screws. What saves the film from being just another superfical 'High Noon' 'allegory' is the sudden bursts of violence rupturing the tense silence, and the ultimate refusal to wholeheartedly embrace doom-and-gloom existentialism.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 23, 2008 11:37:32 AM PDT
Peggy Stone says:
Excellent review. I recently discovered this film - so much better than the remake - and find that what at first seemed simple has layers and layers that linger in the mind. The more times I view it, the better it gets.
Posted on Sep 15, 2008 9:57:28 AM PDT
Jeffrey L. O'Key says:
O'donoghue's review is great! VERY insightful! only he goes slightly astray in two places. The movie is not so much evocative of old 19th-century photographs of the Wild West as of the political and social milieu of the late 50s and early 60s (when the movie was made). For what it's worth, I think that's what most movies purporting to portray the past are about: the times in which the movie itself was made. In the late 50s and 60s enormous pressure was being put on the individual American to conform and become a "team player," and this pressure in the 1960s appears in this movie set in the 1860s (or earlier). Glenn Ford's humungous gang, out to frighten Van Heflin out of taking their boss to Yuma, is twentieth-century America trying to convince the individual to give up on his own private dreams and individuality! The other thing is, not all existentialism is "doom-and-gloom." Most of it certainly is, but there are other schools of that philosophy than that connected with Nietzsche and Sartre. (Kierkegaard, for example.) At any rate, great review! A 5-star review of a 4-star movie.
Posted on Jul 13, 2013 3:47:52 PM PDT
Mick McAllister says:
An excellent review. One additional note: The original film is not a great movie, but it is vastly superior to the remake with Russell Crowe. Give it a look.
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