Delmar Daves isn’t a name that immediately springs to mind when thinking of auteurs like Hitchcock, Welles, and Kubrick. Perhaps it’s because Daves worked in a genre — the American Western — that has largely lost its appeal. The American Western isn’t a mainstay of TV or theaters any longer.
The 1957 film 3:10 to Yuma, remade about 5 years ago with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, belongs to a group of psychological westerns like High Noon that helped redefine the genre in the 1950s. Daves film (based on Elmore Leonard’s first published short story) has aged surprisingly well, and part of that has to do with actor Glenn Ford’s sly performance as Ben Wade a charming but ruthless outlaw captured after he lingers in town a bit too long.
Separated from his gang, he’s arrested, and reluctantly, rancher Dan Evans (Van Heflin in a perfect, performance that nicely captures his conflicted feelings) agrees to guard and escort Wade to the 3:10 train to Yuma because he needs the money; his cattle are dying and his farm is failing because of a drought. Wade and Evans form a bond, and even as Wade tries to bribe Evans he develops a begrudging respect for the rancher.
Criterion’s Blu-ray gives us a beautiful looking transfer of the film — grain is a bit more heavy and prominent during the opening titles (not a surprise given that it would be several generations removed from the original negative and that it had to go through an optical printer to be rephotographed) but, once the film begins, film grain is consistent and not quite as bulky with a pleasing appearance that beautifully renders the black and white photography of the film.
3:10 to Yuma was made when Glenn Ford was at his peak as a box office draw and actor. What often gets overlooked is Ford’s brilliant, subtle performance (one of his best). He makes Wade a complex character at a time when most westerns were more likely to simplify characters and their motives. In fact 3:10 to Yuma and High Noon are the two films that pushed Howard Hawks to make Rio Bravo because he wanted to return to a time of psychologically less complex characters (ignoring the complexity Hawks own Red River). Ford’s performance is matched by the tortured performance by Van Heflin.
As much as I enjoyed the remake with terrific performances from Russell Crowe, Christian Bale and Ben Foster, the original film holds up remarkably well and is every bit its equal in my humble opinion. Daves develops a strong, psychological thriller, which is, at its heart, really about the time in which it was made; something that critic and film historian Kent Jones does a nice job of summarizing in the booklet included with the Blu-ray.
Besides a terrific 4K restoration of the film, the mono soundtrack has been redone for a 5.1 surround mix. It’s not something that will knock your socks off but the effort is appreciated as it opens up the sound a bit.
There are few extras included with this Criterion release, but we do get two extensive interviews, which are both exceptionally good. In one, Glenn Ford’s son and biographer Peter discusses his dad’s preference for westerns (because they had less dialog — as Peter paraphrases his dad, Glenn would say that he had two speeds as an actor: slow and slower). The interview is with Director Daves. Elmore Leonard also discusses the genesis of the story, his opinions on both films made from it (the ending of the remake didn’t make much sense to him for example), and gives a brief overview of his early Hollywood career related to Yuma.
The included booklet is excellent. Unfortunately the release has no commentary track, which would have been insightful, but on the whole, I can recommend this release.