3:10 to Yuma Original versus Remake

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Rose and I went to see the remake of 3:10 to Yuma over the weekend after viewing the original 1957 version earlier in the week. The verdict? Although we enjoyed the remake, we both liked the original version better.

The remake is good. It is fast-paced with plenty of action. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale are both excellent in their characters. I was surprised how closely the remake followed the original, right down to the dialogue in some parts. But the most important place where the remake differed was in the two main characters and their motivations.

In the original film Glenn Ford played the outlaw Ben Wade, and Van Heflin played the rancher Dan Evans. Glenn Ford’s outlaw is a dangerous man who kills when he feels necessary but also seems to have a code of honor. For example, when he kills a man who tries to stop him from robbing a stagecoach, he is concerned that the man is buried in his hometown. His gang also seems to have some honor as far as outlaws go. In contrast, Russell Crowe’s outlaw is much meaner and so is his gang. They have little to no honor and kill ruthlessly.

Similarly, in the original film Van Heflin’s rancher is a man of integrity. At first he takes the job of escorting Wade to the train because he needs the money for his family, but as the story progresses, he continues with the job simply because he feels it is the right thing to do. He is a man of quiet strength and principle, and Wade helps him in the end out of respect. In contrast, Christian Bale’s rancher is much weaker. He keeps going not so much because it is the right thing to do, but because he wants to prove to his son that he is a hero. Wade continually outdoes him and seems more motivated to help him at the end out of pity than respect. (Although, I believe Wade does have genuine respect for him at the end of the film.)

So, although we enjoyed both versions, we liked the characterization of the first film better and felt it did a better job of playing the two characters off against each other. Did anybody else see either or both of the films? What did you think?

Note to parents: The 2007 movie contains graphic violence and strong language. The 1957 version should be fine for children 10 and up.

6 Comments

  1. Michele says:

    I gotta say, the new one was better. I think the ending was better, and Dan in the new one also continued going because it was the right thing to do, it wasn’t JUST about being a hero or getting the money.
    The character depiction was just so much better. I understood WHY (even if some of the motives were questionable) the characters did what they did.
    In the original IMO some of the main characters had little to no depth.
    I don’t care if it IS a western, I want characters I can relate to.
    I will say Glenn Ford did an awesome job playing creepy Ben Wade. Van Heflin has never impressed me, not in the original of this film, not in Shane, or anything else I might have seen him in.
    The acting alone puts the new one heads and tails above the other.

  2. Ray Fowler says:

    Michele – I agree the acting was better in the second one (at least Christian Bale over Van Heflin — I might have to give Glenn Ford and Russell Crowe a tie). But I still think Dan Evans’ motivation is off in the remake. It seems he keeps going to impress his son, not necessarily because it is the right thing to do. But, I thoroughly enjoyed both versions, and am glad they are both there for comparison. Thanks for commenting!

  3. Mark says:

    This is 11 years too late but the 1957 version had better dialogue particularly that of Ben Wade relentlessly tempting the dirt poor rancher to take the bribe money for the sake of his long suffering wife. After all that’s Satan’s title ‘the tempter’. Brilliant script.

  4. Ray Fowler says:

    Mark – I agree on the 1957 version – great script, great movie.

  5. Blaise says:

    The remake was more subtle in its morality. Dan wasn’t fighting just to be a hero for his son.

    In the bridal suite, the script crafts a moral dilemma in a few different steps. First, the money is presented, but Dan turns it down, after some hesitation over a clear internal struggle, with the reasoning that no one would believe him that Wade magically got away while Dan mysteriously returned with a fortune in money.

    So Dan was presented as working for the money, but didn’t take Ben’s offer only because he wouldn’t be able to use Ben’s money without making others suspicious. So the viewer is led to believe Dan’s stubborn quest was about the money.

    Then as all the marshall’s men abandon their duties and Butterfield himself calls off the escort in the face of sure death, nevertheless promising a fat reward for Dan, Dan still remains on escort duty. He is invited to quit and *still* get the money. This should be exactly what Dan wanted, so why does he stay behind?

    In responding, Dan hesitates again, just as before with Ben’s offer. We realize the earlier hesitation wasn’t to think up the excuse to turn down the money, it was because something else wasn’t sitting right with Dan over the whole matter, something he couldn’t put his finger on. Even with the money right in front of him and logic telling him to stop, something doesn’t sit right and he can’t abandon escort duty.

    Dan sums up his motives in two lines: “Then what did the good doctor die for?”

    and

    “I ain’t never been no hero. Only battle I was ever in was a retreat. My leg was taken off in friendly fire. You try telling that story to your boy and seeing how he looks at you then?”

    The first line adds the moral imperative. Accepting the burden of someone else’s duty to give their death meaning is a moral theme more common in Eastern culture, but isn’t any less noble if you think about it. The doctor gave his own life saving them, and he was a good, honest man. His death would be meaningless if Ben escaped; in hindsight it was equivalent to a good man having thrown his life away by deciding to go on the trip. To a degree the same for the marshall and his men wrapped up in the affair.

    The second line pulls Dan’s history full circle to give his backstory and relationship with his family meaning to the central script. Dan has no pride left, abandoned even by his own family. Had he taken the easy road and let Ben walk, this would not have changed. Specifically, this line clarifies *via Dan’s own words* that Dan is *not fighting to be a hero*. He’s fighting to salvage his standing as a man in his family. He’s fighting for his own life in the sense of societal respect. To say he’s fighting to be a hero is implying delusions of grandeur that Dan never had. He was a dirt-poor man trying to gain equality by death or high water, not an equal man greedily overstepping his limits to be a hero.

    The original film is a more traditional good vs evil. The bandits are unforgiveable villans, while the heroes, even Wade who might do bad things, only do bad things for a reason (ie. hanging with Prince because he had a debt for his life and otherwise displaying honor in his banditry). Every moment of Wade’s supposed villainry is tempered by a redeeming action that makes him somehow likeable. It’s a superficial and simple morality where all the likeable characters are good guys, and fate (ie. the writers) save them because good guys are rewarded.

    The remake shifts it away from superficial morality by providing stronger motives to the main characters’ Dan and Ben. The morality is intertwined with their motives, making it less straightforward and more interesting.

    Dan’s motives were discussed above. He chooses to value honor over his own life, clearly so because he pays the price of his life to achieve it. The viewer is therefore invited to question whether the pride of a normal man and the fates of his comrades (the good doctor) are worth the price of a life.

    Ben’s conversion is more authentic. Decades of decadent ideology aren’t shifted in a few days of mere conversation. Throughout the remake, there’s a track of signs pointing toward the climactic moment of conversion. Ben, a ruthless crime lord, gave Dan extra change in the beginning of the film even when Dan, a peasant in comparison, dared to demand more money from Ben; Ben explained how Byron the bounty hunter was a one-note character, implying through this and other interactions that Dan’s morality interested him. Most powerful of all happened in Contention, the sympathetic glint in Ben’s eyes as Dan told his son to wait in the side room and watch over the family if Dan didn’t return—Ben had just previously explained his own situation of being abandoned by his mother after his father died in a whiskey bar fight. Ben had a parental complex leftover from his crappy parents, and his respect for Dan stemmed from Dan struggling genuinely to be a good father. That’s why Ben immediately killed the bounty hunter and Hollander’s man for disrespecting him, but he notably never begrudged Dan’s rude talk earlier in the film when the topic concerned defending Dan’s own family. In those moments, Ben was insulting Dan or toying with his son/wife to bait Dan, to test both his family and himself as a father figure and husband—and Dan and his family passed Ben’s test.

    That’s how you change someone with decades of ingrained ideology; not with conversational words but striking them where they have no ideological defenses.

    There was more complexity to both Ben’s and Dan’s characters, a psychological depth communicated to the viewer through a subtle secondary narrative of hints and passing remarks or facial expressions. It was this richer complexity that made the climax so much more meaningful to me in the remake. Given the films were otherwise unremarkable without the climactic moral dilemmas both Dan and Ben faced, I appreciated the climax having more than one note to delve into.

  6. Ray Fowler says:

    Blaise – Great thoughts and great interpretation. Thanks for sharing!

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