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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

3:10 To Yuma. Columbia Pictures (1957). DVD

A classic Western, tense and gripping. Glen Ford plays an outlaw, Ben Wade, who is captured pretty much by accident by Van Heflin, playing rancher Dan Evans. A plan is hatched to move Ben Wade to a nearby town to wait for the 3:10 Yuma train to take Ben Wade to the jail in Yuma. Dan Evans takes the lead in transporting and guarding Ben Wade for the bounty on offer. The battle of wills between Ben Wade and Dan Evans as they wait in a hotel room for the train and Wade's gang arrive in town and act to free their leader is the heart of the film. The action is sparse and forceful, the tension is developed steadily as the time to the train departure draws closer. The conclusion is satisfying and truthful.

Glen Ford gives an extraordinary performance in this film, Ben Wade is highly intelligent, he is an outlaw because he wants to be, he enjoys it. From the opening scenes it is clear that he is a dangerous killer, he also commands the devotion as well as the loyalty of his men. He charms a bar girl (Felicia Farr) by actually seeing her as the woman she is rather than the job she is doing. His battle with Van Heflin is conducted with words and a deeply cruel insight into the character of his prison guard. He is fantastically dangerous and is deliberately, politely destructive.

Van Heflin gives an equally amazing performance, he has a significantly harder role to fill. He is an downtrodden everyman who takes on a job out of desperation and finds that he has a wolf by the ears. The blows that Ben Wade land on him do not break him, rather they forge him into a man who sees that what was just a job has become a duty and in deciding to do his duty Dan Evans becomes himself, a better man. This ability to make a good man watchable and interesting, to make his struggle not be sentimental nor stupidly noble, just a matter of fact acceptance of what needs to be done provides a steel core to Van Heflin's performance. It gives depth and strength to the battle with Ben Wade and gives a what is essentially a chamber piece force, tension and conviction. This film is compelling and gripping, a must see.

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