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WGUC Reviews

3:10 to Yuma

3:10 to Yuma
Rated R
Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas

You can count the number of successful remakes of classic movies on one hand: John Carpenter’s The Thing, Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear, and Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars immediately come to mind. Generally, when contemporary filmmakers think they can improve on films past, the result is quite dismal.

Fifty years ago, director Delmer Daves and screenwriter Halsted Welles took a short story by the legendary writer Elmore Leonard and made 3:10 To Yuma. It was low-key, low budget, and incredibly good. It’s stature as a genuine classic has grown over the years. Van Heflin played the farmer, a role not far removed from his character in SHANE four years previously. Glenn Ford was the bad guy. Ford rarely ventured into villainous territory, but was terrific when he did, and this is probably his best performance.

The current remake of 3:10 To Yuma fall into the “same-thing-but different” category. The basic story is there, although with some changes and new characters, which actually add to the texture of the film and the motivation of the characters. The filmmakers hired original writer Halsted Welles to work on updating the script.

James Mangold, who garnered considerable praise for his Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line , directs as if he’s no stranger to westerns. In fact, there’s more action in this version, including a bandits-in-pursuit-of-the-stagecoach scene, which is outstanding. The sound of gunshots in 1950s movies really didn’t sound like serious gunshots. Here, they do…loud, lethal, and frightening…and there are plenty of them.

Russell Crowe is the outlaw, and like Glenn Ford, he’s shrewd and sinister, although possessing more than enough charm to make him very popular with the ladies. The Van Heflin role is given to Christian Bale, who does much more with it as the homesteader desperate to preserve his farm and family. The audience is allowed more information about his past, his present, and what drives him. An added character is the Pinkerton detective hot on Crowe’s trail, played by a grizzled Peter Fonda. The older Fonda gets, the better his performances become. It’s good to see him back on the screen…and back in the saddle. The scene-stealer among the supporting cast is Ben Foster, who, until now, has been mostly a TV actor. He essays the obligatory crazy-eyed killer who will do anything Crowe asks. His scenes are electric and chilling.

Following the original story, Crowe is captured in Bisbee, and Bale, for a $200 payment, volunteers to take Crowe to Contention to catch the 3:10 To Yuma, the prison train. While on this hard ride which is consistently fraught with danger, these antagonists grow to respect and like each other. In doing so, there’s lots of telling dialogue and terrific performances from both Crowe and Bale.

The original film was shot in black-and-white and in mostly claustrophobic settings, as if it were a western film noir. The remake is a wide screen, color version with some breathtaking New Mexico scenery. Both versions work as the films they were intended to be. The only drawbacks with the current version of 3:10 To Yuma are some gory violence, and about 15 minutes of running time that could have been trimmed to tighten the pacing. These are relatively minor quibbles, though, as its well worth seeing.

The best assets of the 1957 original were Glenn Ford; the terse, tense story; terrific black-and-white photography; and one of those sensational movies tunes sung over the opening credits by Frankie Laine. It was reissued last week on DVD so you will have the opportunity to see it in a pristine, restored print. But wait until after seeing the new one. The differences will make for interesting discussion.


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