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.

Rawhide (1951) Henry Hathaway

Rawhide3 Though written by Dudley Nichols, Rawhide is no Stagecoach. Still, the film is interesting despite the fact it never manages to rise above the norm. The setting is a stagecoach relay station in the middle of nowhere. Tyrone Power is Tom Owens, the son of the station’s owner, who has come west to take over the family business with old timer Sam Todd (Edgar Buchanan) teaching him the ropes. When the stage pulls in one day, among the passengers on board are Vinnie Holt (Susan Hayward) and her very young niece. Soon after, a Calvary patrol stops by warning everyone that four men have recently broken out of the state prison and are in the area. Due to the potential danger, and company regulations, the stage driver refuses to take Vinnie and the child any further. They are forced to remain at the relay station which turns out to be more of a danger than had she been allowed to continue on her journey with the stage. Continue reading

My Darling Clementine (1946) John Ford

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In John Ford’s 1962 late career masterpiece, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” there’s a line quoted by the town’s newspaper editor, Maxwell Scott, “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” And that’s just what John Ford was best at, recording the west not as it was, but as more of a mystical fable of how we want the west to be best remembered. Ford and his screenwriters play loose with the facts, still it is one of the most visually stunning of westerns, a black and white canvas of the west as it never existed, but we all wish it had.

Earp’s career has been idolized, revised and sanitized many times over. He was only a lawman for about eight years, and in Tombstone, it was Wyatt’s brother Virgil who was the Marshal with Wyatt and Virgil his deputies.(1) Not to bore you dear reader with the facts, but neither Doc Holliday nor Pop Clanton died during the short thirty second battle. Wyatt actually met Doc Holliday in Dodge City back in 1876 five years before the O.K. Corral shootings.  When they left for Tombstone, John “Doc” Holliday followed. If you want a somewhat more realistic, though still not totally accurate, version of what happened back in 1881 at the O.K. Corral and its aftermath, check out John Sturges “Hour of the Gun.” Oh yeah, a couple of other things, when Wyatt visits the grave of the youngest Earp, James who was killed by the Clanton’s early in the film, his tombstone reads he died in 1882 instead of ’81 when the shootout occurred. And as for Clementine Carter, well she is a purely fictional character. Continue reading

The Ox Bow Incident (1943) William Wellman

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At this point in his career, Henry Fonda was not happy with most of the films he had made. Steinbeck’s classic novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” was certainly one he was proud of, and thanks to John Ford, he got the role of a lifetime. Like Brando as Stanley Kowalski, or Cagney as George M. Cohan, it’s hard to imagine anyone else fitting the role of Tom Joad other than Henry Fonda. But there was a price to be paid for getting that part. 20th Century Fox honcho, Darryl F. Zanuck would only give him the role if he signed a contract with the studio. One of the films he made for Fox during this period was “The Ox-Bow Incident,” based on Walter Van Tilbert Clark’s extraordinary novel. Directed by William “Wild Bill” Wellman, the film is an oddity in westerns of the period. In 1943, the war was on and most films focused on lightweight escapist entertainment, a two hour break from worrying about husbands, fathers, sons and the horrors of what was happening in the world. “The Ox-Bow Incident” was not lightweight entertainment, it was a downbeat, ugly look at humanity with little gun play, focusing on vigilantism, group mentality, reducing men to the lowest primal level of thoughts and deeds.  It is also possibly the first psychological western ever made. Continue reading

The Far Country (1954) Anthony Mann

James Stewart’s dark side is on full display in this upper north western. As usual with an Anthony Mann western the landscape plays an important part, the Canadian Rockies are majestic, though here the landscape is a combination of the natural beauty and artificial backlots whereas Mann’s other westerns were filmed entirely on location. This gives “The Far Country” a more ethereal tone that fits in with Stewart’s character, Jeff Webster, a man who isolates himself from all others in the film except for Ben Tatum, Walter Brennan’s old timer, whose death will trigger him into action.

Stewart’s Jeff Webster is a loner by choice, anti-social, he lives by his own code and depends on no one. “I don’t need help, I take care of me,” he tells Ben, the only person in the film he lets in anyway get close to him. They have been good friends for many years and Ben is very fond of Jeff. Yet, like the Canadian landscape, where much of the film takes place, Stewart remains cold and isolated from everyone else. Continue reading

24 Frames at Movie Fan Fare Blog

My review of Anthony Mann’s The Man From Laramie has been given a guess blogger’s spot at Movie Fan Fare. Click here to see the review.

The Man From Laramie (1955) Anthony Mann

This review contains spoilers

The 1950’s is arguably the finest decade for western films with not only the work of Anthony Mann, but fine work from John Ford (The Searchers, The Horse Soldiers, Rio Grande) , Howard Hawks (Rio Bravo) , Fred  Zinnemann (High Noon)  and Delmar Daves  (3:10 to Yuma, Broken Arrow, Cowboy) among some lesser known works. “The Man from Laramie” was the final collaboration between Anthony Mann and James Stewart and the first in Cinemascope culminating a brilliant artistic partnership with one the finest westerns of all time.

James Stewart gives another mesmeric performance as Will Lockhart, one more in the line of Mann obsessed cowboys on a revenge seeking mission. Here Stewart’s character is looking for the man responsible for his brother’s death, a soldier in the Calvary whose unit was wiped out by repeating rifle toting Apaches purchased from white men. Three men become Lockhart’s prime suspects, land baron Alec Waggoman (Donald Crisp), his hot headed insecure son Dave (Alex Nicol) and the head ranch foreman Vic (Arthur Kennedy).

Like past Mann/Stewart characters Will Lockhart is not your typical machismo cowboy, he’s unsure and remains vulnerable at times, similar to lead characters in “Winchester ’73” and “The Naked Spur.” Mann’s other male characters in this film display signs of stunted masculinity. Papa Alec overly protective of his uncontrollable son Dave (who reminds me of the John Cassavetes role in the 1958 film “Saddle the Wind”) struggling to meet the stature of his father, acting more like a spoiled child who cannot get his way than an adult, and then there is Vic the foreman who has been like the son Alec never had. Vic will come to realize that no matter what Alec has promised him he will get when he dies; Dave is his blood and will get everything. A sense of tragedy hangs over Alec who was once the most ruthless and powerful man is now forced to face his own vulnerability, he is going blind and with it goes his strength.

Unlike other Mann westerns I have written about so far this film has two female characters instead of one. First there is Barbara Waggoman (Cathy O’Donnell), Alec’s niece who runs the General Store. Barbara has no love for her callous Uncle Alec as she watched him cheat his brother, and her now dead father, out of his share of land. Like other Mann heroines she is in love, at least in the beginning, with the “bad” guy in the story, in this case Vic. The other main female, and the more important role, is Kate Canady (Aline McMahon), the only rancher not afraid to stand up to the Waggoman’s greed, though she does shares a secret with Lockhart, that she has been in love with old Alec for years. With his oncoming blindness and sense of helplessness she will finally get her man.

“The Man from Laramie” struck me as one of the more sadistic westerns I have come across, two scenes in particular stand out, first during Lockhart’s first altercation with the Waggoman empire when he and his men are surrounded by Dave and some ranch hands for “stealing” salt from the Waggonman’s flats. Lockhart was told by Barbara Waggoman he could take the salt claiming nobody cared. Lockhart discovers otherwise when he quickly finds a rope around his waist and is dragged across the flats. Dave then orders Lockhart’s wagons burned and his mules shot. The second scene is even more unsettling. After being wounded with a gunshot in his hand in an earlier shootout with Lockhart, Dave gets his revenge when his boys capture Will. They hold Lockhart down and with Mann’s camera up close in Lockhart’s face Dave puts a bullet in Lockhart’s shooting hand. While you do not see the gun shot on screen, the scene is so powerful you wince more than once feeling the pain.

Another interesting aspect of this film are the dreams land Baron Alec Waggoman suffers. He wants Lockhart out of town and is even willing to pay to get him out. We find out the this is due to a fear from  a continuous dream Alec has experienced two or three times a week for a long time where a tall, lean stranger is going to come to town and kill his boy. The old man wants Lockhart out. In the end the old man’s dream is deadly to his son as anticipated but only partially correct.

The film is based on a short story by Thomas T. Flynn that originally appeared in the Saturday Evening Post with a screenplay by Philip Yordan and Frank Burt. One problem I had with the film is the lack of motive given to the son Dave for selling rifles to the Indians. It does not do him or his family any good, in fact it is probably was a dangerous move since the Apaches it is assumed would use the weapons against them. One other minor thing is that the film’s title is a misnomer. While he came from Laramie with goods that he initially was delivering in the wagons, Lockhart states later in a conversation with Barbara Waggoman that he has no home and is basically a drifter.  

*****