A while back, I compared The Magnificent Seven to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly but they weren’t really alike. At least, not when compared to how similar High Noon and 3:10 to Yuma (1957 version, of course) are. I love both these movies, I think they’re both great westerns (two of the greatest ever made), and today I’ll be comparing and contrasting different elements of both films. Let’s have fun with this, shall we?
High Noon: On the day of his wedding, Marshall Will Kane receives news that Frank Miller, a man he sent to prison, has been released and is coming to take his revenge on Kane. Kane elects to stick around and wait for Miller. One by one, the townspeople desert him (including his wife) and he must face Miller alone.
3:10 to Yuma: Dan Evans, a rancher whose cattle are dying from a long drought, witnesses a stagecoach robbery and murder carried out by notorious outlaw, Ben Wade, and his gang. Through a series of unfortunate events, Dan ends up with the job of getting Wade on the 3:10 train to Yuma, having been deserted by almost everyone else.
High Noon: Will Kane is a reluctant hero (played with quiet, tired desperation by Gary Cooper) and almost the only truly likable character in the entire film (Helen Ramírez could be another). The townspeople, almost to a man, are cowardly and fearful. Harvey is weak. There aren’t a whole lot of great characters in High Noon, truth be told, but they are real.
3:10 to Yuma: Dan Evans is another reluctant hero, a family man who would only risk his life to such an extent because he needs the money to keep his ranch running/provide for his family. (Well, at first it’s about the money, but later on it’s much more complicated.) While lots of people run out on Dan in the end, his wife and Alex Potter (the town drunk) stick with him and are good, solid people. Emmy (played by the intriguing Felicia Farr) is an interesting character as well.
Because, yes, the villains in both films need their own category.
High Noon: Lee Van Cleef! The ultimate western bad guy after playing, y’know, The Bad. Mostly, he just slinks around and doesn’t say much of anything, but…still cool. (Just like in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.) Frank Miller is sort of bland for all his big reputation – Colby (Van Cleef’s character) and Ben Miller steal the the show for me. (Mainly because Ben is, um, kind of cute. Sheb Wooley, the guy who plays him, is credited – according to Wikipedia – for originating the Wilhelm Scream.)
3:10 to Yuma: Okayyyyy. Ben Wade is hands-down my favorite part of this movie (and that was before I started seriously crushing on Glenn Ford). I’ve always had a certain weakness for great villains, but Wade is the first one I’ve actually liked. He’s cool and calm and smart. And charming, to boot. Plus, he makes some great choices in the end that go to show that he’s not a lost cause where decency is concerned. As for the rest of his gang…they’re all pretty faceless, except for Richard Jaeckel, who makes a chilling right hand man.
High Noon: The theme song is just…wow. Melancholy, beautiful, even a little heartbreaking. I love it. And I love how it’s repeated so often, either in the soundtrack, on the piano in the saloon, or bits of the song proper here and there throughout the film.
3:10 to Yuma: You know, as I started writing this blog post, I was listening to soundtrack suites for both these movies, and the first one I listened to was High Noon. And I was like “I love this theme song! Definitely more than 3:10 to Yuma.” And THEN I listened to 3:10 and it’s so achingly bittersweet and soulful and I really can’t decide. All I know is that when it starts playing at the end, I get a big lump in my throat. I like how it’s riffed on in the score and especially how Glenn Ford whistles it off and on a lot.
SPOILERS. Like, maaaajor spoilers.
High Noon: Kane faces down Frank Miller and his men. Amy joins him at the eleventh hour and, together, they defeat The Bad Guys. Once the danger has passed, the townspeople emerge from their houses, Kane throws his tin star in the dust, and he and Amy drive off. It’s a powerful, albeit bitter ending, brightened only by the hope that Will and Amy will finally be able to live in peace.
3:10 to Yuma: Evans and Wade end up facing down Prince and the gang together, with Wade eventually choosing to save Evans’ life over escaping. They jump onto the train together as it pulls out of the station, and Evans shoots Prince, who was running after the train/shooting at them. As the train passes a waiting Alice and she spots her husband, rain begins to fall and the theme song plays. It’s rather awesome and emotional and such a relief after the hour or so of nail-biting tension. Plus, Glenn Ford’s dimples are adorable.
Sooooo…which film is my favorite? I don’t know. I think that High Noon is the better film, that it works together as more of a cohesive whole and all that, but it’s not my favorite of the two. And I don’t know if 3:10 is my favorite either. They’re not just excellent westerns, they’re excellent movies in general. I think High Noon’s story is stronger, but I like the characters in 3:10 to Yuma better. It’s a toss-up, it really is.
But fine. If you twisted my arm…
High Noon. But only by the tiniest fraction.
Have you seen one or both of these films? Which is your favorite?