3:10 to Yuma: The Most Spectacular Clunker in the History of the Western

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Sophia Loren
once said of her face that all the individual components are wrong,
but they fit together well. In contrast, the individual parts of
3:10 to Yuma are simply magnificent, but the overall effect
is Zasu Pitts.

The cinematography
is flawless. The acting is equally flawless. The interaction between
Russell Crowe and Christian Bale is reminiscent of the interaction
between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in the diner scene in Heat,
or between Tom Hulce and F. Murray Abraham in the deathbed scene
in Amadeus.
But the two of them sustain the repartee through the entire movie.

The dialog
is clever and crisp. The writers neglected only one thing: plausibility.
Every scene stands on its own merits, and each is arguably more
implausible than the last. In this sense, 3:10 to Yuma may
become a screenwriter’s classic, moving from scene to scene like
an accelerating tidal wave of implausibility. The ending is without
a doubt the most implausible I ever recall in any film, ever, western
or not — a veritable crescendo of “What was that all about?”

The credits
of 3:10 to Yuma should have closed with a dedication to the
memory of the writer-director who was clearly the spiritual godfather
of this movie: Ed Wood.

This is a large-screen
movie, as most Technicolor westerns are. Don’t wait for this to
be released on DVD. Let them have their $8.50. You have to see this
thing in its wide-screen magnificence in order to appreciate the
grandeur of its utter implausibility.

I am now going
to review the entire plot and highlight the memorable scenes in
this incomparable monstrosity. My review will not ruin the movie
for you. The movie will do that on its own, with no help from me.
My review will merely help you to savor 3:10 to Yuma as you
see it. When you start giggling uncontrollably in the theater, you
will demonstrate your firm grasp of what this film’s triumph really
is. Scene by disjointed scene, you will appreciate what is likely
to become a legend among script writers.

The movie begins
at night in a ranch house. The owner hears noises outside. He gets
up. Then he falls down. This is explained later: he has a wooden
leg, as the movie never lets us forget. He lost his leg in the Civil
War. This wooden leg has little to do with the plot line, or the
film’s outcome, or anything else, with one exception: as you hear
him clunk across the room and then see him fall flat, this becomes
a metaphor for the entire film. The director is a master of subtlety.

Outside, people
are setting fire to his barn. One barn-burner shouts that they will
be back the next week to burn down his house. Bale knows who the
barn-burner is. There is a witness: his teenage son. So, will he
go to the sheriff? Of course not.

The man who
ordered the burning is the man he owes the mortgage to. He is a
little behind in his payments. This high-risk, low-output, peg-leg
rancher is apparently a metaphor for today’s subprime mortgage market.
What timing! The director is also a marketing genius.

The mortgage-holder
has somehow cut off the flowing water to the little ranch. We are
not told how. Diverting water flow through your property without
reasonable use was illegal under riparian rights law in the old
West, but let’s ignore this. The ranch will be his in a week. The
director missed a trick by not giving the guy a handlebar moustache.
As I say, he is quite subtle.

What do you
suppose the villain plans to do with this unproductive ranch? If
you are a western movie buff, you know. Sell it to the railroad!
All right! Good start for a low-budget B-western, which this plot
line reveals so far, except for one thing: there was no reason to
have his men burn down the barn, which would have landed them all
in jail. He had not yet legally foreclosed.

This villain
then disappears from the film. This actor was one of the lucky ones.

completely independently, Russell Crowe is planning a robbery of
the railroad’s pay wagon. OK! Great stuff, except that the pay wagon
has a Gatling gun on it. It is defended by Pinkerton agents. It
is like a rolling iron fortress.

On board, riding
shotgun — sawed off, so it would not reliably hit anything farther
away than 50 feet — is Peter Fonda. An old Peter Fonda. A Peter
Fonda who looks my age. Grim.

In preparation
for the robbery, Crowe is sketching a bird. He is an artist, we
see, a real Renaissance man. As we learn later, he quotes the Bible,
especially Proverbs, based on his having read the entire Bible in
three days at age eight. Some memory! He is like Robby Benson in
The Chosen, except that he is a gentile and a mass murderer
and can act.

The gang attacks
the pay wagon. The guys in the wagon shoot a bunch of them. But
this, it turns out, is only the first half of the gang. This gang
is so large that it would not have remained inconspicuous in the
scene of Pickett’s charge in Gettysburg.
Pickett might even have won, had this gang been in his division.

Crowe then
releases a herd of cattle in front of the wagon, which overturns.

Where did he
get the cattle?

We find out
only after the gang shoots all the wagon’s defenders, killing all
but the most despicable, a bounty hunter: Fonda. These are Bale’s
cattle. He and his two sons went looking for them and found the
gang instead, just as they gunned down everyone. He asks for them
back. Crowe complies.

Does Crowe
shoot them as witnesses to murder? Of course not.

So, in one
night, this poor guy had his barn burned down by one gang and his
cattle stolen by another. But he never mentioned to his wife, “Hey,
what happened to all our cattle? I’d better go looking for them.”

Plausible so

His 14-year-old
son is a potty-mouth, pushy kid who is verbally contemptuous of
his father, and refuses to obey him. In other words, he is a thoroughly
modern kid in an 1878 setting. The script writers eventually turn
the kid into a hero precisely because he will not obey, which his
father eventually sees as the basis of his transition to adulthood.

The gang takes
the money from the strongbox and rides straight into town, where
the sheriff is waiting for the wagon. So far, there is no trace
of a railroad line.

The gang’s
second-in-command then tricks the sheriff, telling him about the
overturned wagon and the bodies. The sheriff rides off with about
half a dozen men. The gang then goes to a bar for a few drinks.

The bartender
is a woman, and let me tell you, if the wild West had ever had women
who looked like she does, it would have been a whole lot wilder.

The gang is
legitimately worried about the return of the sheriff. They leave
to head south of the border in nearby Mexico. But not Crowe. Oh,
no. He takes the bartender upstairs. Afterward, he doesn’t even
offer her a cigarette. Instead, he sketches her naked backside.

Crowe then
goes downstairs. He meets Bale. They chat. Bale asks for payment
for two of his cattle, which had died. Crowe pays him a few dollars.
Then the recently and silently returned sheriff and his posse surprise
him from behind and arrest him.

Plausible so

The visiting
railroad official then tries to hire a posse to take Crowe to a
distant town where the railroad will then take Crowe to Yuma, where
the territorial prison is. No one wants to go. Why, it’s High
! Oops; it isn’t. The sheriff will not go, either. It
is not clear exactly why — possibly to get off-screen as fast
as possible.

The railroad
man then promises to pay Bale $200 if he delivers Crowe to the distant
depot. Nobody else wants the job except the guy who burned down
Bale’s barn. He was one of the hirelings of the guy Bale owes the
money to. “It’s my job,” he explained.

Why hire Bale?
Because Bale is a crack rifle shot. Everyone says so. He says so.
So, he takes his rifle with him.

Only once in
the film does he actually shoot anything of significance with his
rifle. Like the movie’s writers, desperately aiming at a story line,
he fires off a few rounds, but he never hits much.

The railroad
man does not telegraph the prison to tell them to have two
Gatling guns on the train this time, along with a platoon of troops.
No, sir. He just gathers the small group together, and off they
ride to the train depot, by way of Bale’s home, where Bale leaves
his wife alone in the dining room for several minutes to chat with
Crowe, who talks to her about a beautiful woman with green eyes.
That’s what he told the bartender, too. It seems that Crowe is obsessed
by good-looking women with green eyes. He never finds one. Green
eyes are possibly a metaphor — for what, I am not sure.

Bale rides
off with the little posse, but not before telling his potty-mouth
son to stay behind. This is like telling Crowe to forget about green-eyed

In the little
group is Fonda, who was shot in the belly by Crowe that afternoon
but was allowed to live to settle old scores, although I am not
sure exactly how this accomplished the goal. He has just endured
an operation by the local veterinarian, who had dug a hole in his
stomach the size of one of Dr. House’s operations, to extract the
bullet. He then gets on his horse and rides off with the posse —
no blood, no pain, no mention of the fact that five or so hours
earlier he was lying in the dirt with lead in his belly. This is
the best role Fonda has ever had. “Hi. I’m Peter, and I’m a recovering
gut-shot victim.” “Hi, Peter!”

He is a Bible-reading
mass murderer, a Christian who loves Jesus. The Hollywood script
writers know who the real bad guys are, as usual: Jesus-loving murderers
of women and small children.

Meanwhile the
gang doubles back to find Crowe. They go in search of the little
group. The gang can be seen in the distance. Will anyone in the
group say, “Who are those guys?” Sadly, no. This time the
Hole in the Wall Gang is tracking the law. As in Butch
Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
, the trackers have an Indian
in the group. It is not clear if he does the tracking.

Then Crowe
and Fonda start chatting about what constitutes legitimate murder.
It’s all a matter of your perspective, they conclude. This is high-level
existentialist stuff, no doubt.

Crowe then
jumps Fonda, horse to horse, tosses him over a convenient cliff,
which the camera had previously missed, grabs his rifle, and tells
the little posse to drop their guns, which they do. But then, out
of nowhere — I mean nowhere — the potty-mouth son appears right
behind Crowe and gets the drop on him. The tables are turned!

They must outrun
Crowe’s gang. Fortunately, Bale knows a shortcut to the depot town.
It goes through Apache territory. These are Apaches who never surrendered
to the U.S. Army. Crowe warns against this, but Bale insists.

Later, three
Apaches shoot at them in the night. Crowe gets a gun from the guy
he has just knifed to death (actually, Crowe used a fork, but what
is the correct verb?) — the big-mouth who burned down Bale’s
barn — and sneaks off to kill all three. Here is the scene:
a white, artistic, Bible-quoting, murderous bank robber sneaks up
on three Apaches by starting out in plain sight — or sites
— from right in front of them, maybe 50 yards away. He is successful.
We are not shown exactly how he did this, but three Apaches, who
the U.S. Army could not defeat, are sent to the great pow-wow in
the sky.

Plausible so

no more Apaches show up. Crowe escapes in the night. He steals the
posse’s horses. But then he leaves them tied up a few miles down
the trail. He is heading for the depot town, where he will meet
his gang.

He rides into
a railroad construction camp. This isn’t where the depot is. Why
the railroad is being built here, close to Apache country, we are
not told. The sheriff of the camp spots Crowe, who it seems killed
the sheriff’s brother years ago. He arrests him and then tortures

At this point,
the posse rides in. They see that Crowe is being tortured. They
tell the torturers this is immoral, which fails to impress. It’s
all a matter of perspective, I guess. Then they spring him. They
all make a break for it by going through a nearby tunnel —
presumably a new one in front of them, not the one behind them they
came through on their way to the depot town.

Bale, the kid,
the railroad man, and Crowe wind up at the depot town, but they
do not go to the depot. Of course not. They check in for a couple
of hours at a hotel. They stay in the only available room, the bridal
suite. This is a metaphor for . . . I give up.

Bale allows
Crowe to walk around the room at will. Seeing what had happened
to Fonda apparently has not registered with him. He sends his son
to keep a lookout for the gang, which had avoided the Apache shortcut.
Then the railroad man goes off to find the sheriff.

The local sheriff
then shows up. He has a few deputies. The son then shows up. He
has spotted the gang. This is maybe an hour after the little group
arrived in town. Some shortcut!

“How many of
them?” asks the sheriff. “Seven or eight,” the kid says. It turns
out to be seven.

Bale gets the
railroad man to promise to pay the kid $1,000 if the kid goes home
immediately. He agrees. Bale then sends the kid home. The kid promises
to go home and leaves. Bale is a very, very slow learner.

The gang rides
in and announces on Main Street that they will pay anyone $200 for
shooting the sheriff or one of his deputies. Money talks! The whole
town runs off to get guns.

High Noon
was never like this!

The sheriff,
his deputies, and the railroad man see that they are outgunned.
They surrender. As soon as they lay down their guns, the gang shoots
them down, saving the $200-per-victim bounty. The private contractors
in town are out of luck. I am not sure if this is a metaphoric statement
against Halliburton or not.

Bale now has
to get Crowe from the hotel to the train station, as if the train
actually means something, as if his gang could not kill any lawmen
on the train with no trouble at all and release Crowe. But how can
he get Crowe to the station and not get killed?

There is one
way, a way that might conceivably work: the George Jackson way.
With your right hand, you stick a cocked revolver under Crowe’s
chinny-chin-chin. With your left hand, you press forward on the
back of Crowe’s head. Then you yell to the gang, “Shoot me, and
I will pull the trigger as my final automatic reaction. Your boss
will die.” Then you pray like mad that the pathological, fast-draw
maniac who is the number-two gang member doesn’t want to become
number-one. You march Crowe to the train station.

But no. Bale
persuades Crowe to make a run for it to the station, which Crowe
does without an argument, even though Bale has shown repeatedly
that he will not shoot Crowe, since he has to get him loaded onto
the train.

They run for
it. For a peg-legged man, Bale can really run. He leaps across rooftops.

The gang starts
shooting at Bale. Then Bale starts shooting his pistol — no
rifle is anywhere to be seen. Gang members start falling like ten
pins. One. Two. Three. More. I lost count. Are these supposed
to be townspeople, still hoping for $200? After they have seen the
entire police department gunned down? They want to submit a bill
to these guys?

It’s 1950,
and I’m watching Hopalong Cassidy (1942) on TV, and the six
guns roar: one, two . . . eight, nine . . . fifteen, sixteen. .
. . OK! I love B-westerns! And this movie is the B-western of all
B-westerns, script-wise.

The surviving
gang members finally shoot Bale. He falls. So, Crowe gets a gun
and shoots the last four members of his gang, including the maniac.

Plausible so

The kid reappears,
pistol in hand, and threatens to kill Crowe, but doesn’t, kneels
down, says goodbye to his father, who is lying on the ground next
to the train, which was late (this, I can believe).

Crowe then
climbs onto the train. He leaves behind the saddlebags filled with
money, apparently for the townspeople to divvy up after all.

Is this evidence of some form of redemption? There has been no
verbal communication of any change on Crowe’s part. There was no
visible cause. Artistically, this is utterly incoherent if this
movie is about a bad man going good.

The train heads off to Yuma. Crowe whistles for his horse. The
horse hears, and races off next to the train. The train and the
horse disappear, screen-right.

Fade to black.

Credits roll.

As I said earlier,
I did not see, This movie is dedicated to the memory of Ed Wood.

Ed was cheated.

So was Elmore
Leonard, who wrote the original story. Whatever they paid him for
the rights to this ghastly re-make, it wasn’t enough.

movie may turn out to be a huge commercial success — something
done magnificently that should not have been done at all.

Buster Crabbe
and Fuzzy St. John, where are you now, when we need you?

15, 2007

North [send him mail]
is the author of Mises
on Money
. Visit http://www.garynorth.com.
He is also the author of a free 19-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible

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