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3:10 to Yuma (1957)

From an Elmore Leonard story and director Delmer Daves comes this oater unlike may others of the era in that it is rich in performance and features Glenn Ford on the wrong side of the law.

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Struggling to keep his ranch through a long drought, we find homesteader Van Heflin and his two young sons happening upon a stage coach robbery. Glenn Ford is at the head of the gang with Richard Jaeckel as his number one gun hand. Heflin wisely chooses to stay out of the melee and allows Ford and Jaeckel to run off his cattle and leave them horseless. A rather embarrassing situation for a father in front of his two impressionable sons who in his heart believes they may see him as a coward. It’s no different when he explains to his wife just what took place during the robbery that left the driver dead at the hand of Ford.

Ford’s gang is a cocky one and ride on ahead to the nearest town where the coach was headed. It’s a sleepy hole in the wall where the boys relax and have a drink at the one saloon where Ford takes a shine to bartender Felicia Farr. The feeling is mutual. Ford feels it’s his duty to report the stage coach robbery sending Sheriff Ford Rainey and a few layabouts including Henry Jones on their way to the stranded coach.

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The gang rides on while Ford hangs back for a tender scene with lovely Miss Farr. He wins her over with his charismatic style and we the viewers as well. Drunken Jones sees that Ford is still in town as he rides out. Meanwhile Heflin and coach owner Robert Emhardt cross paths with Rainey and the posse. It’s quickly calculated that Ford and his men were the outlaw gang and Jones chimes in that Ford is still in town. Heflin volunteers to help with Ford’s capture. The following scene between the meek Heflin confronting Ford in the saloon over lost wages and having to round up his cattle is just the tip of the acting tension that will follow over the next hour of screen time.

Needing cash money to keep his ranch afloat, Heflin agrees to transport Ford to the next time and catch the 3:10 train to Yuma. To Heflin, it’s a means to an end. Being a proud man, Ford represents cash and to a certain extent, redemption in the eyes of his wife and sons. Part of the deal in keeping Ford separated from his gang of loyal gunslingers is to have Ford spend time at the Heflin ranch in cuffs under the watchful eye of Heflin and the town drunk Jones. Jones himself just may be looking for redemption in the eyes of his fellow man by playing brave and doing his part.

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The scene at the ranch over the dinner table plays to Ford’s strength as an actor. He could easily capture the imagination of Heflin’s wife who has seen better days and he knows it. He has a gift with the ladies. Heflin knows it too and quickly moves to get Ford in the saddle and on the next town where the train will pass thru leading us to the heart of the film.

Perhaps you’ve seen the remake with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, don’t let that deter you from seeing this earlier version. When Ford and Heflin hole up in a hotel room, the chemistry between the two actors intensifies. Ford is the calmest cowboy one is likely to see, always cocksure of himself and knowing what the inevitable outcome will be. This includes predicting that everyone will desert Heflin when the clock strikes 3:10. When Jaeckel and company arrive to set the boss free, Heflin knows his time is short yet he is set in his ways to finish what he signed on for. He won’t be made out a coward a second time leading to another fine scene played opposite Leora Dana as his long suffering wife.

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I really don’t want to spoil what takes place between Heflin and Ford for a good third of the film as they verbally spar in that hotel room. You’ll have to check it out for yourself if you already haven’t. If you have seen it, then surely you’re due for a rewatch as I was. While Glenn may get the flashy role and one that had to be enjoyable as an actor, watch Heflin as it’s his conscience that plays out on the screen in vivid detail across his face. When it comes to Glenn Ford, I’ve always been a big fan but it’s Heflin that continues to grow on me as the years go by. Both are vastly underrated actors and deserve a strong following.

Director Daves had worked with both Ford and Farr just the year previously in the excellent companion piece to this film, Jubal. They make for a great western double feature of oaters that are quite different from the good guys vs. bad guy films that populated every third theater screen and TV show that played the airwaves. Like many westerns of the day, there is a theme song sung by Frankie Laine and I love the fact that Ford frequently whistles the tune to pass the time by while awaiting his fate. Lastly, I’ve always pushed my favorite character actors here and Richard Jaeckel continues to stand tall in that department. Good or bad, there’s an authenticity to the pint sized actor who frequently portrayed tough guys on both sides of the law.

An excellent western delivered by all those involved and easily available for the home video crowd. Highly recommended.

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13 Comments »

  1. Totally agree. This is a great western. The two lead characters are perfect antagonists, the assured Ford and the desperate Heflin.And thanks for mentioning Richard Jaekel who makes the most of a small part.
    The ending is satisfying too.
    I couldnt bring myself to see the remake.

  2. Glad you took this one on, Mike. It’s a marvelous piece of filmmaking that gets better with each passing year. I think it’s Daves’ masterpiece, the best thing he ever did – and that’s no throwaway compliment when you consider the excellence of his output in the the late 40s and into the 50s, especially but not exclusively in westerns.
    There are so many standout sequences, the ending that grows in stature with every viewing, the tension in the hotel, and most particularly, the poignant romanticism of the Ford /Farr scenes.
    The remake is a travesty viewed alongside such a beautiful and heartfelt example of cinematic art.

    • Ford has a magic on screen that comes off so easily he often gets overlooked as a serious actor…. I think. The scenes with Farr are just “so right”. I used to recommend this one frequently till the remake because now there’s just confusion with the average fan when I do.

      • The remake gets just about everything wrong that the original got so right – the length, the dynamic between the two central characters, the motivations and reactions of the more peripheral characters, the theme and ultimate message of the story. All altered and none in a way that was either necessary or desirable.

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