A Different Kind of Western: 3:10 to Yuma (1957)

Welcome to this Wednesday’s Blue Light Special which is an installment of the Original vs. Remake series. This month’s movie is 3:10 to Yuma. As usual, I will do the original. On Friday, Tiffany A. White will do the remake.

The Movie

3:10 to Yuma was released August 7, 1957. It was based on a short story of the same title by Elmore Leonard.


The movie starred Van Helfin as Dan Evans and Glenn Ford as Ben Wade. It was directed by Delmer Daves, who was known for his work on Westerns. This film features stunningly crisp black and white cinematography, which was done by Charles Lawton, Jr.


A timid rancher who is down on his luck finds himself responsible for making sure a smooth-tongued outlaw does not escape justice.

Watch the trailer:


The Conflict

I don’t normally do this, but I’d like to talk in detail about the setup of this movie. I think it is a great example of how to set up conflict.

The movie opens with a stagecoach robbery. Dan Evans and his two sons watch the robbery from a distance. Dan does nothing. When his sons ask why, he says taking action would get them killed. The robbery concludes with the murder of one of the victims, and the outlaws take Dan Evans’s horses.

Dan Evans (played by Van Helfin) is a cattle rancher losing his stock to a drought. He could save his stock by paying one of his neighbors $200 to allow the cattle to drink from his spring. Dan, however, does not have this kind of money and knows no way to get it. He is a good, honest man. His flaw is not quite cowardice, but he certainly doesn’t want to take any risks.

The point of view switches to that of the outlaws. They go to the next town and belly up to the bar. They have a conversation which reveals they are highly sought after by law enforcement.

It is also revealed that the leader of the gang, Ben Wade, is a smooth talker. The outlaws ride out of town, agreeing to scatter and meet back up at a location. Ben Wade, the leader of the outlaws, stays behind to seduce the barmaid.

After returning home and saddling up another horse, Dan Evans goes to town to report the robbery and send help to the victims. There, he runs into Ben Wade. With the help of the marshal, Wade is arrested. Evans thinks his part is done and prepares to go home. However, he is offered $200 to escort Wade to a nearby town where he will be put on the 3:10 train to Yuma to face trial.

The conflict is obvious. In order to save his cattle and feed his family, Dan Evans must go against his basic nature and get involved. His prisoner, Ben Wade, is going to do everything in his power to smooth talk Evans into letting him go — including offering him $10,000. And, if that doesn’t work, Wade’s men will try to rescue him.

Dan Evans has taken a risk, and it mushroomed on him.  No matter what he does, he’s in danger.  So what does he do?

About the Movie

3:10 To Yuma brought the Western genre to a new level of sophistication. Though the movie is obviously a Western because of the setting and because of the character’s costumes, it is more psychological thriller than it is traditional shoot-em-up. The events that unfold could take place in any setting and with any characters.

Ben Wade presented a new kind of villain. He was a fully developed character — not a black and white cut out. Wade pushes Evans to take a stand and to define his own morality.

Unlike most westerns of the day, a great deal of 3:10 To Yuma took place in a closed room. This style of Western became  known as a Chamber Western because of the intense psychological conflict between the hero and the villain.

3:10 To Yuma also featured a title song that became a hit of the day. The song’s lyrics were written by Ned Washington and George Duning. It was sung by Frankie Laine. Listen to the song:


The Bottom Line

Will your life be the same if you never see 3:10 To Yuma? Perhaps, but it is worth your time.

The movie is a great example of a protagonist who experiences a change in the way he thinks, which translates into a change in the way he acts. The conflict is amazingly well set up. The characterizations are very well done.

While I consider this a classic, I wonder if it wouldn’t be improved in a remake. The ending of the original was a bit thin and unsatisfying–to me. I will be curious to see what Tiffany thinks about it.  Be sure to check out her post this coming Friday.

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So.  3:10 to Yuma.  Seen it?  Loved it?  Hated it?  What about Westerns in general?  Are you fan?

How to get your hands on 3:10 to Yuma:

Since this is the Blue Light Special, I’ll now tell you where you can find both the movie and the short story.

The short story by Elmore Leonard is available in more than one collection, and I’ve listed two of them:

3:10 to Yuma and Other Stories (Amazon)

The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard (Amazon)

The movie is available for purchase at both iTunes and Amazon.  I didn’t find it for rent on streaming video.  I ended up obtaining it from our Blockbuster DVD by mail subscription.

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