10 Classics to see this year was 3:10 TO YUMA (1957), a Western directed by Delmer Daves. 3:10 TO YUMA stars a pair of very fine actors, Van Heflin and Glenn Ford.
3:10 TO YUMA tells the story of Dan Evans (Heflin) who is eking out a hardscrabble living on his drought-stricken farm with his wife Alice (Leora Dana) and sons (Barry Curtis and Jerry Hartleben).
Evans has the chance to make some desperately needed cash by escorting Ben Wade (Ford), a charismatic but murderous stage robber, to prison in Yuma. In the tradition of HIGH NOON (1952), when Ben's gang is on the way to free him most people desert Dan, but he feels a sense of honor to go through with his job even though it likely will mean his death.
The movie has a very memorable opening, with a widescreen vista of a lonely stagecoach traveling across the desert while Frankie Laine sings the title song. The black and white cinematography by Charles Lawton Jr. and music by George Duning are superb throughout.
The film has a number of striking scenes, such as barmaid Emmy (Felicia Farr) filling a long row of glasses for Ford and his gang one by one, and Ford's subsequent seduction of the lonely girl. He's so charming you'd never know he'd just shot someone in cold blood hours before. It's one of Ford's best performances.
Heflin seems to be playing a less hopeful variation on his character from SHANE (1953); Dan is about at the end of his rope, although it seems that the prospect of facing death wakes him up to what a fortunate man he really is despite the hardships.
I first knew Leora Dana from WILLIAMSBURG: THE STORY OF A PATRIOT (1957) which was shown multiple times when I was in grade school; I also saw it on a trip to Williamsburg! She was also in SOME CAME RUNNING (1958) and POLLYANNA (1960). Dana does a fine job as Heflin's tired but loyal wife.
That said, this is the kind of film I typically like better when I revisit it; I don't particularly enjoy suspense, and when I already know how a movie will end I find I can relax and take more in the second time around.
The screenplay of this 92-minute film was by Halsted Welles, based on a story by Elmore Leonard (THE TALL T).
The supporting cast includes Henry Jones, Ford Rainey, Dorothy Adams, and Richard Jaeckel. I thought Robert Emhardt was particularly fine as the stagecoach owner; he initially seems as though he might be a bit of a buffoon but proves to be made of sterner stuff.
Sincere thanks to Blake Lucas for providing a beautiful widescreen DVD so I could enjoy the movie as it was meant to be seen.
3:10 TO YUMA is available in a special edition DVD or on DVD or Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection.