Monday, December 01, 2008

Monday Movie Review: 3:10 to Yuma (Compare & Contrast)

3:10 to Yuma (1957) 8/10
Rancher Dan Evans (Van Heflin) is on the edge of losing it all when outlaw Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) is captured. Desperate for money, Dan agrees to help escort Wade to the town of Contention, where he will be put on the 3:10 train to Yuma prison.

So, here's an interesting thing: I saw the remake of this (and reviewed it), then saw the original, then saw the remake again. The 1957 original is considered a classic of the genre, and as my loyal readers know, I loved the remake. So I thought that, instead of a regular review, I would talk about the original in light of the remake.

The original movie does an interesting thing in its casting. Glenn Ford is a perennial good guy, handsome and always cast on the side of right. Van Heflin is generally a good guy as well, but more of a character actor, with a beaten face that can be open and kind, or very dark indeed. The first thought would be that Ford is playing Dan Evans here, but his sweetheart charm is perfect for Ben Wade. In fact, I was surprised to see how much the character was the same in the two films. I don't know if Russell Crowe has seen the original, or if it was all in the script or the short story by Elmore Leonard or what, but the good-natured seductiveness of pure evil is all over both actors, and it works like crazy. The remake didn't do this kind of tricky casting. Either man could have played either character; Christian Bale has already played both villains and heroes, and Crowe's good guys generally have a poison within.

More... Dan Evans is a man looking for redemption. He is a failure, his ranch about to be repossessed. In the original, Dan is ashamed in front of his wife, while his children adore him. In the remake, his marriage is in better shape, if not exactly idyllic—it is his older son who disdains him. And having seen the remake, the gosh-golly adoration of the original's boys is irritating, but it leaves room for a very interesting marriage indeed. Dan and Alice (Leora Dana) are really working out something about respect and family, and, as Dan struggles to better himself in her eyes, ultimately it is Alice who must step up and help them both see it. In the remake, Dan's relationship with his son is parallel to this, but how can I not appreciate a Western that gives a woman the kind of power that Alice Evans has?

Both films have intelligent plots, reflecting that the characters are intelligent people. The townfolk know that capturing Ben Wade is as much a problem as a boon, and they must outsmart his gang, and the Wade gang is very smart indeed. This leads to some clever machinations in transporting Wade.

The virtue of the 1957 film is in its tightness and simplicity. By contrast, the 2007 film makes a virtue of its sweep and action. It is an "opened up" film that succeeds in showing the West as a whole, whereas the original is interested in showing the Evans family's little piece of it.

In the end, I like the remake better. A beautiful, modern Western is a thing to behold, and a rarity. In the canon of 1950s Westerns, the original is minor, if excellent. I can only suggest you see both.

(Original cross-post)