Dan Evans is a farmer struggling to hold onto his land and livelihood during a severe drought. He finds a financial solution for himself and his family when he is offered a large sum of money to secretly escort Ben Wade, the captured leader of an outlaw gang, to a nearby town and place him on board a train that will carry him to trial in Yuma. The two men hole up in a hotel near the station where the smooth-talking Wade tries to mentally and emotionally manipulate his captor into letting him go. Meanwhile, Wade’s gang is fast approaching the town where a final showdown between Evans and the outlaws is imminent.
Article: from TCM ~ by Rob Nixon
An offbeat Western in many aspects, 3:10 to Yuma is one of the best from a director who helped redefine the genre in the 1950s. Van Heflin plays a farmer struggling to hold on to his land and way of life during a severe drought. He sees a way out for himself and his family when he is offered a big chunk of money to take the captured leader of an outlaw gang (Glenn Ford) in secret to a nearby town and make sure he is placed on board a train that will carry him to trial in Yuma. The two men hole up in a hotel near the station where the smooth-talking criminal tries to mentally and emotionally manipulate his captor into letting him go. The film wrings a great deal of suspense from their battle of wills and from the increasing threat of the outlaw’s gang who are on their way to Yuma.
In a career stretching from 1915 (he made his acting debut at 11 in a silent version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol) to 1965, Delmer Daves racked up credits as actor, writer, producer and director of every type of film Hollywood ever produced, but he did his best and most memorable work in Westerns. Along with a handful of films by other directors, notably High Noon (1952), to which this story bears resemblance, Daves ushered in a new era in the genre with Broken Arrow (1950), starring Jeff Chandler as Apache warrior Cochise, one of the few films to treat Indians with dignity and understanding. Daves’ films brought modern psychological themes, a breakdown in romantic stereotypes, and moral ambiguities to a genre often characterized by good guy/bad guy gunplay. He is ably assisted in bringing out the movie’s gray-shaded themes and rising tension by the performances of Heflin, casting his solid American plainness in a role similar to the actor’s work in Shane (1953), and Glenn Ford, playing against type as a villain, although a charming one who displays a measure of decency at the end.
The film is as noteworthy for its technique as for its theme and characters. Daves shot 3:10 to Yuma in black and white in a time when color had become the standard for Westerns. One of the most significant departures from the genre is its setting, much of it takes place not in the great outdoors but within the confines of a single room. But the exterior sequences are also very striking; Daves used red filters to give a heightened, harsher sense of a land ravaged by drought. One of the other oddities in this project is its adaptation from a story by Elmore Leonard. Although he started his career with several interesting Western stories, particularly his novel Valdez Is Coming , made into a Burt Lancaster film in 1971, Leonard is best known today for complex, darkly funny modern crime stories. Two of his most popular books have been turned into critically and commercially successful films: Get Shorty (1995) and Out of Sight (1998). Interesting note: Leonard wrote the script for the television sequel High Noon Part II: The Return of Will Kane (1980).
This was Daves’ second film with Glenn Ford, following the Othello-based Western Jubal (1956), which also starred Felicia Farr, who appears in 3:10 to Yuma and Daves’ earlier film The Last Wagon (1956). Daves’ next project after this was Cowboy (1958), which paired Ford with Farr’s husband-to-be Jack Lemmon.