Directed by Delmer Daves, the original 1957 3:10 to Yuma is now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection. The stunning visual presentation is special even by Criterion’s high standards, helping to make this western well worth revisiting. The film is a meditation on honor and trust. Typical western action, be it gunfights or chases, is kept to a striking minimum. Set in the Arizona Territory during the 1880s, the title refers to the time and destination of a specific train route. The intended passenger is outlaw Ben Wade (Glenn Ford). The man trying to get him on that train is rancher and family man Dan Evans (Van Heflin). The unusual relationship between these two men is the crux of 3:10.
It all starts with something of a bang when Wade and his men hold up a stagecoach owned by wealthy businessman Mr. Butterfield (Robert Emhardt). Not content with mere robbery, Wade casually murders the coach driver and one of his own men in the process. Evans and his two young sons witness the mayhem. Somewhat understandably apprehensive of getting too involved, Evans initially plans to simply mind his own business. His wife, Alice (Leora Dana), takes issue with such passiveness, fearing the example it sets for their boys. After Wade is captured (he couldn’t resist a quick nooner with a beautiful barmaid played by Felicia Farr), the town marshal fears what will happen when his posse returns. Evans steps up when Butterfield offers a handsome sum to surreptitiously escort Wade out of town on the 3:10 to Yuma.
Successfully underplaying their roles, Heflin and especially Ford are truly excellent as Evans and Wade. Ford brings an irresistible charm to the cold-blooded killer. It’s easy to see, particularly during a dinner scene with Evans and his family, how folks are tempted to like and even trust him. But he conveys a sinister edge that lurks just below the façade. Heflin has the less showy challenge of painting Evans as a slightly ineffectual, but well-meaning, husband and father who must summon a great deal of courage. The pacing is deliberate, making the most of its 92 minutes to tell what is ultimately a deceptively simple story.
Criterion has done Charles Lawton Jr.’s cinematography proud with a stunning transfer. This 4K restoration presents spot-on perfect visuals from start to finish. The image, framed at 1.85:1, is sharp and detailed. Close ups look terrific, but even more impressive are the wide shots. Especially in outdoor shots capturing the stark beauty of the American Southwest, clarity is remarkably high. There’s a scene early on at a saloon, with Ben Wade’s gang lined up at the bar, where the details of each actor’s face and costume is crisp no matter their distance from the camera. Fine grain is consistent throughout. The source print was totally clean as this transfer is spotless.
Audio is offered as a choice between the original mono or 5.1 DTS-HD MA. I recommend the simple 1.0 presentation, which is all that is really needed to convey the original sound design. Both options are excellent, however, with the 5.1 opening things up just a bit. George Duning’s score sounds great on each track, skillfully weaving in variations on the melody to the Frankie Laine-sung theme song. Incidentally, things get a little meta when Ben Wade begins whistling the theme himself. Elmore Leonard, who wrote the short story upon which the film is based, only realized this recently, as he explains in an included interview.
Speaking of that interview, it’s one of two new supplements Criterion put together for this release. The 13-minute segment is an extremely interesting look at Leonard’s very early career as a writer of western stories. He also throws in a few comments about the 2007 remake and some changes that were made to his story. There’s also a 16-minute piece with Peter Ford, son of Glenn Ford. He speaks authoritatively about his father’s career. Rounding out the extras is another of Criterion’s excellent booklets, this one featuring an essay by film critic Kent Jones. Perfect picture, sound, and a modest selection of bonus features make 3:10 to Yuma a terrific addition to The Criterion Collection.