Over the credits, Frankie Laine sings a seductive tune that became a popular hit record. The presence of a male singer at the beginning is important. Nothing quite seduces strangers like the confident male singer, and this Western will be dominated by a man who knows how to seduce. Ben Wade is the outlaw that will tempt the puritan rancher, father and husband. Wade has a gang of 12 men and the number is noted by the rancher but he does not comment on the religious irony. In the inferior remake of 3 10 To Yuma, Wade is an obvious symbol for the devil. The original movie emphasises more the ability of Wade to seduce and how difficult it can be to resist seduction especially when it delivers reward rather than exploitation. Wade is a leader of men. He is capable of organising others and blessed with the knack of always having a reply. Such skills make him successful with women and also explain his appeal to all of us.
The song by Frankie Laine might be compelling but the words lack relevance for the film. Before the story begins, this casual deceit exists as a reminder to its audience that the seducers have scant concern for verity. But that paradox contains its own irony because 3 10 To Yuma succeeds because its talented director, Delmer Daves, is a master of form. The movie inspires because it has skilled actors and fabulous moments such as the early morning arrival of Wade and his 3 captors in Contention or the subsequent invasion by the outlaws when the horses rattle across the bridge that leads into the Western isolated town. Indeed, no Western uses the sound of horses hooves as cleverly as the Foley operator on 3:10 To Yuma. Simply by the sound of their steps, we know if the character is confident or vulnerable. Helping the innocent farmer to guard Wade, is the local drunk, Alex Trotter, and if the character is a cliché he is justified when we hear the lonely hesitant steps of his horse. It is essential listening. This takes real skill but Daves is a seducer. He is a film director who will take any project and give it irresistible gloss. We have to be wary of him and maybe his warning, which is why we are left with a very ambiguous conclusion to the relationship between Wade and his innocent guard.
The film was based on a short story by Elmore Leonard. Few would describe Leonard and Daves as thematic creators. Leonard is interested in character and narrative and so is Daves. Both are concerned with style. But if there are no direct references to Satan in the superior original version of 3 10 To Yuma, the metaphors are ambitious.
While Frankie Laine sings, the small stagecoach is dwarfed by a cloudless sky and parched desert. The film will end with the same landscape being drenched in rain, the first that has fallen in 3 years. Temptation has been overcome and because the Devil has been banished the characters can return to the Garden of Eden. They prevailed, and God relented. This is ambitious symbolism, especially for an 88 minute Western movie that appeals to movie fans because of its style.
The black and white widescreen landscapes are essential to the thematic concerns of the film and its sparse images would be nowhere near as pleasing if they did not expose isolated characters faced with moral challenges beyond the nature of most humans.
The name of the hero is another clue. He is called Dan Evans and his name hints at the ubiquitous choice and consequence that dominates all our lives, damnation or heaven. Evans agrees to the job of guarding Wade because he needs $200 to buy water for his land and he assumes that the money will enable him to avoid a fate determined by nature, by God. He is a puritan but he is haunted by responsibility and the prospect of failure. He likes to smoke a cigarette but here we do not see a movie star looking cool. The nicotine is a crutch for an almost beaten man. His heroism does prevail until the end of the film but only because he is prepared to face death. If God is against you, what else is there to do but die? This acceptance or surrender to God might be why Evans survives, why he resists the Devil. He is tempted by the escape being offered by the seducer because his own inheritance has been hard work and failure. He tells Wade to ‘Shut Up, just shut up.’ He chooses God because he is a puritan and responsible but he needs silence to stay strong.
Evans refuses the bribe from Wade and the offer of relief from failure but as a result he is constantly planning,
dreaming and pursuing escape. Like Jimmy Rodgers, he is waiting for the train. Only one man can escape, and this will happen only if the other is captured. Ultimately, it proves to be a false tension because Wade insists at the end that capture is irrelevant for him. He has the power to always break free. The ending confuses but we accept it because we are relieved that both men will prevail. Although Evans and Wade threaten and confront each other, there is mutual approval. Each sees qualities in the other that he lacks. Wade realises that Evans has personal strength and the love of his wife. Wade is the handsome and skilled diversion that cannot be forgotten. The saloon girl that he seduces easily will remember Wade and his special promise. She says, ‘Some men you meet once and they stay with you throughout a life.’ And so they might but, like Wade with his women, his conquests will not love him throughout a life. They will merely yearn for moments that had promise but no final fulfilment. Evans acknowledges a man who is successful and charming and although ruthless probably fair. The fairness of Wade becomes apparent in the final scene when he honours an obligation. Earlier, we discover his ruthless decisiveness in the stage hold up when Evans and Wade first meet. Wade acts with a brutal utilitarianism and kills one of his own men. The funeral scene that takes place outside the hotel where Evans guards Wade is also a reminder that the seducer and taker inevitably leaves victims. The drumbeat played by the solitary Indian boy, and its suggestion of the fundamental and obvious, echoes in opposition to the sophistication and appetites of Wade marooned in the bridal suite, the town centre for seduction. The seducer who imagines all the brides that preceded him has no family and cannot imagine what happens after the seduction of the bride. If he were a father, this outlaw would play easily and amuse the children. The decent men, though, also understand they have to be serious sometimes and provide nurture.
The complex relationship between the rancher and the outlaw requires skilled actors and the film is fortunate. Glenn Ford is the master of making a careful script sound improvised and his style, which conceals as much as it reveals, suits the mystery of the outsider. Van Heflin is the opposite. His skill enables him to make clear the complicated emotions behind the façade of the plain everyman. Nether should we forget Robert Emhardt as the stagecoach owner, Mr Butterfield, a man whose name also offers promise. Butterfield is important because he tries near the end to persuade Evans to let Wade free. Butterfield thinks the task of survival is impossible. But Butterfield is no ordinary coward. He wants Evans to live. He is not perfect but he is at his best when he is curious about others, and we suspect his potential as we note him observe the saloon girl watch Wade leave. The final shot of a happy Butterfield standing in the rain waving to a triumphant Evans on the train to Yuma is as poignant as anything in Western cinema.
This is a marvellous clip that contains memorable images and has the theme song.
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