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September 12, 2007

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

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James Mangold - 2007
Lionsgate Films 35mm Film

Was James Mangold thinking about 3:10 to Yuma well before he made his film? One indication is that his main character in Cop Land shares the same last name as the actor who played Dan Evans in Delmer Daves' film. Similarly, both the character of Freddie Heflin in Cop Land and Dan Evans in Mangold's Yuma are both disabled enforcers of the law, but find that they are both serving on behalf of interests that view them are little more than useful tools.

Even though Mangold's film is based on a fifty year old film, his version of Yuma shares more in common with the revisionist westerns of the Seventies. Most of the men are dirty and bearded, but more importantly the conflict between outlaws are struggling ranchers is less important than how they both get in the way of corporate progress. Mangold's Dan Evans is motivated to escort outlaw Ben Wade for money to pay for his ranch. But the money comes from the same corporation that would profit by taking over Evan's ranch for the railroad. In Mangold's film, everyone except Evans has his price.

The major difference between the two versions is that Daves' film emphasised the psychological tensions between Wade and Evans, while Mangold's film is more action oriented. Those who have seen the Daves film will recognize some of the dialogue from Halsted Welles' screenplay lifted verbatim. Mangold devotes more time to giving his characters motivation for their actions, and devotes more time to making the journey to the train station more perilous. In spite of greater screen time, Mangold's characters are ultimately less interesting than those in Daves' film.

Part of what makes Daves' film more interesting in my view is the sense of romantic longing conveyed by his characters. One of the key moments in the original Yuma is the scene where Ben Wade virtually allows himself to be caught in the small town, distracted by a pretty barmaid. In Daves' film, Wade and the barmaid talk about the difference between how their lives are and how they wish it could be lived. Most of that dialogue is jettisoned in Mangold's film. That his Ben Wade is an amateur artist is suppose to indicate his sensative side, yet Russell Crowe's Ben Wade never charms in the way that Glenn Ford did in the first film version. Even a glimpse of the nude Vinessa Shaw clearly indicating what the first film only hinted at is no substitute for the sparks between Ford and Felicia Farr. Likewise, in the first film version there is a wonderful sweeping shot of Heflin's wife, played by Leora Dana, facing the open plains, helpless as her husband leaves for his foolhardy mission.

After guiding two women to Academy Award winning performances, I was hoping Mangold would have Gretchen Mol and Vinessa Shaw be as vivid as their 1957 counterparts. I also have a problem with Christian Bale as a foil to burly Russell Crowe because even though he is actually taller, he photographs as if he were small and fragile. As Bale's wife, Gretchen Mol is shortchanged in a small part made smaller by Mangold. It's not that Mangold's version of 3:10 to Yuma is bad, but given what he had to work with, I was hoping for something that had more than a few moments of inspiration. On the other hand, as Mangold has demonstrated with Angelina Jolie and Reese Witherspoon, he can bring out the best in his actresses. If Mangold were to remake a film by Delmar Daves, how about a new version of Rome Adventure with Lindsay Lohan and Anne Hathaway?

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Posted by peter at September 12, 2007 11:55 AM