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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Rob G

I've always been interested in what makes writers tick, but only certain writers, i.e., ones whose lives and/or philosophical ideas seem interesting to me. My interest in Dostoevsky's life revolves around the development of his ideas: how did he come to be so philosophically prophetic and psychologically astute?

Wordsworth's my favorite poet, but I doubt I'd ever read a big full-on biography of him. I have a small "life and works" book about him which will probably be sufficient. On the other hand I thoroughly enjoyed Ackroyd's big bio of Dickens, which I read some 20 years ago.


I've never wanted to read one of the more recent bios of Evelyn Waugh. Im sure he was profoundly unpleasant and I don't want to hear about it. I used to love VS Naipaul, and his biography was simply horrifying. Not merely unfaithfulness but the mental cruelty to his wife was borderline demonic. I have never wanted to read Naipaul again, who was, really a great writer.

I've been meaning to read Franks'biography of Dostoievsky for 20 years, which I suppose means, not seriously meaning to.

I do like short, well-written biographies. I read a short biography of Jane Austen some years back which is a model of the genre. Aside from not wanting to know all their grave sins, I don't want to know what the great writers ate for breakfast either.


Waugh is the perfect example of the writer whose bio I actively don't want to read--at least not the complete all-their-grave-sins sort of bio.

"I don't want to know what the great writers ate for breakfast either." Right. I did read a quite lengthy one of Wodehouse not long ago, and it did neither of us any harm. But a great deal of it was fairly tiresome.

I think my avoidance goes back nearly 50 years, to a moment when, browsing in the library, I picked up Ellman's biography of Joyce, considered "definitive" at the time and maybe still, and just at random read a decidedly TMI bit about him and his wife.

Rob G

Frank's bio of Dost'y spends a good amount of time on the intellectual and socio-political currents of 19th Russia and how they affected/influenced the author. He says in his forward that there were plenty of good nuts-and-bolts type bios of FMD, and that he wanted to do a more idea-oriented one.

I recently bought Millgate's bio of Hardy, after being somewhat disappointed by another one I tried, which spent too much time on his views of sexuality. The guy seems to want to make the case that Hardy was a sexual free-thinker but had to tone down his advocacy due to Victorian conventions. Which may very well be true, but that's not what I'm interested in about Hardy.


Hardys poetry is very good but I cannot imagine reading a biography of him.

Ackroyd was a good writer. My mother had all his books and I used to dip into the different biographies.

Rob G

Re: Hardy -- I've always liked his fiction and there's definitely a sort of progression/development there. I am interested in seeing how that came to be.

Besides the Dickens bio I've read some of Ackroyd's fiction, but that's about it. And I've had his book Albion on my shelf for about 10 years but haven't read it yet.


I have two by Claire Tomalin - Dickens and Hardy, as I admire both of them as writers - but I have read neither (has anyone read these?). I believe she wrote one on Jane Austen also. Since completing my Master's degree I have read a very small amount of non-fiction. Though I did read Chrissie Hynde's autobiography! :-)


Im watching Tiger King. It could be on the citizenship test.


That is a puzzling comment from several points of view. First from the point of view of "what is it?", which Wikipedia has resolved. Second, "why?" Why on the citizenship test, and why watch it. I will consider "de gustibus" as the answer to the second. Although according to Wikipedia the coronavirus isolation may be a factor in its popularity.

For my part I succumbed yesterday to the temptation of another new Netflix release, series 3 of Ozark. I call it a temptation because I had decided after series 2 that because of its violence and general unpleasantness I wouldn't watch anymore. But I was out of sorts and wanted some distraction. I watched the first half of the first episode. Not recommended but I will more or less inevitably watch the rest. It's a Breaking Bad-ish sort of thing, about an ordinary guy who gets mixed up in the drug trade.

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