3:10 TO YUMA
Running time 117 minutes
Written by Halsted Welles, Michael Brandt and Derek Haas
Directed by James Mangold
Starring Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Peter Fonda
James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma, from a screenplay by Halsted Welles, Michael Brandy and Derek Haas, and based on the short story by Elmore Leonard, may be considered less a remake of Delmer Daves’ 1957 3:10 to Yuma than a resurrection of both the film and its now unfashionable genre. The first 3:10 to Yuma, with Glenn Ford and Van Heflin in the lead roles now played by Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, was adapted from the Leonard story by Welles, both of whom received writing credits on the remake.
The original version has been considerably expanded, from the 92-minute running time of a 50’s programmer to a two-hour epic of the post Civil War Wild West, as befits a 21st-century Hollywood A-picture star vehicle for Oscar winner Russell Crowe. What has been preserved is the essentially buddy-buddy bad-man/good-man chemistry of the original, which had Glenn Ford, usually typecast as the bland hero, reversing his image to play a humorously charismatic villain with a weakness for women, opposite Van Heflin as a desperately struggling farmer with a wife and children, so close to ruin that he jumps at the offer of the stagecoach company to pay him $200 to put the outlaw Ben Wade on the 3:10 to Yuma to stand trial before being hanged. In the remake, Christian Bale plays the farmer, Dan Evans, with some extra biographical details, like having a bad limp from an amputated foot sustained in the war on the Union side, as a member of the Massachusetts Volunteers. Most of the other men in the film seem to have fought for the Confederacy, and Dan takes some good-natured ribbing on the subject from Crowe’s outlaw chieftain, Ben Wade.
There is more greed-driven corruption in the remake than there was in the original, and the striving for social significance is similarly enhanced by showing Chinese coolies working on the Transcontinental Railroad through the Arizona mountainside, across which Dan and several deputies must pass to take Ben Wade to the town of Contention for the train to Yuma. Another difference between the two versions is the number of killings along the way. Actually, I lost count after the first 20. Still, I can’t be more specific about what happens amid all the carnage, because that is where all the fun and suspense come in, and besides, the 1957 version is now available on DVD. Suffice it to say that Mr. Crowe’s Ben Wade is vastly amusing as a Renaissance man outlaw with an eye for the ladies and a talent for sketching the likeness of everyone he encounters. He is constantly needling Dan about his not providing adequately for his beautiful wife, Alice, played here by Gretchen Mol; Leora Dana played Alice in the original. Fittingly enough, Ben Wade is captured in both versions only because he dallied too long with a sexually complaisant barmaid, played by Vinessa Shaw in the remake, and by Felicia Farr in the original. All four actresses are more than adequate as frontier Eves capable of either inspiring men to tame the wilderness, or luring them to their doom.
In the supporting cast of the new version, Peter Fonda, as vengeful bounty hunter Byron McElroy, and Ben Foster, as Ben Wade’s loyal but psychotically homicidal second-in-command, Charlie Prince, are especially memorable. The part of Dan’s older son, Will (Logan Lerman), has been much expanded and enriched in the remake. The cinematography of Phedon Papamichael and the production design of Andrew Menzies deserve special mention for their scope and sensitivity in creatively reinventing a noble genre. And the performances of Mr. Crowe and Mr. Bale alone are worth the price of admission. As for Mr. Mangold, he has scored previously with Heavy (1995), Cop Land (1997), Girl, Interrupted (1999), Kate & Leopold (2001), to a lesser extent with Identity (2003), and to a much greater extent with Walk the Line (2005). Who knows? He may have another winner with 3:10 to Yuma. I certainly hope so.