One of the best westerns ever made, RIO BRAVO, was made as a conservative reaction against the 1957 Glenn Ford western, 3:10 TO YUMA. There were plot and character flaws in the Glenn Ford movie that the filmmakers behind RIO BRAVO, including John Wayne, were determined to correct.
This September, Hollywood is releasing a remake of 3:10 TO YUMA, this time starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Bale plays Dan Evans, a struggling family farmer who lost his foot fighting for the Union in the Civil War. Crowe plays Ben Wade, the ruthless leader of a ruthless gang of outlaws who have stolen railroad money 21 times.
The movie opens with Wade and his men robbing a money-laden stagecoach and killing all but one of the men hired by the railroad to guard it. Evans and his two sons, including 14-year-old William, see Wade’s gang finish their robbery. The gang takes their horses to make sure they don’t spread the alarm before the gang can get away.
Wade and his men, however, stop in the nearby town to quench their thirst before they head separately to Mexico. Wade decides to remain briefly in town so he can woo the pretty new waitress at the local saloon.
While Wade goes upstairs with the woman, Evans and his sons get to their horses where Wade promised to leave them. They ride into town with the wounded stagecoach guard, Byron McElroy, played by Peter Fonda. Evans recognizes Wade’s horse outside the saloon, but so do the local authorities. Evans watches in the saloon as they take Wade prisoner.
The railroad detective, Butterfield, decides to hire a posse to take Wade to the town of Contention, where the train can take him to Yuma, Arizona, the location of a Federal Court. Evans needs the money to save his family’s farm and help keep William’s tubercular brother alive. Butterfield hires Evans, Byron, the local vet, and another man for the posse. The cunning Wade has a few tricks up his sleeve, however. And, Wade’s ruthless right-hand man, Charlie Prince, is hurrying to re-gather the gang in time to free their friend. With Prince hot on their trail, it begins to look like none of the good guys will make it alive to board the 3:10 to Yuma.
This remake has similar flaws as its predecessor. First, except for Peter Fonda’s character and the railroad detective, all of the men hired for the posse to take Wade to the closest train station, including Evans, are amateurs. No wonder Wade seems to have such an easy time bamboozling them. Second, when it comes time to confront Wade’s gang (including Wade’s ruthless right-hand man, Charlie), Evans and the sheriff and deputies in Contention simply accept the gang’s threats when they should have told Charlie, “If you make a move to take back Wade, including kill us, we’ll just kill your friend and start shooting at you first.” These flaws are more than an intellectual exercise because, ultimately, they cause the movie to lose credibility and common sense.
RIO BRAVO deliberately corrected the flaws in the original 3:10 TO YUMA to make what is a better movie. (It also, by the way, deliberately corrected a couple flaws in the anti-McCarthy western HIGH NOON.)
The average moviegoer may not catch these flaws. Even so, despite the high production values and excellent performances in the new 3:10 TO YUMA, the movie has a couple other flaws. First, though Russell Crowe gives another great performance, there are aspects of Ben Wade’s character that don’t make sense. In the last part of the movie, he undergoes a change that isn’t compatible with the way his character appears in the earlier part of the movie. Secondly, the movie’s ending contains some unbelievable action scenes that strain credibility and go on too long (too many bullets flying for too long at a couple men who don’t get hit).
All in all, 3:10 TO YUMA has the basic verisimilitude that a modern western should have in order to compete with the great westerns of yesteryear. It doesn’t have the knowledge of the mythic and historical underpinnings of the genre, however, that propel movies like RIO BRAVO into a thrilling archetypal example of the Myth of the West created by the Golden Age of Hollywood.
3:10 TO YUMA also contains some strong profanities and obscenities and some very strong violence, including a scene where a man is shot in the neck and a scene where a bullet is removed from one man’s stomach. Although the movie contains a couple examples of moral relativism, the movie’s basic worldview is morally uplifting with some positive, but perhaps too oblique, biblical and Christian references, though the movie’s tone is too dark at times. For example, despite the movie’s positive references to God, Jesus and the Bible, Evans admits to his wife in one scene that he’s pretty much given up relying on God to do him a favor and help him save their farm. That’s why he decides to risk his life bringing Ben Wade to justice. Thus, taken as a whole, MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution regarding 3:10 TO YUMA.
(BB, C, Pa, Ab, LLL, VVV, S, NN, M) Strong moral worldview with some positive Christian references (such as a God-centered Jesus prayer before a meal, Bible quotes and leader of outlaws carries a pistol with a pearl setting on the handle of Jesus Christ on the Cross) undercut by some moral relativism and dark moments, including a piece of dialogue where the struggling hero confides to his wife that he’s tired of waiting on God to “do me a favor” and Bible-quoting outlaw accuses a religious side character of not always abiding by his Christian faith; about 28 obscenities and 11 strong profanities; lots of action violence and some brief very strong violence with some blood includes men set fire to barn, outlaws chase stagecoach full of loot and stagecoach crashes, many gunfights, some point blank shootings, man shot deliberately in neck, cold-blooded murder, sheriff of mining camp gives electric shocks to chest of outlaw who murdered his brother, and surgery to remove a bullet from someone’s stomach; implied fornication; man draws partial rear female nudity while looking at woman’s partially nude backside in a bed after implied sex and upper male nudity in at least two scenes; alcohol use; no smoking; and, robbery, rebellion against authority and deceit rebuked but evil actions are easily forgiven in the story (especially at the end) despite apparent evidence to the contrary.
3:10 TO YUMA is a remake of a popular 1957 western. The new one stars Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Bale plays a struggling farmer, Dan Evans. Dan tries to save his family’s farm by helping to take Crowe’s character Ben Wade, the ruthless leader of a gang of outlaws, to the train to Yuma for trial in a federal court. The cunning Wade has some tricks up his sleeve. And, Wade’s ruthless right-hand man is hurrying to gather the gang together in time to free their friend. With the gang approaching, it begins to look like the good guys will not make it alive for the 3:10 to Yuma.
Despite high production values and fine performances, 3:10 TO YUMA has plot and character flaws. The local sheriff authorities start off smart but make some big mistakes along the way. The villain’s character also doesn’t always make sense. Finally, the action-packed ending sometimes strains credibility and goes on too long. Also mixed is the fact that the movie’s morally uplifting elements and brief Christian references are undercut by some darker moments, strong foul language and images of very strong violence.