Words and Numbers

3:10 To Yuma

Several years ago (more than several, actually) I had the notion of watching the old-time Westerns that are considered classics. I went through several of them--The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and maybe a couple of others. I was somewhat disappointed, especially as I loved Western stuff when I was a kid, and didn't go any further. 

The other day something reminded me of another film that's usually ranked with those others, 3:10 To Yuma, from 1957. I found it on the Criterion Channel, which I have not used very much and am wondering whether I should cancel, and watched it, in two roughly 45-minute sessions.

I really liked it, and it's definitely my favorite of its type at this point. It's a good story, pretty convincing for the most part in spite of the conventions of the time. It's about a rancher who ends up, more or less against his will, solely responsible for getting a captured outlaw on that 3:10 train, with the outlaw's gang trying to stop him. Glenn Ford, atypically, plays the outlaw, and is very effective--genial and charming with just a hint of menace. 

But what I really love about it is the photography. It's very crisp black-and-white, and full of the Western scenery that I love. The story is set in southern Arizona, and I think it may have been shot there, or perhaps in some part of southern California where the landscape is similar. You can get a sense of the quality in this Criterion Collection trailer:

The song, by the way, has nothing at all to do with the plot, except for the title reference. 

The movie is based on an Elmore Leonard story by the same name. Being an admirer of Leonard, I was curious about the original story, and found it at the local library in a collection called The Tonto Woman and Other Western Stories. I suppose I have to say that I was disappointed in the story. It's pretty slight, its action including only roughly the last half of the movie. It's a case where you could argue that the movie is better than the story, though I don't really trust my judgment there, since I encountered the movie first. Some of the other stories in the collection are really good, though. And they have a sort of potato-chip, can't-eat-just-one appeal. I think I've read half of them now, and I only got the book a couple of days ago, with no intention of reading more than the one story.

There's a 2007 remake of the movie which apparently got pretty good reviews. I may watch it sometime. My interest was dampened a bit by a clip which I saw on YouTube, thinking it was just sort of a trailer, which gave away the very different ending.

Many years ago in college I had a Southern Lit teacher who had a very old-style  genteel southern accent, and who once, when whispering and giggling broke out in class, said to the culprits "I fail to see the humor." Only in his accent it came out as "I fail to see the Yuma."  It's unfortunate for me that I still remember that after almost fifty years.


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I have only seen the remake, Mac. It was quite good, Russell Crowe and Peter Fonda. Peter Fonda I thought was particularly good as one of the baddies. Maybe I knew that Elmore Leonard had written it at one time, and forgotten. I've only read his gangster type stuff, all very good of course. Right now I'm plowing through the Stephen King "Dark Tower" series, which is sort of neo-Western fantasy, quite unlike his usual horror genre.


I just looked up the 3:10 to Yuma remake. Apparently Christian Bale is the good guy, Russell Crowe is the bad guy, and Fonda is a Pinkerton agent. So much for my memory, did not remember Bale at all. Fonda was so unbelievably gruff that I wasn't sure who the actor was until halfway through. I do recall thinking it was quite excellent. Wikipedia claims it is better than the original.


There's a fun interview with Leonard on the Spectator literature podcast - about two months back. I got some of his books on my kindle at that time. Maybe I will read them on the camino. 3.10 to Yuma sounds good.


Elmore Leonard is an absolute master of...I'm not sure what to call it...action-suspense-intrigue-crime. I haven't read that many of his books but his specialty is putting more or less ordinary people in extremely difficult situations. Where they turn out to be not so ordinary. The first one I read, which I always forget the name of, involves an Israeli soldier who gets mixed up with an expatriate American who's running from the mafia. Early on in the description of the soldier there's mention of the marksmanship badge he wears. Toward the end of the book you remember that.


Stu, from what you say and what I saw in that clip, the remake seems worth a look. The original is so limited by the techniques and conventions of the time that it's probably a somewhat apple-orange comparison to say which is better, even if the new one is very good. Sounds like maybe they made the story more complex--no Pinkertons in the story or the old movie.

I picked up one of those Stephen King Dark Tower books in a store once and thought it was intriguing. But I didn't buy it and have never investigated further. I've never read any of his stuff, actually, except for one short story in The Atlantic which seemed to have been a sort of ok-let's-see-what-you-got challenge from the magazine, in response to King blasting contemporary fiction. So it was a conventional literary short story and not especially good in my opinion.


If the professor you're talking about is who I think it is, I can almost hear his voice. Last time I saw him was in the post office; we were both buying sheets of William Faulkner stamps.

Although I've never read Elmore Leonard, we did watch a series, Justified, based on one of his works. The violence was appalling but the portrait of Eastern Kentucky and life there was remarkable. It seemed really authentic to me because of both the music and the language and expressions. Although I haven't been to that area the language is similar to that of southeast AL where the hubs is from. I'm uncertain as to whether the Leonard story was set in KY though.


Almost certainly it's who you think it is. That's perfect about the stamps. If I remember correctly you were in that class, too. Now that I think about it, it could have been my/our yuma that he failed to see.

Justified is really good. It's "based on" a Leonard short story, "Fire In the Hole," which you may remember is a phrase that's important in one early episode. But it must be somewhat loosely based, since the base is only a short story and the series ran for six seasons. Leonard is listed as executive producer but he died in 2013, about halfway through its run, so I don't know how involved he was.

I was somewhat disappointed in the way the series dealt with the character of Boyd. They were starting to dip into some interesting philosophical/theological waters with him, but then he just got disillusioned and was more or less an ordinary bad guy. That was a great performance, though, by Walton Goggins (how perfect is that name for a Kentucky country guy?).


Another great performance: Margo Martindale as Mags. Wow. I looked her up at the time to find out her background, because she was so totally convincing as this hillbilly crime queen. She's from Texas. Miss Jacksonville High School 1969. :-)

It was after Justified that we watched The Americans. I kept thinking that Claudia, the handler of the spy couple, seemed familiar, and finally realized it was Martindale. Rather different character!


Yes I remember Mags / Claudia. I watch justified down to about season four and then I lost the thread after my mother died. I was enjoying it but the bad guy character was becoming annoying.

I spent the afternoon on the sofa with the dogs watching 310 To Yuma. Very surprising ending - I don’t think it could happen in a contemporary movie


Oh yeah, we were both in that class. I don't recall the yuma thing but my recall is far from wide-ranging. When you're back on facebook I'll message you something I do recall, as well as an anecdote from elsewhere about the professor.

Now I recall the "Fire in the Hole" thing.

Goggins was a perfect name indeed, the actor was born in Bham and raised in GA, which probably contributed to his excellence with the accent. All the changes the Boyd character went through were certainly startling, and the performance was astonishing. Martindale was also stellar; that was one creepy character! I didn't see The Americans but I agree, those actors who can be effective as a number of completely differing characters are true masters!


Martindale is a great actress - but Mags is somewhat similar to Claudia


True, with respect to being devious criminals, though Claudia has at least in theory High Ideals. But they're products of such very different cultures.

Yes, the ending of 3:10 is surprising. I didn't find it entirely convincing, actually.

As I somewhat vaguely recall, Justified got less interesting in the last season or maybe two. There was a plot development that involved evil rich businessman who were not-very-convincing caricatures as such characters often are. But there was a nice wrap-up of a couple of threads at the end.


I wouldn't expect anybody to recall the "yuma" bit, Catwoods. I don't know why it lodged in my brain.

I have some relatives named Goggins. It's the combination of that with "Walton" that somehow gives the actor's name its flavor. Funny that names like that tend to be associated with the South now, as I think a lot of them are English. Scruggs. Skaggs. "Wragg is in custody"--another odd bit of data stuck in my memory, from Matthew Arnold, commenting on the story of a woman accused of killing her baby.


My SB hairdresser thinks it is good to the end and exhorts me to try again. I found that every episode gave me a feeling of deja vu. I couldn’t tell if I had seen this before or not.

There is something about the bad guy which makes it remotely plausible.


"something about the bad guy"--true. The story does not end exactly that way, btw.

I didn't think the latter part of Justified was bad by any means, just not as engaging.


All those baddies in Justified were very well acted, but mostly just left me feeling creeped out. I don't think I could have managed the full series without the good guys, Raylan and his boss Art.


That's a description of a successful drama, isn't it? :-)

Rob G

I watched three very good series over the past few weeks: Shetland 5, Spiral 6, and Line of Duty 5. All three are excellent.

Hadn't planned it that way but all three happened to arrive at the library at roughly the same time, so I watched them back-to-back.


Shetland 5 is indeed really good. I haven't seen the others.


I watched the first season of Spiral and could never watch it again. Horrifying.

Line of Duty looks OK - season 1 is on amazon.

I forced myself to go back to The Crown and try again. I didn't like season 1 because of the Dianification of the problems of the monarchy. The problem is my seminarian students really resonate with it. They bring up episodes to illustrate theology. Im thinking that maybe being a monarch is a role analogous to being a priest and that why they like it so much. My lodger took one look at one episode and said 'its the accents.' Im in the middle of Season 2. My mother would have loved it - the costumes are devastatingly beautiful. I still don't like the Dianification. Prince Philip and others so often say things that are unbelievable coming from them. Im watching it for the costumes, as my mother would have done. I'd rather be watching Line of Duty, but its not in my line of duty!

Rob G

Line of Duty is a procedural about an internal affairs unit. Each season has a different plot, but they're all related in that there's a larger overarching plot-line about high-ranking corrupt cops that ties the seasons together. It's very well-written and acted and it's extremely suspenseful -- it's won a number of Bafta's and other UK TV awards.


I think Im going to watch that - it sounds like my cup of tea.

I've watched two episodes of Season 4 of Better Call Saul, but Im waiting until there are a lot of episodes and I can binge it. I don't want to get to where there's some cliff hanger and I have to wait a week.


Series 1-4 are available on Amazon Prime.


I've enjoyed The Crown just as a well-executed drama, trying to keep in mind that a huge amount of it had to be speculative. But I'm sure it kind of seeped into my mind as factual anyway. Series 3 is worth watching if only for Olivia Colman's performance as Elizabeth.

Grumpy, I'm glad to hear you speak negatively of Dianafication. I didn't really pay all that much attention to that whole thing, but it seemed rather baffling. I guess my based-on-the-headlines reaction was "What's your problem, lady?" It's a really sad story, of course. I remember Charles-Diana wedding being in the news and hoping they would live happily ever after.

Meghan of Meghan and Harry seems like, potentially, Diana x 10. I say that in great ignorance, again based mainly on headlines. And photos--she just sort of looks like trouble to me. Maybe just as well they are bailing out.


Heh--my wife and I are doing the same with Better Call Saul. Also I need to watch at least the last couple of episodes of the previous season to refresh my memory.

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