3:10 to Yuma

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I guess, like everything else, the circumstances in which you view a movie will affect your perception of it. I just rewatched the 2007 3:10 to Yuma the other day having already reacquainted myself with the 1957 version the previous night. Now, I’ve seen the original many times and always held it in high regard although it’s not without its faults. So when I went to see the remake, during its theatrical run, I knew that the central story was a strong one and I was curious to see what it would turn out like. At the time I came away thinking that I had just seen a moderately entertaining but imperfect film. In short, I wasn’t overly displeased. The thing is though, I hadn’t seen the original for a few years at that point. Viewing the two versions so close together has forced me to alter my appraisal of the remake somewhat.

The plot of both films is derived from a short story by Elmore Leonard, and tells of a struggling Arizona rancher Dan Evans (Van Heflin in the original, Christian Bale in the remake) who witnesses a stage robbery carried out by notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Glenn Ford in the original, Russell Crowe in the remake). When Wade is later captured Evans volunteers to escort him to the town of Contention and put him on the titular 3:10 to Yuma state prison. Evans hopes that the money he earns from this will be enough to see him and his family through the drought that’s crippling his ranch. There follows a battle for Evans’ soul as Wade tries to buy, persuade and cajole the desperate rancher into letting him go while the clock counts down and the threat of attack by the outlaw gang draws ever nearer.

Those are the necessarily common elements, but if a remake is to have any purpose it must add to or change certain aspects of the original. Firstly, the 2007 version expands the story and runs about a half hour longer, most of this extra time being used to depict the journey to Contention and introduce more characters. This doesn’t really come off successfully for, despite being crammed with incident, it simply serves to slow down the central thrust of the story: the conflict and relationship between Evans and Wade. Where the original cut straight to the chase, the remake forces the viewer to sit through a lot of implausible action which seems to exist merely to dispose of a few superfluous characters. By the time Evans and Wade reach Contention and hole up in the hotel the momentum has been lost and the tension levels have dropped. The DVD of the 2007 movie contains an extra feature which carries the title An Epic Explored, and that tells a tale. This is essentially a small, intimate story based around two men and covering a short period of time. The 1957 version succeeds admirably in telling this story, whereas the remake has ambitions to be something altogether grander yet falls short of fulfilling them.

We're going to Contention - Ben Foster

The other major difference in the two films is a change in emphasis and tone. The first movie presented Dan Evans as a man in a bad spot and dogged by ill fortune, but there was nothing pathetic or defeatist about him and the viewer can feel for him without ever being asked to. The new Dan Evans is, we are told over and over, a cringing loser who manages to elicit only pity from his captive rather than respect. In fact, even his family are contemptuous of him – Van Heflin’s distraught wife turned up in Contention to beg him to drop the matter and return home while Christian Bale’s other half disappears from the story early on like she just doesn’t give a damn what happens to him, and I’m not sure if I blame her. The ’57 movie showed Evans’ two boys to be a couple of nice respectful kids, while the ’07 one gives us a surly brat who never misses an opportunity to bad-mouth his father, regardless of the company they’re in, and left this viewer yearning to see him on the receiving end of a good hiding. All told, there are far too many jarringly modern touches to the remake; when Bale’s wife upbraids him for not making decisions together and his son throws another insult his way I was taken out of the film completely. Such moments defy all logic in terms of time and place – it’s akin to seeing a bunch of brawling cavemen interrupted by one of their number saying “Wait a minute fellas, surely we can talk this through like civilised men.”

As long as she has green eyes - Felicia Farr and Glenn Ford

Delmer Daves is a director who I feel has been severely underrated and a comparison of his work with that of James Mangold during two key sequences points this up. Take the scene with Glenn Ford and Felicia Farr first. When they stand on the porch and talk about their former lives there’s a very poignant sense of two lonely people and their sense of loss. As the camera follows Ford back into the saloon there’s a kind of innocent charm about his seduction of Farr, and then the camera zoom and music cue hit the mark perfectly when he asks the colour of her eyes. In contrast, Mangold just has Crowe sidle up behind Vinessa Shaw, grunt in her ear and off they go. The other sequence that highlights Daves’ superior handling of the material is during the lengthy wait in the hotel. While Ford stretches out on the bed he tries to tempt his captor into letting him walk with offers of a bribe. During this exchange the camera cuts back and forth between the faces of the two men, each time the focus zooms marginally closer on Van Heflin and ratchets up the tension. Mangold shoots the same scene mostly static and the result is that the tension doesn’t build and it simply falls flat.  Another problem is the ending of the remake. One criticism of Delmer Daves’ work was that his endings were often a bit of a cop out after what had gone before. The climax of the ’57 3:10 to Yuma was always its weakness but it feels deeply satisfying when compared to the absolute travesty that the remake offers as a conclusion. This is not to say that Mangold doesn’t do anything well. His handling of the action sequences is noteworthy, from the opening stage hold-up (complete with exploding horse) to the climactic gun battle/chase through the streets of Contention. The problem is that these have a comic book, Spaghetti western feel that sits a little uncomfortably with the dour tone of the rest of the picture. 

I know Russell Crowe is a fine actor but when I compare his Ben Wade to that of Glenn Ford’s he comes off second best; there’s just not enough charm and too much of his natural oafishness showing through. I also prefer Van Heflin’s Dan Evans to that of Christian Bale but I don’t mean that as a criticism of the latter’s acting skill, rather I would put it down to the writing of the part. Ben Foster certainly outscores Richard Jaeckel as Wade’s henchman Charlie Prince; the role is greatly expanded in the remake and Foster really sinks his teeth into it. I also want to mention Peter Fonda, whose grizzled bounty hunter was one of the best things about the 2007 movie. How can you not admire a man who’s back in the saddle mere hours after being gut-shot and then operated on by a vet – what a guy! 

So, I think I can safely say that my preference is for the 1957 3:10 to Yuma. However, people who come upon the remake with no knowledge of or exposure to the original may find it entertaining enough. Sure it’s chock full of implausibilities and boasts an outrageous ending but even I was willing to take these in my stride at first. Watching them consecutively as I did will only throw all those negatives into even sharper relief.

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23 thoughts on “3:10 to Yuma

  1. Nice to have you back film journaling, Livius.

    I didn’t really like the Mangold 3:10 to Yuma and it had nothing to do with the original. There’s a new western opening up here this week called Appaloosa. I don’t know when it’s scheduled for release in the UK, but it seems of some interest.

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  2. Thanks clydefro, it’s good to be back. I felt I needed to take a bit of a break from blogging and work commitments etc. gave me the chance/excuse.

    As far as Appaloosa is concerned, I’ve only seen the trailer but I agree it does look promising.

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    • Hi again, Colin – discovered your site two days ago and just love it: your reviews are superb and have given me new insights into many of my favourite movies. A further pleasure is that your regular commenters are knowledgeable, articulate and can disagree politely and respectfully. On 3.10, I also much prefer the 1957 film. In the Mangold version, the climactic shootout struck me as being designed to appeal to the computer games generation – people who play those games where there’s endless, mindless killing. I do rate Russell Crowe’s performance more highly than you – he oozed menace. (This is not just Aussie bias – he’s a New Zealander, after all). Having said that, I have come to regard Glenn Ford’s performance pretty highly too – he does subtly suggest a potential for violence behind his avuncular outer persona. On a side note, the actress who plays the Heflin character’s wife is another plus for the earlier film – the camera just loves her face.

      I have been wondering if you have ever posted your selection of your top 10 or 20 Westerns: now that would be something to see.

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      • Steve, I’m very happy to learn that you are getting something from the place and, above all, having a good time – when you get right down to it, that’s what it’s here for.
        I have done a few lists in the past, which can be found under this index, but they were confined to people (actors & directors) rather than films. I do like the idea of a title list though, always difficult to compile and/or justify but an awful lot of fun too.

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  3. Colin, I just found your website and fell in love at first sight, as I’m the only person I know who loves old movies and 1950s movies in particular and 1950s westerns in extreme particular, so to see kindred spirits in the world is a thrill. So thank you. And thank you too for your excellent review/comparison of the two “3:10 to Yuma”s. I have always preferred the remake, because it was fleshed out more than the other, but frankly your analysis has really turned me around. I never thought about Bale’s character being so unbelievably pathetic, begging for our sympathy which Heflin simply got by being a strong, resolute man on a mission. So I would have to agree with you that the original is probably better, although I do wish it would have given us more of the journey to Contention.

    I wonder, have you seen the 1959 Kirk Douglas-Anthony Quinn movie “Last Train To Gun Hill,” which in many ways is a remake (or a ripoff, depending on your point of view) of “Yuma”? I think it superior to both versions of “Yuma,” a better examination of the good guy’s stubbornness in the face of overwhelming odds. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

    Again, thanks for the fantastic website. I’ve got a lot of reading to do.
    Bruce

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    • Hello Bruce. Firstly, thanks for stopping by and for taking the time to comment. I’m very pleased that you’ve enjoyed what you’ve seen – most gratifying. The remake of 3:10 to Yuma was especially disappointng from my point of view since I tend to have high hopes for any big budget western that comes along. Ah well…

      As for Last Train from Gun Hill, I certainly have seen it and I’m immensely fond of it. In fact, I did a piece on it here.

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      • Same here, any time a western comes out I’m thrilled because they’re so incredibly rare. That may be why I gave the “3:10” remake a pass, because, heck, it’s a western in this age of Harry Potter and Dark Knight and Jason Siegel’s penis. You know what I’m saying? I know they can’t all be “Rio Bravo.”

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        • Quite. But I feel the likes of Appaloosa, The Assassination of Jesse James or the remake of True Grit were all superior examples of westerns made for modern audiences, and which didn’t present characters deliberately manipulated to fit current preconceptions.

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          • Say, speaking of “True Grit” (nearly 3 years later), have you thought about doing another original/remake comparison piece on those two movies? I for one would wait with bated breath to read what you have to say, and I don’t bate my breath for just anybody.

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            • Thanks, Bruce, very kind. No, I hadn’t thought about that – it’s been a while now since I’ve seen either film – but I’ll definitely give it some thought.

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  4. You know how much I enjoyed this examination of both films, side-by-side, Colin. It really distilled all of the issues I had with Mangold’s remake. Was I happy that someone did a new western? Yes. Was I satisfied it was a remake of Daves’ classic? No. Especially with what and how they changed it. I’d agree that Ben Foster certainly sank his teeth into the expanded role Richard Jaeckel pioneered. All in keeping with the modern take of villains and their more colorful henchmen. Still, was it entirely needed? I have my doubts. But the addition of Peter Fonda was certainly welcomed.

    “So, I think I can safely say that my preference is for the 1957 3:10 to Yuma. However, people who come upon the remake with no knowledge of or exposure to the original may find it entertaining enough. Sure it’s chock full of implausibilities and boasts an outrageous ending but even I was willing to take these in my stride at first. Watching them consecutively as I did will only throw all those negatives into even sharper relief.”

    Nailed it. Well done.

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    • Michael, I seem to have spent a lot of time talking about these two movies lately, both on this site during the spin off discussion arising from The Last Wagon post and then over at Paul’s place when he wrote about the remake. In the time that has passed since I originally wrote this piece, my opinion of the remake hasn’t risen at all. Daves’ original on the other hand…

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    • Thanks Mark. Your own piece on the remake here highlights its shortcomings. I hope you get to see the original and have a chance to compare them. The 1957 movie adds some stuff to Leonard’s short story, but it’s good stuff.

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  5. Going through the titles I was surprised (pleasantly) of you doing the comparison. I am also surprised that I agree with almost everything you say.

    I imagine anyone not familiar with the original will find the remake acceptable. Being familiar with the original creates a problem. Having recently seen the 57 version again I was struck by how funny it can be. By the time they get to the hotel both of the men are hurling smart sarcastic remarks at each other.

    The ending of the remake seems the more likely outcome of the story but it seems too tragic.

    The seduction scene you mention is quite good. I especially like that all you need to know that happened is Farr coming out from behind the drape buttoning the top button on her dress. Understated but it tells everything.

    I hope you don’t mind bringing up the old posts but our feelings on these two run so close I wanted to comment. Thanks.

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    • Chris, I’m always pleased that someone has taken the time to trawl back through my older pieces. I take it both as a compliment and an opportunity to look back over my own thoughts on the work in question.

      In this case my opinion, if anything, has hardened towards the remake and I’m able to take very little positive away from it. The ending actually sinks lower in my estimation all the time; apart from the overdone action, the way it ends up rips the heart out of the story. The whole journey of redemption and renewal (and that’s a very big part of the story) is rendered nonsensical in the remake. There’s nothing uplifting left, just tragedy and cynicism.

      The Farr/Ford interludes in the original also grow immeasurably over time as far as I can see – there’s nothing in the remake to match the intensity, the yearning and the sheer emotional power that Daves got from Ford and Farr.

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  6. I think you hit the nail on the head with the idea that the remake lacks coherence. It is as if there should be some backstory where Mangold was fighting for a more compact cinematic piece but the big bad studio forced him to flesh it out to run full length. The way so many movies have a love story, etc… just added in for a demographic.

    I don’t think the story has to be short. Many short stories have been fleshed out into full length movies but a film 101 student could cut this better than what was delivered to the public. The main point would be to cut out the mining scenes.

    The idea of comparing two films is completely artificial. Not a bad idea, and fun, just so long as one doesn’t read too much into it. Why should the remake be judged by the original, or visa versa. This becomes all the more perilous if the earlier movie is revered. This will tend to lead to much uncritical thinking. Why should there be mounting stagy tension over the idea of the bribe. This actually requires Dan I to seriously consider it. Dan II can quite reasonably be unmoved, with the weight falling the briber. It is exactly this kind of difference that a new version should explore, But why bother if the original is “perfect” Or take the idea that this film is full of 07 mores, but somehow the fantasy from the 50s was just like it would have been in the old west? 50s movies, no mater when set, are absolutely from their time. Actually one of the things consistently wrong in westerns is the idea of the lone dude saving the world. Bank robbers and others were far more likely to have the whole town turn out to shoot them to death than what is pictured in either of these films.

    My main difference with your review (with which I very largely agree), is over the character of Dan. I think that is a truly great portrayal. Bale is pitch perfect with what he is trying to do, and brings a depth, that one could understand might be missed, given that it is almost as though he is acting in a different movie. Sure there are probably inaccuracies like the attitude of his elder son to him. But then in the old west (or my childhood starting in 59) would the kid in shane run miles to town in order to put himself in the center of a colossally violent act, and against the wishes of his Dad (the ever ineffectual Van Heflin). Dan II is completely underestimated by his neighbours, family, everyone. Some of his neighbours are of the type to respect an honest, hard working man. But mostly they just despise him. As his banker says “sometimes a man has to be big enough to realize how small he really is”. The banker might be the only one who thinks that Dan II has retained any self respect. But ultimately a film has to be more than a couple of actors performances.

    It is interesting to consider what realism means. I personally found Fonda’s recovery about as plausible as if he had ridden out of town on the trail to Contention with both arms blown off. There can hardly be a worse wound, or a worse one to ride a horse with, than a gun shot to the gut. Most people shot in that age in the torso, died, however slowly. Ben Wade couldn’t have handled a cup of coffee, let alone a gun, etc… after electro convulsive torture. There is never any end to the nonsense Hollywood dishes out, but only so much of it bothers any one of us.

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    • Hello, Tom. I don’t think remakes need to or should be slavish copies of the original works; that would be a pretty pointless exercise. My problem in this case is that the changes made, or at least the most significant ones, don’t add anything to the story and I still reckon they weaken and damage it. The Wade character is made into too much of an anti-hero, although not an especially attractive one given Crowe’s portrayal, while Dan is diminished. Ultimately, Dan is the hero of the piece, or should be, and the way his role is written in the remake takes all that away. I suppose the idea was to emphasize the lowly status of Dan and thus make his determination appear more powerful. For me however, that simply did not come off and the film suffers quite badly as a result.

      As for the superhuman recuperative powers of Fonda’s character, well what can you say!

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