Updated date:

Putting an Outlaw on the 3:10 to Yuma

Author:

Dusty is an avid classic movie fan who wants to share movie stories and evoke conversation about them.

Movie Poster

Van Heflin and Glenn Ford

Van Heflin and Glenn Ford

Cast

1 hrs. 32 mins; Drama, Thriller, Western; 1957; 7.6 stars

Director: Delmar Daves

Cast: Glenn Ford - Ben Wade

Van Heflin - Dan Evans

Felicia Farr - Emmy

Leora Dana - Mrs. Alice Evans

Henry Jones - Alex Potter

Richard Jaeckel - Charlie Prince

Robert Emhardt - Mr. Butterfield

Sheridan Comerate - Bob Moons

Note: Spoiler alert. This review reveals the outcome of the movie

Wade's Gang in Saloon

Reporting their own crime

Reporting their own crime

Synopsis

The movie starts out with scenes of the southwest, particularly Arizona. A stage coach is making its way across the desert sands as the introduction credits roll.

The stage is held up by the legendary outlaw, Ben Wade (played by Glenn Ford) and his gang. They only want the gold being carried, but the coach driver reaches for his gun and Wade shoots him dead along with one of his own gang.

Dan Evans (played by Van Heflin), a local rancher and his two sons happen upon the scene. His cattle had been “borrowed” by the gang to make a road block for the hold-up. Dan and his sons certainly know who Ben Wade is; his reputation precedes him. He told Dan that he needed his horses to insure that Dan wouldn’t run to get the sheriff and he promised to loose them just outside of town as he needed time to get away. Wade, despite the fact that he was an outlaw, is a very polite man; his personality and his ways do not meet the stereotype of the typical outlaw.

Dan went back to his ranch on foot and to get water for the people on the stage. When he arrived back at his ranch he got into a heated discussion with his wife (played by Leora Dana) about the topic of cowardice – should he have resisted or stood up to Wade? Also, she was discouraged because of the lack of rain as they were not able to make a go of the ranch and Dan would need $200 to buy the water rights from a neighboring rancher’s stream. He left then went into town to retrieve the horses and used them to pull the stage into town.

In the meantime Wade and his men went into the town’s saloon to have a drink and to report that the stage had been held up. Not a lot of robbers report their own crimes, but Wade did. Then his men left to head on to Mexico, but he stayed for a tryst with the bar maid.

Soon afterwards Dan arrived at the saloon as Wade was still there he asked to be paid for the use of his cattle, horses and time. Wade paid, but just then the sheriff captured him.

Now that Wade was in custody they had to move him to another town with the aim of putting on the 3:10 train which goes to Yuma. Dan accepts the job of guarding him and of getting him on that train for which he will be paid $200 which is the exact amount he needs to purchase the water rights and because he needs to prove to his wife and sons that he is not a coward. No other men volunteered to help him, except the town drunk, Alex Potter (played by Henry Jones).

Wade’s gang is out there somewhere and there is no doubt that they will try to rescue him and there is no doubt also that the rescue will be bloody. They take Wade to another town, Contention City, to await the train. On the way they stop at Dan’s house to have supper and to send a decoy carriage off in another direction to confuse Wade’s gang who are following along at a distance. The ruse works. At the house Wade is fed a nice meal and again he is a very polite guest/prisoner.

Once in Contention City he is checked into a hotel room still being guarded by Dan with Alex as a lookout. Wade uses psychology on Dan to entice him to let him go even offering to pay him. At one point Bob Moons (played by Sheridan Comerate), the brother of the man Wade had killed on the stage coach, breaks into the room and tries to shoot Wade, but Dan forcefully prevents it. In the brawl a shot is discharged which alerts Wade’s gang as to his whereabouts.

As the gang comes to town, the small posse which had been assembled to face them quits out of fear. Only Alex is left to stand with Dan to ensure that Wade gets on that train. Even Mr. Butterfield, stage coach owner who is financing this manhunt gives up and urges Dan to let Wade go, because it’s no use shooting up the town over him. Dan does not relinquish his duty even when the gang shoots Alex and hangs him, even when Dan’s wife pleads with him to give up.

When the train comes Dan takes Ben Wade out to it. The walk to the train is tense. When they almost are at the train Charlie (played by Richard Jaeckel) the chief gang member shouts to Ben to drop as he is in front of Dan. That way they could have a clear shot at Dan. But instead, quite unexpectedly, Wade tells Dan to jump onto the train, says, “You’ll have to trust me.” They both jump onto an open box car as the train starts to depart.

Dan, shocked, asks why Wade jumped onto the train and allowed him to live and allowed himself to be taken to jail. Wade replied that he likes Dan and that Dan saved his life when Bob Moons tried to shoot him in the hotel room. Besides, as he went on to explain, he’s broken out of Yuma prison before, implying it was easy.

The final scene has the train passing Mr. Butterfield and Dan’s wife and as an added blessing rain has started falling.

Dan Guarding Wade in Hotel Room

Van Heflin and Glenn Ford

Van Heflin and Glenn Ford

Analysis

The story takes place in southeastern Arizona, in what is today Cochise County. This is not mentioned directly, but can easily be determined by finding the towns that were named as possible places to take the prisoner, Ben Wade, to put him on the train. Yuma is clear across the state – hence the need to use the train. The robbery takes place outside of Bisbee. Fort Huachuca, Benson and Contention City are also mentioned. To this day Bisbee is not on the railroad, but the other places are. But nowadays the rail line there is only freight and Contention City is just a ghost town. Contention City was really only a viable town for the decade of the 1880s so that places the story within that specific time period. A much more famous town is very close by, but not mentioned at all – Tombstone.

The scenery of the movie conveys to us the harsh desolation of that region and its sparse and “non-affluent” populace. It’s dry and wind whips dust around and the towns are empty or almost empty. This story would be drastically different in any other locale. Much of the story has to deal with the psychology involved in the relationship between Wade and Dan and the setting lends to the effect. Often in the background a song plays, the theme song of the movie, which is a mournful type of western song, impressing the situation upon us yet further.

Dan is in it for more than the money. He’s in it to prove to himself and to his family that he is not a coward and he is in it for his honor. Wade knows this, but he tries to convince Dan to let him go, trying to convince him to take the easy way, go home, alive, to his wife and sons. He works on Dan using a lot of psychological pressure while he is being guarded. This scene takes place over several hours and the psychology used by Wade on Dan is palpable. In one instant during the time where Dan is guarding Wade a woman’s voice sings the theme song. At that time Wade comments that he likes the sound of a woman singing. This is a trick of the movie. There is no woman out on the streets singing about catching the 3:10 to Yuma. Only we the audience can really hear it. Wade and Dan can’t. But this is more of the psychological playing that transpires. This time Wade is not tricking Dan, but us!

Wade offers Dan a lot of money. It’s a temptation of the Dan, but he does not yield. As time goes on Wade reminds Dan that his defenders will walk out before his gang comes to get him. He’s right; they do. Wade says that even Mr. Butterfield, the stage coach owner who is offering to reward money will back out at the last minute. He does and the pressure is made greater on Dan because Butterfield tells him to give up, that he will pay the $200 anyway. Dan doesn’t relent. He and Alex continue in their duty despite the ever increasing odds against them. The story bears the moral of doing what is right no matter the cost.

When Wade’s men arrive they shoot Alex and then hang him in the hotel lobby. It’s a ghostly scene for Dan’s wife to come upon as this happens at the moment that she arrives to try to dissuade Dan from going through with this task. Alice is the last temptation; she pleads with Dan to stay alive and relinquish this duty he has taken. Even that doesn’t work. Dan tells her with a very convincing line, “The town drunk gave his life because he believed that people should be able to live in peace and decency together. You think I can do less?” This sentence sums up the issue for Dan. He can’t shirk this responsibility, certainly less so now that Alex is dead. It’s like our modern maxim: “Freedom ain’t free” or Thomas Jefferson’s famous statement, “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” In short our freedoms come with and are maintained by great sacrifice.

The task is successful as I said thanks to Wade’s self-sacrifice to save Dan. As if in a divine response to Dan’s doing what was right despite the risk, the skies open up and the dry region gets is first rain in over three years - a great blessing to Dan and family.

Dan Walking Wade to the Train

Walking up to the train under cover of the train's steam

Walking up to the train under cover of the train's steam

Movie Trailer

A Summary of the Best Scenes

The Final Scene - the Walk to the Train (spoiler alert)