3:10 to Yuma (1957) Delmer Daves

310Yuma1957FordHefflinThere is a moral compass to 3:10 to Yuma that some may find, sadly, a bit dated. We have a man who stands up for what he believes in; what he believes is morally the right thing to do. There is a similarity to High Noon. Like Gary Cooper’s Will, Van Heflin’s Dan is one man, basically all alone (he does have one alcoholic townie who stays with him, but is killed before the final shootout), fighting off a coming evil as the rest of the town decides to give up, run and hide. Time is another element the two films have it common. For Gary Cooper, there a high noon deadline when his former adversary, recently released from prisoner, is expected to arrive in town on the noon train. For Van Heflin, it’s also a train arriving at 3:10 that forces a final confrontation. In both films, clocks or watches are constantly seen building the tension as the deadlines to a deadly shootout come closer.

 

Ford3:10 to Yuma is a stark black and white film with beautiful long shadows that enhance the beauty of this film. Right from the beginning, director Delmar Daves fills the screen with them. The stagecoach, just before the robbery, we see the horses’ shadows as the stages hurries along. Later in the town of Contention there are shadows as Dan rides into town with Glenn Ford’s Ben Wade. There are similar elegant shots right up until the finale with the arrival of the train. Additionally, Daves use of camera angles are brilliantly executed. Even in simple shots like in the hotel room he keeps the camera low shooting up; a two shot with Dan in the foreground and Wade lying in bed in the background evoking a moody quality. High Noon may be a better film but 3:10 to Yuma is poetically photographed.

Glenn Ford, an actor I sometimes find dull (I have said this before), however here he is anything but. His Ben Wade is a complex character. An outlaw who has his own kind of convoluted code or morality; locked into a psychological mind game with Van Heflin’s family man. It’s one of Ford’s most interesting performances. Ford is always better when he plays a character with a nasty side to him (Gilda, The Big Heat). Van Heflin’s character is reminiscent of his role in Shane; a family man out to do the right thing for his family, the town and himself. Van Heflin always gives a solid performance and the scenes between him and Ford are superbly played out.

FarrThere’s a good supporting cast that includes the always evil Richard Jaeckel, Henry Jones and a small but important role by Felicia Farr as a bartender who Ford takes a liking too and inadvertently is the cause for his getting captured.

If the film has a weakness it’s the ending. I was not convinced that Ben Wade would have given in to helping Dan and saving his life. It’s a complete turnaround that is not hinted at previously in the script.  It just feels like an artificially quick happy ending. It’s not helped by the final shots of Dan waving to his wife, who arrives at the scene on her buckboard, as the train pulls away. Other than for this flaw, the script by Halsted Welles, based on a story by the great Elmore Leonard, is superbly developed in its characterization.

Richard Avedon and Funny Face

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Richard Avedon was one of the best known and most influential portrait and fashion photographers of his day. He changed the concept of what was fashion photography and how it was presented. He has remains an artistic hero to many, right to this day. Born in 1923, in New York City, Avedon’s parents were both in the fashion business. His father, Jacob Avedon, owned and ran Avedon’s Fifth Avenue, a clothing store. With his family background, young Richard took an early interest in fashion and began photographing outfits from his father’s store. When he was twelve years old, Richard became a member of the Camera Club at the Young Men’s Hebrew Association. Continue reading

Framed (1947) Richard Wallace

framed1947Framed is James M. Cain light. It’s Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, shaken and stirred. All the ingredients are there, the protagonist, the sap of a guy falling hard for a duplicitous femme fatale who crosses and double crosses anyone who gets in her way. There’s also the dame’s lover, a debonair, adulterous, underhanded white-collar thief masquerading as a model citizen. Continue reading

The Window (1949) Ted Tetzlaff

windowBased on a short story (The Boy Cried Murder) by the reclusive, alcoholic and prolific writer, Cornell Woolrich, The Window is a claustrophobic tight little thriller filled with fire escapes and old tenement buildings that dramatically frame this tale of a young boy, a compulsive teller of tales, who witnesses a murder on a hot urban city night…and no one believes him. Continue reading

A “Jaws” 4th of July

Jaws Beach RunI can’t help but not be very surprised by the reaction from authorities in North Carolina after the recent increase in shark attacks – “The beaches will remain open.” After hearing this, the first thought that came into my head was Jaws. The local politicians and business owners in Spielberg’s classic film reacted exactly the same way. It’s the 4th of July weekend, one of the biggest moneymaking times of the year. Closing the beaches will ruin the local economy. Public safety, sure that’s needed, but hey, business first. North Carolina has already experienced seven shark attacks this year. Add in the three attacks that occurred in South Carolina, and that puts the two neighboring states at ten. On average, the two Carolina’s combined normally have about six or seven attacks all year. Continue reading

Let Us Live (1939) John Brahm

let_us_live2With Henry Fonda in the lead role of an innocent man convicted and sentenced to die in the electric chair, this 1939 film brings to mind Alfred Hitchcock’s better known and similar themed work, The Wrong Man. And like his character in Hitchcock’s film, he cooperates with the police, since he has nothing to hide, only to find himself arrested, and convicted, for a crime, he did not commit. In this case murder. Continue reading

The Major and the Minor (1942) Billy Wilder

There was no love lost between Billy Wilder and film director Mitchell Leisen. Over the course of many interviews Billy expressed his strong feelings that Leisen ruined his scripts. He had no regard for the written word, changing, moving and deleting lines without a thought to storyline. Yet in Cameron Crowe’s essential, “Conversations with Wilder,” Billy states, “Midnight, that was a good picture.” The distaste for Leisen seems to stem more from the making of “Hold Back the Dawn,” the final film Wilder, and his partner Charles Brackett, wrote for Leisen (their final screenplay before Wilder embarked on his directing career was “Ball of Fire” for Howard Hawks who Wilder admired). “As a director,” Wilder said to Crowe, “he was alright. You could get to be an old man writing just Mitch Leisen pictures.”  In “Hold Back the Dawn,” there was a scripted scene involving a cockroach that was never filmed. Wilder and Brackett worked on this scene for many long hours but Charles Boyer refused to talk to a cockroach, as the script dictated, a bit which would have showed a softer side to his character. Leisen, siding with his star, just cut the scene out without regard. This burned Billy and they fought and fought, but Billy, just a writer, low in the Hollywood hirarchy, lost the battle. In Leisen’s defense, one just has to take a look at “Midnight” and “Hold Back the Dawn” and ask how bad can he have destroyed them? Both of these films are good and still contain the wit and intelligence of Wilder’s and Brackett’s work. What’s lacking, is the acidic cynicism that Wilder’s self directed films contained throughout much of his career. I liked that cynicism, it is part of what separated and defined Wilder from most everyone else.      Continue reading