Thursday, June 24, 2021

3:10 to Yuma

 The Beloved Spouse™ and I recently performed an experiment. In one night we

·       Watched the movie 3:10 to Yuma (original 1957 version)

·       Watched 3:10 to Yuma (2007 remake)

·       Read Elmore Leonard’s short story


What we discovered was interesting. (Be forewarned. Spoilers abound.)


First, the 2007 movie is a remake of the 1957 original, not a re-visiting of the source material as the

Coen Brothers did with True Grit. The 2007 version tracks the 1957 version closely, particularly when it came to bits in the movie that weren’t in the book. The biggest difference is in the ending, and an expanded part for Dan Evans’s son, William.


Differences from the book that were in both movies:

·       The main characters’ names, though the same in both movies. The lawman in the story is named Paul Scallen; the movies use Dan Evans. The prisoner in the book is Jim Kidd; in the movies he’s Ben Wade. (I wonder if this had anything to do with a screenplay Leonard later wrote for Clint Eastwood, Joe Kidd.

·       Scallen’s a marshal who’s doing his job; both versions of Dan Evans portray him as a rancher down on his luck who takes the job because he needs the money. I think the story works better. Scallen has the same doubts and fears as Evans, but he makes sure Kidd gets on the train because it’s his job. There’s a dignity to that, just as much as the rancher risking his life to save the ranch.

·       Evans’s family play a much larger role in the films. In the remake, Evans’s son even tags along to enrich the plot. The primary role of the family scenes is to humanize Wade through his interactions with the wife and children. More on Wade’s character below.

·       The original film shows Wade to be ruthless but thoughtful. He kills one of his own in cold blood in order to create a shot at the stage driver who held a gun to his man’s head, which he also does in the remake.

·       Both films add extended backstory to show why Wade is wanted; Leonard’s story begins with him already in custody.


The movies differ in how they leaven Wade’s character. In the original, he and the gang stop into town to misdirect the local marshal. The gang goes off and Wade seduces the barmaid. He treats her well by “two ships passing in the night” standards.

·       The remake goes adds two elements to Wade character. He’s a pretty good artist, given to sketching birds and a picture of Evans as he stands guard. He also makes it clear to young William that he (Wade) is just as bad as any of the rest of his gang, or he couldn’t lead them.

·       That last points out the biggest difference in the films: their eras. The 1957 version is what I call a “good haircut” Western. Everyone is well groomed, and the worst of their conduct is only hinted at. (Except for shooting people. American films have never had a problem with showing that.) The remake is of the modern revisionist school, much grittier, with villains who come across as ruthless as they would likely have been in 1880s Arizona.

·       The casting and acting in both are excellent. The original cast Van Heflin as Evans and Glenn Ford as Wade. No one was better than Heflin at playing the ordinary man carrying a burden. Ford plays Wade with an understated menace that is made more effective through its lack of histrionics. The remake had Christian Bale playing Evans, outstanding and believable as always; and Russell Crowe a Wade, displaying with ease the multiple facets of the personality this screenplay gives him. Who’s better? Depends on the style of acting you prefer. I like the less declamatory style, so I side with the 2007 edition, but both are excellent. A special shoutout to Ben Foster as 2007 Wade’s Number Two, Charlie Prince. I’m a Richard Jaeckel fan, but Foster provided a level of menace and insanity that helped drive the entire picture.

So which did I prefer better? The story is cleaner and far more straightforward, but it had the advantage of brevity. The movies need to provide an evening’s entertainment. I prefer the 2007 version, due to its revisionist elements and the bits that were added in getting Wade from Bisbee to Contention to catch the train, as they brought depth and realism to the story while exploring characters in more detail. The remake has a dramatically different ending (which I’ll not spoil) that I don’t have a good explanation for. I don’t think it makes the movie any worse or better. It’s just different.

We had a lot of fun doing this. A short story as source material made the process easier (I read it aloud to TBS after the viewings), but I see potential for a few nights a year with similar double features. True Grit. The Magnificent Seven. The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3.  It’s a quick and entertaining way to study variations in storytelling, which is never a bad thing.


Elgin Bleecker said...

A good haircut Western is a great label, Dana. I enjoyed the short story, didn’t care for the 1957, never saw the remake. I believe RIO BRAVO was made in response to the ’57 because the director was so aggravated by Glenn Ford’s threats and Van Hefflin’s cowering. In RIO BRAVO, bad guy Claude Akins threatens sheriff John Wayne saying you’ll be sorry when my brother and his men come and bust me out. Wayne replies, you better pray they don’t show up, because the first one to get shot is gonna be you. That film was a fantasy Western, but a lot of fun. BTW, your evening would never happen in my house. When it comes to Westerns – books or movies – I am on my own.

Doug List said...

I agree with almost everything you write here...except I prefer the 1957 version. But is a rare story that has resulted in two very good films. Mr. Bleecker is wrong is stating that Hawks responded to 3:10 with Rio Bravo. He was upset at High Noon, in which no one in the town helps Cooper.