Saturday, September 7, 2013

3:10 TO YUMA




I watched 3:10 TO YUMA yesterday. I've seen the film several times over the years and I always enjoy watching it. I wrote notes for the film when it was shown this summer as part of the Paramount Theatre's Summer Classic Film Series. Here they are.

By the time 3:10 to Yuma was released in 1957, audiences had seen almost twenty years of adult western films. During the 1950s, the genre became even more sharply defined as psychological themes began to be explored in westerns (without sacrificing any of the action which was a hallmark of the genre). This type of “western noir” was best exemplified in the films made by director Anthony Mann and starring James Stewart beginning with Winchester ’73 (1950).  

3:10 to Yuma fits nicely into this cycle of films. Based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, Yuma is a tightly wound exercise in suspense, a claustrophobic nail-biter that eschews the wide-open spaces of traditional westerns for the intense drama of two men in a hotel room engaged in a cat-and-mouse game of nerves and wits. A rancher Dan Evans (Van Heflin), is assigned the task of guarding a vicious outlaw, Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) while waiting for the 3:10 train to arrive in town. It’s Dan’s job to keep Wade in safe custody and get him on the train out of town. The trouble is Dan has no experience as a lawman and Wade, fully aware of Dan’s limitations, starts playing mind games with him, trying to unsettle him into making a fatal mistake. Plus, Wade’s gang, led by Charlie Prince (Richard Jaeckel, who made a career out of playing toadies), is heading towards town with one goal: free Wade.  

Ford is terrific, playing against type as the wily outlaw and Heflin is solid as a man trying to do his best in a job he doesn’t want and isn’t trained for.  Tight, taut and exciting, 3:10 to Yuma is a gritty little western film that was both a critical and commercial success. The film was remade in 2007 with Russell Crowe as Ben Wade and Christian Bale as Dan Evans. The remake is more expansive and action filled than the original and while it’s not a bad movie at all, it’s the original that remains the better version of Leonard’s original material. Other western films based on Elmore Leonard novels include Hombre (1967), Valdez Is Coming (1971) and Ulzana’s Raid (1972). All three are highly recommended.

That's what I wrote for the Paramount. Here is my 3:10 TO YUMA story.

Several years ago, I attended a screening of 3:10 TO YUMA at the old Dobie Theatre in Dobie Mall. The screening was presented by the Austin Film Society. A member of the AFS, a young man whose name I don't recall, introduced the film. He wasn't the worst public speaker I've ever seen but he committed a cardinal sin in his introduction of the film.

He admitted to a theater full of film fans that he'd "never seen this movie but it's supposed to be pretty good." I cringed when I heard that. I had seen the film and knew a little bit about it. I was tempted to jump up, tell this guy to take a seat and speak informatively about the film we were about to see. I knew I could do a better job than this enthusiastic but unprepared young man.

I've introduced a lot of films over the years and I've seen the majority of them. On the few occasions when I've introduced a film I hadn't seen, I damn sure didn't admit that to the audience. What kind of a film expert gets up in front of a theater full of people and admits that they haven't seen the work on display? Besides that, an introduction should never be about the person doing the introduction. The audience assumes you've seen the film but they don't want to know what you think about it. They want to know something about the film, not you. 

I always keep that in mind when I'm introducing a film. It's always about the movie, never about me. 






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