"When the 3:10 to Yuma whistles its sad refrain...take that Train!" In 3:10 to Yuma, Glenn Ford plays against type, creating a nuanced, somehow likeable outlaw. This is one classic Western you don't want to miss!
3:10 to Yuma (1957)
This is a film I’ve wanted to watch for years! And with Glenn Ford as our Star of the Month, I finally had the access and reason to make time to watch 3:10 to Yuma (1957).
If the name of this Western sounds familiar, it may be because—other than the fact that 3:10 to Yuma is a classic—it was remade in 2007 with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale.
I’ve never seen the remake, but I can’t imagine it’s as good as the original! I really enjoyed watching 3:10 to Yuma this week, and highly recommend it! If you missed it on TCM Monday, the film will be available on tcm.com (just log in to your cable provider on TCM’s website) through Sunday. Or you can also find 3:10 to Yuma here.
3:10 to Yuma has a classic, straightforward, Western plot. It’s the 1880s, Arizona territory. Our protagonist, struggling farmer Dan Evans (Van Heflin), and his two young sons are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and witness notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) and his gang rob a stagecoach, killing two men in the process.
It looks like Wade and his men have gotten away with the robbery and murders, but while making a stop in the next town for a drink and a quick seduction of a lonely barmaid (Felicia Farr, who would become Mrs. Jack Lemmon a few years later!), the town marshal catches up with Wade, with farmer Dan’s help.
Wanted: Two Volunteers (With a Death Wish!!!!)
And now the real fun begins! The town marshal concocts a plan to get Ben Wade, now in custody, to Yuma for his punishment: two volunteers will work together to secretly get Wade to Contention City, where they will then catch a train to Yuma. The 3:10 train to Yuma as it were!
Volunteers are hard to come by however, because everyone is fearful about what Wade’s henchmen, still on the loose, will do to them on the journey! Undoubtedly, Wade’s men will make an attempt at breaking their boss free. And whoever stands in their way will most likely, well, DIE.
But Dan, needing the $200 reward offered to who ever volunteers, steps up to the challenge—he needs the money for his drought-riddled farm. The other volunteer is the town drunk, Alex (Henry Jones). Doesn’t that sound like a guy you would want to help you transport a renown outlaw across miles and miles of territory while his violent gang waits to sneak attack you??! Well, when he’s the only other guy who volunteers, he is, by default, the perfect teammate.
On Their Own
Dan and Alex successfully get Wade to Contention City. But Wade’s right hand man discovers their location when he hears a gunshot from the hotel room where Dan has Wade in custody. And then it’s on! It’s a race against the clock to see what will happen first, the arrival of the 3:10 train to Yuma, or the regrouping and strategizing of Wade’s men in Contention City to set their boss free.
The local townspeople of Contention City are at first willing to form their own posse to help Dan and Alex fight off Wade’s men, and get Wade on the train. But then the volunteers realize that they’ll be outnumbered…and then Wade’s men arrive in town and they all have guns…and then the volunteers realize they could die…so one by one the townsmen desert. And once again, it is Dan and Alex against the world.
A Tragic Morale Boost
And what better time for Dan’s wife to show up?! This determined woman comes all the way to Contention City alone to tell her husband that he doesn’t have to go through with this impossible task, that there’s nothing to prove to anyone.
But Dan, who may have been in it only for the money at first, is now fully committed to his task after Alex gives his life to save Dan from the bullets of Wade’s posse. He tells his wife:
“I heard Alex scream. The town drunk gave his life because he believed that people should be able to live in decency and peace together.”
GO DAN!!! Watch the film to find out how he does it (and stop reading until the next heading if you don’t want the end of the film spoiled), but Dan successfully gets Wade on the 3:10 to Yuma, and neither man gets shot in the process, leaving Wade’s henchmen in the dust, literally. And then Dan and Wade pass by Dan’s wife on her way home and it starts raining, so we know everything’s going to be alright. THE END!!
Ford Chooses the Villain
By 1956 when casting for 3:10 to Yuma began, Glenn Ford was a huge star. He’d made a name for himself in the Western genre, and there was never a shortage of film roles coming his way.
Initially, Ford was given his choice of characters to play in the film, and it was kind of expected that he would choose the protagonist role, that of good-guy farmer Dan Evans. But Glenn surprised everyone, choosing the role of the villainous Ben Wade instead.
A Different Type of Role for Glenn Ford
As I mentioned in my intro post to Glenn, Ford’s natural nice-guy looks and demeanor led to a career of playing, quite uniformly, good-guy roles. Ford had played a few villains before, in The Man from Colorado (1949) and Lust for Gold (1949), but Ben Wade was Ford’s first chance to play a really nuanced, layered villain. Ben Wade may be the bad guy in 3:10 to Yuma, but his actions in the film show us that Wade is somehow kind of a decent guy.
For instance, when Wade and his men become aware that Dan and his sons witnessed the stagecoach robbery and murders, rather than kill these innocent witnesses, Wade just has his men take their horses so Dan and the boys can’t go tell the town marshal what they saw. This act, coupled with Ben’s insistence that the two men killed during the stagecoach robbery be transported to their hometowns for burial, give us hints right off the bat that though an outlaw, Ben Wade does have a moral code. There is something noble and even likeable about this bad guy!
A Layered Performance
Ford does an excellent job getting all these layers to the Ben Wade character across. In his perfectly underplayed way, Glenn shows us every emotion Wade experiences, with just a flicker of rage, compassion, or admiration in his eyes. Sometimes it’s just the way Ford repositions the hat on his head. Whatever the prop—his eyes, facial expression, hat, or even the upturning of his coat collar—Ford conveys to us everything his character is feeling and thinking, while appearing like the mysterious, cool outlaw at the same time.
Remember how I said last week in my post on Gilda (1944) that Ford’s playing of Johnny Farrell at times seemed a little forced in the cool guy department? Well, age and experience were good to Ford, and in my opinion, there is not a moment in 3:10 Yuma when he doesn’t pull off this bad boy villain role. By 1957, 20 years in to his screen career, Ford was nothing if not a seasoned pro, and it shows. He is superb in the film!
Elvis and Glenn Ford
In his fabulous book on his father, Peter Ford shares that in May of 1957, a few months before 3:10 to Yuma was released, his father took him to work with him one day on the MGM backlot. TO MEET ELVIS!!!!! Elvis and Glenn were both working at MGM at the time, and Elvis was filming Jailhouse Rock (1957) when Glenn took his son to meet this rock n’ roll legend. Peter shared that
“Apparently, Elvis was a big Glenn Ford fan, and we had a nice visit with him and his ‘boys.’ A few weeks later Dad brought home an autographed photo and nearly every record that Elvis had made at that time…After that first meeting Dad went back to the studio a few times and had lunch alone with Elvis. He took a liking to him and told me he was a very warm and pleasant fellow.”
Glenn Ford and Elvis. BFF’s forever!!! Ok, that’s obviously an overstatement, but it’s a fun pairing to imagine. And clearly these two guys really got along if they continued to have man dates together.
AND (!!!!) how would you like to have been young Peter Ford???? One of the perks of having a dad with such a successful career and amazing connections in “the business,” I suppose. Peter further shared that
“Dad wasn’t wild about Elvis’s music and didn’t know if as a singer he’d amount to anything more that a passing fad, but he thought that with diligence and determination Elvis could be a fine actor.”
Well, Glenn was wrong about the whole Elvis-not-amounting-to-much-with-his-music-thing, but I think Glenn was on to something with his opinion that Elvis had great acting talent. Don’t laugh, but I’m always really surprised at how good Elvis is in his films whenever acting is required. (Jailhouse Rock being case in point!)
More Glenn Ford Films on Monday!
Well, that’s it for my 3:10 to Yuma post! If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll watch this film! I don’t want to make this post any longer, and that’s the only thing stopping me from singing his praises in great detail, but boy is Van Heflin another underappreciated, amazing actor! You won’t be disappointed with the wonderful chemistry between him and Glenn in this film.
Did you watch 3:10 to Yuma this week? What do you think about this classic western and Glenn’s performance?
And don’t forget to tune in to TCM on Monday for another marathon of amazing Glenn Ford films! Check out the TCM film schedule for showtimes.
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My Favorite Kitchen Find
Aren’t these little pink ramekins adorable? I use mine for making personal-sized desserts, like these cakelettes, as well as for prep work, and for storing food in the refrigerator. These are such a stylish addition to the kitchen! Click to view my favorite on Amazon
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