Surprise, surprise. Three cheers for Criterion. 3:10 TO YUMA and JUBAL (1956) are not just classic westerns, but superior films. Both directed by Delmer Daves and yet completely different from one another in subject matter and approach. I don't know how Criterion discovered these, but they zeroed in on two of the most interesting westerns of the 1950s. They're going to look very, very. No doubt in my mind. Totally and completely bought. Some old notes after watching the Columbia DVD:
The original 3:10 TO YUMA (Columbia, 1957) is a character-driven suspense drama in the guise of a plaintive, understated outlaw ballad. I respond to its earthiness and stoicism. I like the time it takes to layer a story and flesh out characters. The motivations are personal. It's about real things that can make or break a man -- like saving your livestock from dying in a drought, being a good role model to your kids, living up to your wife's expectations, putting food on the table, paying the bills, persevering through adversity, taking a risk, and doing the right thing in the face of all the temptations to do wrong. If the rancher Dan Evans stumbles just once, if he takes the easier path, he'll be no different than the killer Ben Wade he's escorting to prison. Evans is really tempted, too, because Wade knows how to tempt him. These two men are opposite sides of the same coin, and they recognize the similarity in each other. The film builds methodically to a third act that is a masterpiece of direction, editing and suspense. Emotionally, this film resonates. Delmer Daves coaxes a finely tuned performance out of each actor, no matter how small the role. Everybody resonates. When Alice Evans (played by Leora Dana) looks at her husband, her expression is an accusation and a disappointment, even though her words deny it. When she serves dinner to her family and the outlaw, he reminds her of all the finer things she gave up to marry Dan Evans and come west. Watch how Ben Wade seduces the achingly lonely saloon girl (Felicia Garr), stuck in a dusty old town for the rest of her life if someone doesn't take her away from there. She'd follow Ben Wade anywhere, even though he gets the color of her eyes wrong. Instead, she opens the coach door that will take him to the train, her expression saying come hither even while her voice, full of resignation, bids a reluctant goodbye. 3:10 TO YUMA represents the best that the American western can achieve in the hands of film makers who know how. It is Delmar Daves best film, and one of the great westerns of the 1950s (that's saying a lot). No silly premise, no slap-happy gunfights, no trick shooting in this film, just down-to-earth grit. The two leads -- Van Heflin and Glenn Ford -- are cast against type. Normally they'd have switched roles. Heflin seems to inhabit his western rancher like tailored work clothes, a simple man who works hard and hopes for the best. Ford's charming outlaw is as much a revelation as Henry Fonda's villain in Once Upon A Time In the West.