“Nothing ever changes as far as Westerns are concerned. They are the same today as they were years ago.”

–Glenn Ford

Sometimes a man has to do what a man has to do. That old saw has been scribbled on the tombstones of a long list of western heroes, most notably in Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 movie “High Noon,” which gave us the stoic Gary Cooper standing against the forces of in-coming evil, whilse the townfolk hid behind lace curtains.

Another oater came along in 1957 and gave us yet another, and in my opinion, a much better story line and far better actors. With all respect to Cooper, Delmer Dave’s 1957 “3:10 to Yuma” gives us a tighter, more intense script. Then James Mangold made a big star, big color, nosier remake in 2007, with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Dave’s film, in black and white still wins.

The great Van Heflin, one of Hollywood’s once and forever acting legends, will probably always be remembered as Joe Starrett in one of the most famous westerns ever, George Steven’s masterful “Shane,” when, as a dirt farmer struggling on the great plains, he stood tall beside the very, very short Alan Ladd.

In this beautiful remastered print of “3:10,” Van emerges as pretty much the same character, the reluctant hero who just wants to tend to his cattle and family and avoid trouble.

But as in most of his films, trouble finds him. Here, he plays good old Dan Evans, small time cattle rancher with a wife and two boys, who is about to lose all in a year long drought.

On a day’s outing, Dan and his sons witness the holdup of a stagecoach. From a hillside they see the outlaw gang rob the coach and in the process, shoot down a driver who wanted to be a hero. When the boys ask why their father doesn’t ride down and take action, he points out the two obvious reasons — the eight bad guys and the dead driver. Is our Dan a coward or just a really smart guy?

Later the outlaws, after stranding the stagecoach in the desert, ride into town and line up at the local bar, pretending to be cattlemen on their way to Mexico. It’s here we get to know the leader of the pack, the charismatic, handsome and legendary Ben Wade (Glenn Ford in one of his rare bad guy roles).

Ben Wade is an Elmore Leonard bad guy, complicated, charming and mesmerizing to the ladies. This particular lady is bar runner Emmy (Felica Farr) who, stuck in this dry gulch town full of creaky old men, hasn’t seen such a heated package of virility in her life.

Ben sends his gang off to Mexico and promises to catch up in Nogales. It’s summer in Arizona. She steams, he dallies. The clock ticks. When the posse returns, they nab him. The sheriff’s plan is to get Ben out of town before his gunmen wise up and come back to get him.

The sheriff asks for volunteers to take Ben to a rail center and get him on the 3:10 to the state prison in Yuma. An offer from the stagecoach owner of $200 is rejected by wiser heads. But rancher Dan, who needs the money to keep him alive until the rains come, jumps at the offer. He is handed a shotgun and with the dubious help of the town drunk, starts the journey. In the railway town, Dan and his prisoner set up shop in a local hotel to wait for the train. A large group of locals offer to help out until they discover that Ben’s associates are coming back, and they are really ticked off.

One, by one they all employ the oldest of western excuses: “I’m sorry, but I’ve got family.”

Now, with two hours to go, white hat Dan and black hat Ben wait out the clock in the hot hotel room overlooking the empty, dusty street.

Audiences who still remember what happened to Cooper back in his reluctant village, know that hell is coming over the ridge, and that our hero Dan will soon be up against it. It’s the classic wait and see-who will blink first-war of nerves game, and nobody plays that better than writer Elmore Leonard. One only has to jump over his resume of great stories and go back to his novels that became movies, like 1971’s “Valdez is Coming” with Burt Lancaster, or the 1967 Paul Newman western “Hombre” to see how he makes us all sweat, even when we know how it has to end.

So why, one might wonder, would the Maine International Film Fest folks bring back an old black and white Western today? Because this is no ordinary B&W. This is art.

One only has to watch Van Heflin and Glenn Ford play out the scenes in the hotel room. Ford, who was a method actor before Actor’s Studio made it famous, gives one of his best performances. His Ben sits cuffed and quiet, dry as sand, as Van Heflin watches the clock and sweats like a racehorse. They talk, Elmore Leonard talk. John Ford meets Samuel Beckett.

Ben coolly offers bribes that begin to mount in price. Dan, near the end of his string, starts to give it thought. He knows nobody else gives a damn, and besides, the town drunk who was with him is now gut shot and hanging by his neck in the lobby, and the clock is ticking.

Delmer Daves’ direction is crisp and ahead of its time. Charles Lawton’s camera work dominates the screen, with sharp black and white images, shadows and substance. It’s easy to tell he was a student of the famous Gregg Toland who gave us “Citizen Kane” and “Grapes of Wrath.”

The cast, townsfolk and gunmen, compiled by Daves, seems to be hand picked right down to the voiceless extras. Their roles are cliche, but their work under Daves, surpasses the ordinary. Watch the faces, the reactions.

The best part, of course, comes in the last 10 minutes, when thunder in the distance promises the rain, when the train pulls in and starts to leave, when hostage and captor have only seconds to cross one last street, when eight gunmen wait in the cloud of engine steam. Daves and his players deliver. It’s then that we remember the famous lines from another great western, (“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”)

When you walk out of “Yuma,” you’ll know why film festivals are so important.

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