3:10 to Yuma (Delmer Daves, 1957; James Mangold, 2007)

“Squeezin’ that watch ain’t gonna stop time.”

Plot Summary: After notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Glen Ford, Russell Crowe) is captured, a down-on-his-luck rancher, Dan Evans (Van Heflin, Christian Bale), escorts him to the town of Contention, where they hole up together in a hotel room and await the arrival of the 3:10 train to Yuma which is supposed to take Wade to jail.

Review:

Whereas the original 1957 classic is a taut, economically directed, character driven suspense drama with an emphasis on the psychological battle of wits between Wade and Evans, the action-packed remake, which seems to have a bloody shootout every ten minutes, emphasizes gratuitous violence and gore over the central character conflict, resulting in a serious dilution of dramatic and psychological tension. After all, how can a compelling battle of wits be waged when the characters are continually ducking bullets? Half of the original takes place in the aptly named town of Contention, where Wade relentlessly goads Evans with cruel mind games about his poor financial condition and inability to properly take care of his family. As the minutes to the train’s arrival slowly tick away, the tense situation inside their sweltering, claustrophobic hotel room grows increasingly volatile, with fuel only being added to the fire when Wade’s henchmen start to gather menacingly on the street below, scattering the frightened townsfolk. The remake, on the other hand, takes a good deal longer to arrive at Contention because of the addition of several unnecessary scenes, including a violent encounter with savage Injuns, which do little other than pad the running time and increase the body count/violence quotient. The mounting suspense generated by the intense psychological battle of wits between Ford and Heflin in the original, which finally comes to a head in a climactic shootout, is far more compelling than the virtually non-stop series of shootouts/bloodlettings the remake offers. The remake also suffers from an unfortunate character change: here Evans has lost a leg in the Civil War. The problem is that Mangold tries to have it both ways: he wants to generate easy sympathy for Evans by showing him limping and falling down early in the film, but at the climax he needs the character to shoot, run and jump from rooftop to rooftop as if he were competing in a Wild West triathlon. Admittedly, the ending of the original is also disappointing (in both versions Wade’s climactic change of heart is far-fetched), but at least it didn’t insult its audience’s intelligent by turning a peg-legged man into a gun-slinging track and field star.

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