Saturday, February 19, 2011

3:10 To Yuma Olde Timey Movie Review

3:10 to yuma poster

The original 3:10 to Yuma, starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, was made fifty years before the version most of us are familiar with. The basic premise is almost exactly the same (so much so that Halsted Welles, the original screenwriter, got credit in the 2007 edition, too): struggling "sod-buster" Dan Evans needs two hundred dollars to buy water rights so his farm doesn't go under. Coincidentally, charming criminal Ben Wade has just been arrested and needs to be transported to prison on the 3:10 train to Yuma. Dan is offered two hundred dollars to get him on that train.

Is the 1957 3:10 as good as the James Mangold-directed 3:10? I don't think so, although I have a strong suspicion those who grew up with westerns in '50s would disagree with me. This isn't the 1950s, however, and 3:10 hasn't held up impassively to the passage of time (although it's not as bizarre as some westerns seem now, like Shane). The cinematography is great (and obviously inspired by John Ford) and the narrative is pretty engaging, even though there are still some cheesy parts that made me laugh. One example is the gratuitous theme song that winds its way through the film. Want a clip? Of course you do:

Take that traiiiiiin! What I really missed from this version, though, are the riveting performances from Mangold's 3:10. I am not a Van Heflin fan at all, what is up with that guy? Why does he always play farmers? And Glenn Ford was okay--he showed occasional signs of charm--but for the most part it felt like he was phoning it in. Compare that to three great performances by Russel Crowe, Christian Bale, and Ben Foster in the 2007 3:10, that are so compelling you can't take your eyes off the actors, and one definitely feels the absence.

One thing I did like about this movie more than its remake was the treatment of women. Shocking, no? The female characters in the 1957 3:10 are surprisingly fleshed-out and much more empowered than the women from 2007. While the Bisbee bartender in both films is definitely a sexual object, in the 1957 film she gets much more screen time and has more of a personality. The same thing holds true for Alice Evans. In the earlier film, she even goes chasing after her husband to help him at the end. They don't have major roles in the plot, but they do have roles, which is more than one can say for the women in the contemporary version, who are little more than pretty faces.

Is the 1957 3:10 to Yuma worth seeking out? Not really. It's not a bad movie, but it's not terribly impressive, either. If it comes on TV I wouldn't turn it off, but making an effort to rent it probably won't pay out.

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