3:10 to Yuma (1957)
Release Date: August 7th, 1957 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Delmer Daves Actors: Glenn Ford, Van Heflin, Felicia Farr, Leora Dana, Henry Jones, Richard Jaeckel
otorious 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 witnesses to the tragic events, but are unable to help, save for notifying the authorities. After returning home and having his son explain the day’s harrowing ordeal, Dan’s wife (Leora Dana) 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 ranch’s upkeep, he discovers that Wade has stayed behind. Desperate to save his property, the sodbuster agrees to help apprehend the nefarious criminal. Upon Wade’s capture, Butterfield employs Dan to guard the fugitive until 3:10 in the afternoon, when the train to Yuma will arrive to cart the killer to prison. But when Wade’s gang rides into town to free their leader, Dan will discover that honor and dedication may lead only to an early grave.
While “3:10 to Yuma” may appear to be an action film, it’s actually an intricate character examination, of both hero and villain, set against a suspenseful game of cat-and-mouse in the Old West. Van Heflin’s protagonist represents a force of good that parallels the gray area complications of heroism, which don’t always allow justice to prevail – at least, not at first. Righteousness and pride play an important role in Dan’s decisions, as his wife’s initial chagrin dubiously instigates his desire to mend his tarnished image. His belief in this subjective moral is so determinate that he even protects Wade from certain death just for the satisfaction of personally delivering the gunman to the law.
As unique and interestingly obstinate as Dan’s demeanor is, the antagonist of the film actually overshadows him in charisma and stage presence. Glenn Ford’s portrayal of Wade is one of the finest in cinema, approaching the role with a full palette of emotions and intentions, complete with a similar belief in honor and virtue, which deceptively shifts as the film progresses. The opening scene finds Wade nonchalantly killing one of his own men when held hostage; such dispassionate violence seems like a customarily obligatory depiction of the vilest of villains. However, the narrative follows Wade just as much as Evans, even allotting him a love interest in the form of young bartender Emmy (Felicia Farr), for whom he stays behind in the town of Bisbee to woo. His presence is so captivating, in fact, that he not only gets the girl, but also leaves her completely unfazed in her learning that he’s a notorious gunfighter. When the malefactor is captured by Evans, their witty back-and-forth banter often reveals Wade to be the more entertaining of the two, and therefore it’s routinely easy to root for the bad guy. The final confrontation with Wade’s gang cements what audiences will have been expecting all along: the line between heroes and villains is a thin one indeed.
Though the plot is light on action, the story is heavy on suspense as Dan attempts to carry out his suicidal mission with misguided righteousness. Mind games replace gunplay to the point that, while the film’s running time doesn’t outstay its welcome, those expecting a nonstop shootout extravaganza may leave unsatisfied. Film connoisseurs, however, will be delighted by the methodical examination of fleeting morals, blind justice, and the uniquely charismatic scoundrel at the heart of the conflict. Reminiscent of deliberately paced thinking-man’s Westerns like John Sturges’ “Bad Day at Black Rock” and Fred Zinnemann’s “High Noon,” “3:10 to Yuma” deserves a place of its own in the classic film canon for its daring character study and intent focus on the rocky composition of heroism – with all the thought-provoking trials and tribulations that notion requires.
– The Massie Twins