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3:10 to Yuma

Though Glenn Ford played a lot of authorial figures (from the incorruptible cop in The Big Heat to Clark Kent's dad in Superman), he was at his most entertaining when he played a heel. Maybe, like Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West, it's just nice to see someone known for their decency to play against type, or maybe it's because roles like this allow them to show the demons they don't normally admit to. Whatever it is, watching Ford play Ben Wade, the leader of one the west's toughest gang, in 3:10 to Yuma (1957) is electric, as he underplays his benevolent but charming bad guy. After robbing a stagecoach and killing the driver, Wade and his gang head to the small town Bisbee for a drink, but while there Wade runs into a pretty lady (Felicia Farr) he can't help but seduce. Meanwhile, Dan Evans (Van Heflin) — the farmer Wade let live while holding up the stagecoach — helps the law trap the outlaw. Bisbee is such a small place that Wade's gang could probably wipe it out, so the townsfolk figure the best thing to do is get Wade on the 3:10 train to Yuma — but that's a day and a town away. It's then up to Evans and the town drunk (the familiar supporting actor Henry Jones) to get him there. Wade won't go to jail easily, so he tries every single way to try and corrupt Evans, but Evans — whose manhood is threatened by Wade's easy charm — has something to prove, and he's willing to prove it. Delmer Daves' 1957 western has an uneven start, with its pedestrian cinematography and scenes of Heflin's wife scolding him for not being moral enough. But once the story has Ford's character commanding the screen, the film starts cooking and rarely lets up. Some say 90% of directing is casting, which could be proven here as Heflin and Ford are perfect for their roles — Heflin has the look of failure that makes one wonder what past transgression is fueling his stubbornness, and the provocative, virile Ford makes the most of a bad guy any woman would want to cozy up to. Their battle of wills reminds one of the same battle in Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight, as the chase is the thing in both stories. But perhaps that should be no surprise, since both movies are based on books by Elmore Leonard. A tight piece of genre filmmaking, 3:10 to Yuma deserves its reputation as a genre classic. Columbia TriStar's DVD presents the movie in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) with full-frame on the flip-side and monaural DD 2.0 audio. Bonus trailers, keep-case.

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