Monday 29 April 2013

A to Z - 3:10 to Yuma

I got even more stuck coming up with something for 'Y' than I did for 'U', so I'm going to totally cheat and pick 3:10 to Yuma so I have something I actually want to talk about! I should point out that I'm referring to the 2007 version starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, as opposed to the 1957 original.

3:10 to Yuma is essentially the Western equivalent of a road movie. One or more characters needs to get from A to B, and what happens to them en route is more important than B itself. In this case, Bale plays struggling landowner Dan Evans, who agrees to take outlaw Ben Wade (Crowe) from Bisby to Contention to put him on the prison train to Yuma. Dan wants to improve his standing in his son's eyes, and the reward money will certainly come in handy, so along with a small posse, away they go. On the way, they have to face in-fighting, Apaches, and the threat of Ben's gang catching up with them.

The first time I saw 3:10 to Yuma, I wasn't sure what to make of it. For one thing, Ben is far more charismatic than Dan, and Crowe pretty much acts Bale off the screen. He might be an outlaw, but Ben just seems the more interesting of the two. There's depth to this particular wrongdoer, while Dan almost seems to be a caricature of a broken man. Besides, Ben steps in to defend the group when they come under attack, making him into less of an evil outlaw and more of a lovable rogue. Dan's backstory seems hastily sketched in, while Ben's is unravelled slowly, building a stronger picture of the man. Poor writing or just a difference in acting styles? I have no idea but sufficeth to say, Dan only becomes interesting in the last third or so of the film. Ben's interesting the whole way through.

That's not to say it's a bad film. It's not - I really like it on many levels. The soundtrack is perfect, and the attention to period detail makes this feel like more of a Western than earlier films. I think this is one of the reasons why I prefer the later Westerns - the earlier ones almost feel like cartoons, full of stock characters and mythologising, whereas the later ones feel like they've been researched well, and come more under the heading of historical drama. That's not to say this isn't a 'proper' Western - it's got ranchers, outlaws, angry Apaches, railroads and towns with names like Contention. Plus it's set against the epic backdrop of Arizona - what's not to like?

The soundtrack was a big influence while I was writing The Guns of Retribution, so 3:10 to Yuma will always hold a special place for me. Anyway, I'll leave you with this clip, which is Ben's robbery of the stagecoach that kicks everything off...


Tony Noland said...

I really liked this movie. I never saw the original version, but the interplay between Ben and Dan was great in this.

John Wiswell said...

I keep missing opportunities to see this. I honestly want to take it in, just every time someone's watching it, I wind up busy.

Katherine Hajer said...

Never seen that exploding horse effect before. That was something else.

I always found it weird that Westerns made in the 1930s-50s -- back when there were still people alive who would remember the 1890s -- are so bad about period detail, whereas today they seem stricter. I remember readiing that the short-lived TV show "Best of the West" used vintage, period liquor bottles for the saloon set dressing because they were worried viewers would complain otherwise. I can't imagine the set designers of Stagecoach having the same concern.

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