3.10 to Yuma

English Title: 3.10 to Yuma

Country of Origin: USA

Studio: Columbia

Director: Delmer Daves

Producer(s): David Heilwell

Screenplay: Halstead Welles

Cinematographer: Charles Lawton Junior

Art Director: Frank Hotaling

Editor: Al Clark

Runtime: 92 minutes

Genre: Western

Starring/Cast: Richard Jaeckel, Van Heflin, Felicia Farr, Leora Dunning, Glenn Ford

Year: 1957

Volume: American - Hollywood


Following a successful but deathly stagecoach hold-up, notorious outlaw, Ben Wade, is captured whilst lingering too long in a town saloon, attracted to the barmaid, Emmy. Sodbuster Dan Evans – witness to Ben’s ruthless shooting of one of his own gang in order for the hold-up to succeed – volunteers to deliver him to the distant rail station and transportation to the marshal in Yuma, in return for a reward that will rescue his ailing ranch. Dan’s wife, Alice, is fearful of the risk, especially after meeting Ben when the stagecoach taking them to Yuma stops off at their ranch. The journey is uneventful, but when they reach Yuma and hold up in a hotel room waiting for the 3.10 train, Ben’s gang, led by the savage Charlie Prince, surrounds them. Fearful of their lives, one by one the posse abandons Dan, who refuses to be bribed or threatened to renege on his commitment. He finally makes the walk to the train across the rail yard with the scheming Ben…

Following the popular and critical success of High Noon in 1952, many Westerns reproduced its popular suspense structure, but also risked even darker moods and a greater psychological depth for their leading characters. 3.10 to Yuma is among the most achieved of these – and rare in featuring a sodbuster as a Western hero. Shot in high contrast monochrome, the film’s sombre mood is established from the start, as it cuts from the cracked, dry soil that defines the cause of Dan’s financial problem to action on the stagecoach, from which the robbery will eventually provide a risky solution.
Dan’s mundane working life contrasts with the seductive qualities of the charismatic criminal Ben, not least in equally tender scenes with their respective women. Ben’s brief flirtation with the barmaid, Emmy, is full of the potential realised in Dan’s marriage to Alice, the more domestic scenes of the married couple together affirming their connectedness despite the pressured conditions of family life on the farm. As the two very different kinds of men then journey together, it becomes clear that only their roles as guard and captive prevent them from a friendship otherwise not just potential but worthy. Perhaps director Daves’ situating of the pair in the hotel’s bridal suite once they reach Yuma suggests even more, especially as Ben spends much of the time there lying on his back on the only bed.
Ben, however, is no protector. The gradual softening of his character as he unsuccessfully attempts to bribe (perhaps, even, seduce) Dan into releasing him does nothing to undermine his threat, especially when countered by images of his ruthless gang and repeated shots of the lifeless body of the only man who stands by Dan, the simple Alex, swinging from the hotel chandelier after the malevolent sidekick, Charlie Prince, shoots and kills him.
The qualities of psychological depth in these central relationships gives way in the final section of the film to the suspenseful drama of whether and how Dan will get Ben to the train without being killed by his gang, lying in wait. Once settled, the heavens open, an ironic comment on the task Dan set himself to resolve the problem that the falling rain now makes unnecessary.

Author of this review: David Lusted