Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Now Playing: 3:10 to Yuma (1957)

The upcoming remake starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe caused me to look up this 1957 Western to see what the fuss was all about. I can understand director James Mangold’s affinity for it since it’s essentially a two-man character drama set on the frontier. One man is a notorious bandit and violent criminal and the other is an upstanding citizen trying his best to do what’s right.

Unfortunately, he gets caught in the middle between a determined robber baron and the criminal’s vengeful gang as he tries to escort the criminal to a train station. The plan is to stick the criminal on the 3:10 to Yuma and see him off to prison.

I haven’t seen a classic black and white Western in years and it was a hoot picking out all the little details that the writers couldn’t come right out and say. At the very beginning, the criminal hooks up with the waitress in the saloon and one can only imagine how far the subtlety will be thrown out the window in the remake. That goes double for the finale where the film leads up to what could be an excellent action sequence but doesn’t deliver, either on account of budget or the times. More likely both, but we’ll never know. The ending is still a solid one and it feels earned.

The back and forth between the two leads is classic. Glenn Ford (immortalized as Pa Kent in Richard Donner’s "Superman") is an odd mix of villainy, at once brutal and eloquent. He comes off as either very well educated or very intelligent and either way that spells trouble for whomever crosses his path. Regardless of the situation, he’s already three steps ahead of everyone else and Ford plays it like he’s doing Shakespeare.

Van Heflin plays the farmer, Dan Evans, the reluctant do-gooder who agrees to take Ford to the train station only partially aware of the danger he’s in. More than anything else, he wants to set a good example for his two boys and figures that by doing this one deed he’ll be able to bring in some much needed money to his struggling farm. If his boys learn right from wrong by his example in the meantime then so much the better.

It’s a surprisingly short film by today’s standards so it’s anyone’s guess as to how long the remake will run. My guess would be about half an hour past the point where it should have stopped, but that’s because Mangold never uses one word when 50 will suffice. Here’s hoping it is as much a gem as the original because this one is a pretty sharp little piece of classic drama.

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