After a stagecoach is robbed, down-on-his-luck rancher Dan Evans (Van Heflin), in order to earn money for his family, volunteers to take the captured gang leader Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) to be transported away aboard the 3: 10 train to Yuma, all the while perused by Wade’s gang.
At the centre of this film are the two central performances. On the one hand, Van Heflin is the moralistic, determined, quick thinking everyman who must overcome the odds and transport his prisoner, for the sake of doing the right thing and providing for his wife and two sons. He certainly makes for a strong protagonist and we have no trouble in supporting him throughout, even when the pressure clearly starts to get to him.
And on the other side is Ford’s outlaw Ben Wade; far from being the grizzled, nasty villain you may find in other westerns, Wade is a cool, calm, collected, confident and charismatic character (a cacophony of “c” adjectives there!) who has that constant look of having an ace up his sleeve, safe in the knowledge that things will go his way soon. His is the best performance of the film as he gently bribes and taunts Heflin’s rancher, taking his time as he coolly observes events.
The pivotal battle of wills between these two characters forms the backbone of the story and both Heflin and Ford play their parts perfectly, setting up a definitive tense atmosphere throughout. In addition, there is also a certain sense of mutual respect between the two men, making this relationship unique and fascinating.
The story of 3: 10 to Yuma is straightforward, not bothering with complex twists or too many characters. The relative simplicity of it all is very refreshing and at only 92 minutes, it is a pleasure to sit through and it is never boring.
Also, Frankie Laine’s opening and closing rendition of the song “3: 10 to Yuma” is wonderful and his dulcet tones certainly add to the film’s appeal.
With two pitch perfect performances at the centre, 3: 10 to Yuma is a wonderful, tense, exciting western adventure.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
And now I’m off to watch the 2007 remake . . . 😉