Blu-ray Review – 3:10 to Yuma
At first glance, Delmer Daves’s 3:10 to Yuma (1957/Criterion spine #657) appears to be as straight as an arrow. If we’re examining it from merely a narrative standpoint, that may be true. A simple premise, a specific goal, with events that lead into each other rather easily. But what makes the film work are the details between the lines. Halsted Welles wrote the screenplay, which was adapted from a story by Elmore Leonard. What we get is something that is much more than what happens in the plot. Thanks to a recent release from the Criterion Collection, many will be able to revisit this film for what it is: an examination of two characters from opposite ends of the law, and their relationship amidst a potentially explosive situation.
Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) and Dan Evans (Van Heflin) are two very different people. Wade is an outlaw leader who is as cool as ice, and will shoot down anybody that gets in his way. Evans is a family-man rancher, who only wants to do what is right and provide for his family. Their ideas of honor are put to the test when Wade is captured soon after robbing a stagecoach (where he murdered a civilian). Persuaded by the promise of a cash reward, Evans volunteers to take Wade to the nearest town and wait for the 3:10 train to Yuma, where Wade will be shipped off to prison. This seems like an easy enough deal, except that Wade’s gang of criminals are in hot pursuit of the duo, eager to get their leader back in bloody fashion.
The story seems familiar, and some have likened it to Gary Cooper’s predicament in High Noon (1952). But 3:10 to Yuma stands on its own in how the characters are not painted in black and white regarding morality, but in shades of gray. At first, Evans is motivated only by monetary reasons, and Wade realizes this. He takes advantage of it by offering even more money to be set free. This puts Wade in a difficult position: take Wade’s money that his family so desperately needs, or risk his life to do the right thing and put the criminal on that train. On the opposite end is Wade. There are notable times where he could have simply turned around and slipped from Evans’s grasp, but we get a sense that he has some kind of respect for the rancher. When he offers money, it’s not merely a means for escape, but for the belief that Evans would get killed if he follows through with his plan. It’s this cat and mouse dynamic that successfully builds the tension all the way to the film’s dramatic end.
Criterion did an excellent job in the picture quality. This is a newly restored 4K digital film transfer, and wow does it sparkle. Daves’s black and white photography puts an emphasis on shadow and light—as I watched it, it felt like I was seeing a Western that was shot as a film noir. Grain and dust are barely noticeable, and during certain close-up shots, the picture looked near pristine, as though it were composed recently instead of almost sixty years ago.
There are two alternate options in this category: an uncompressed monaural soundtrack, and a 5.1 surround soundtrack, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio. To my ears, the sound quality is efficient, but doesn’t stand out. This is probably a good thing. Sometimes when the sound is overly noticeable, it can become a distraction, which is not the case here.
Where this release comes up short is in the special features. Criterion is known for their inclusion of extensive bonus material, but for this we only get three pieces. First is an interview with Elmore Leonard discussing his work and the numerous film adaptations that followed. Also included is an interview with Peter Ford, Glenn Ford’s son and biographer. These interviews are extensive and surprisingly candid (particularly Peter Ford’s description of his father’s “extracurricular” activities). But the disappointment lies in the fact that they are the only special features on the disk. No included commentary, nor a trailer. The third feature is an essay written by the critic Kent Jones (included in the booklet). This turned out to be my favorite, as Jones discusses the deeper layers of the film, and compares it to other notable Westerns of its time. All three bonus materials are good, but relatively brief. We do leave wanting to learn much more than what is given.
3:10 to Yuma is a good movie that I highly recommend. Along with a stunning video transfer, this is a lean, suspense-filled Western with a unique visual aesthetic. For this release, though, I would have enjoyed seeing more in terms of extra material, but the main attraction is just good enough for me to forgive its shortcomings.
Overall Release Grade: B