Blog Directory CineVerse: Time + tension = Western thrills

Time + tension = Western thrills

Thursday, November 9, 2017

"3:10 to Yuma" certainly owes a debt to its genre predecessor "High Noon." The latter set the template for higher-tension Western drama driven by the ticking down of a clock, the theme of a man abandoned by his community and doomed to go it alone against insurmountable odds, and a plaintive theme song that gets repeated throughout the movie. Yet the former stands on its own as a distinctive genre outing that presents a riveting test of wills between two very different men – a conflict that could have been transplanted to a modern setting or other genre, such as film noir.

After parsing through this picture last evening, our CineVerse group came to the following conclusions:


  • While it features the visual iconography of a classic Western, it arguably feels more like a suspense thriller, psychological drama, or even film noir. Consider that this story could have been set in a modern, urban landscape. 
  • Wade isn’t your stock villain: he’s complex and somewhat unpredictable; on one hand, Wade is an outlaw capable of violence and lawbreaking, yet he has a roguish charm and capacity for civility. Criterion Collection essayist Kent Jones wrote about Wade: he’s a “charming outlaw who shoots down two men, including one of his own, and doesn’t even stop for a breath; who is prone to romantic reveries and expressions of tenderness; who shifts in the blink of an eye from the affable to the mercenary and back again…a remorse­less murderer with a capacity for awe. Critic David Thomson has complained that the film suffers from Ford’s “inability to be nasty,” but that is pretty much the point: goodness and mercy often arrive unannounced in this film, and come as a surprise even to those who bestow them.” 
    • Glenn Ford is playing against type here, as he was often cast as the good guy in so many pictures before this. 
  • The film is shot in black and white during a period when virtually all Westerns were made in color. It was also filmed on location in Arizona, not on some Hollywood backlot made to look like an old Western setting. 
    • Per Rob Nixon of Turner Classic Movies, “the exterior sequences are also very striking; Daves used red filters to give a heightened, harsher sense of a land ravaged by drought, and sets the action against homesteads and towns whose almost barren physicality and less-than-upright citizenry place them at the edge of civilization, a narrative space well suited to the story's ambiguities and tensions.” 
  • Also different from previous Westerns, this one isn’t a traditional white hat/black hat moral parable that espouses conventional values endemic to this genre, such as living by a code of honor and displaying the heroic traits of rugged individualism. “3:10 to Yuma” is a tale with a contemporary feel about two flawed and contrasting characters trying to do what’s in their respective best interests. 
  • The original tale was written by crime fiction novelist Elmore Leonard, famous author of “Out of Sight,” “Get Shorty,” and “Rum Punch.” Perhaps that’s what helps him view it with a noir-ish vibe.
  • Mann’s internal struggle between doing what’s right and honest and taking the easy way out for personal gain or increased odds of survival. 
  • Slant Magazine reviewer Chuck Bolan believed this film was a “study in masculinity that dramatizes a man’s struggle to balance the needs of his community – or in this case, his family – with his personal needs as an individual.” 
  • A battle of wills between two very different men – one who is insecure, frustrated and stressed and the other who is self-confident, charismatic, calm and cool. 
  • The loneliness and hardship of life in the old West. 
  • Drought – literally and figuratively. The land is desperate for rain and Dan is desperate for money and security. 
  • High Noon 
  • Shane 
  • The Hateful Eight 
  • The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford 
  • The Proposition 
  • The Rover 
  • Broken Arrow 
  • Dark Passage 
  • Destination Tokyo
  • The Hanging Tree

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