Alice: It seems terrible that something bad can happen and all anybody can do is stand by and watch.
Dan Evans: Lots of things happen where all you can do is stand by and watch.
After a stagecoach robbery/shootout, notorious outlaw Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) is captured in a small town by a sheriff and few locals. One of them is a struggling rancher/family man, Dan Evans (Van Heflin), who volunteers to escort Wade to the nearest town w/ a railway station. Dan desperately needs the $200 which the stagecoach company’s owner offered as a reward. Once the two men are holed up in the hotel to await the 3:10 to Yuma, a battle of wills ensues. All the while, Ben’s gang is gathering to break him out.
Emmy: Funny, some men you see every day for ten years and you never notice; some men you see once and they’re with you for the rest of your life.
Even if you’re not a big fan of Westerns, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in this must-see film! The screenplay (which includes sly moments of humor) was adapted from a story by Elmore Leonard. There are gorgeous shots of the desert, intimate close-ups, music, exciting action sequences w/ horses and guns. Although most Westerns by this time were being produced in color, director (Delmer Daves) and cinematographer (Charles Lawton Jr.) chose to shoot in black and white.
I thought all the actors (including the supporting ones and two boys) hit the right notes. Ford was originally offered the role of Dan Evans; he refused and suggested himself for the role of Ben Wade. This is one of Ford’s (rare) bad guy roles; he’s still charming and likable. Heflin (who worked on many Westerns) and Ford play off each other very well. Ford has sparkling chemistry w/ Felicia Farr (the beautiful/lonely barmaid, Emmy). There are touching scenes between Heflin and Leora Dana (his devoted/refined wife, Alice).
Ben Wade: I mean, I don’t go around just shootin’ people down… I work quiet, like you.
Dan Evans: All right, so you’re quiet like me. Well then, shut up like me.
The scenes of Contention City were shot in Old Tucson, which is not far from where I grew up. Some critics/viewers consider this a film of a man reclaiming his masculinity. I also see it as a community struggling to do the right thing, though under enormous threat. This film, along w/ High Noon (1952), was a deciding factor in Howard Hawks deciding to make Rio Bravo (1959), a return to more optimistic Westerns. This is one of Patton Oswalt’s favorite movies; he introduced it on TCM several years ago.