Back in the 1950s, it was practically impossible to go to the cinema without being confronted with posters for movies about men in wide-brimmed hats with six-shooters at their waists. Where today it’s science fiction and superheroes dominating the box office, with every other film seeming to have some kind of fantastical computer-generated special effect or other, in the fifties it was the Western that was king. It was the age of John Ford’s masterly films about cavalrymen, where the natural majesty of monument valley provided cinematic awe in a way today’s artificial effects still struggle to manage. The age of John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Gary Cooper – real men for real movies.
In 1957 an unusual Western hit cinemas, starring one of the genre’s lesser – but nonetheless popular – heroes. Playing against type as a devious bandit, captured and being held while waiting for the train that is to transport him to prison, Glenn Ford’s performance in the original version of 3:10 to Yuma won him much acclaim, with the film swiftly earning itself a place on any Western connoisseur’s list of classics.
Part of the reason was undoubtedly the unusual pacing, the oddly retrained setting – but most of all the bristling dialogue. The reason? It was based on a story by the then practically unknown Elmore Leonard – the writer responsible for so many great novels and movies, from Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight through Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown up to the Charles Bronson-starring 1974 classic Mr. Majestyk.
Fifty years on, and a year after Ford’s death, we get a remake. Yet, unlike the usual response when classic films get modern makeovers, for Western fans the prospect can only be a welcome one – after all, how many Westerns do you see coming out of Hollywood these days? The genre has all but died, and any new addition to that most cinematic of story types should only be welcomed.
And then, of course, there’s the people involved. How is it possible not to look forward to a film that sees Russell Crowe up against Christian Bale? Forget Crowe’s bad boy image, these are two of the best actors working in Hollywood today. With Crowe in the Ford role as the captured bad guy, and Bale as the put-upon rancher tasked with keeping him imprisoned until the arrival of the titular train to Yuma, the potential for a heavy-duty bit of character acting from two of the finest stars of the moment is surely high.
But it’s not just Crowe and Bale, there’s also Peter Fonda knocking around in support, in what looks to be his last film role – a perfect final film for the son of Western legend Henry Fonda. Plus there’s the man in charge, director James Mangold, fresh from his success with the Oscar-winning Walk the Line.
In other words, what we have here is not just a rare Hollywood Western, but a Hollywood Western with a budget of $50 million, two of the finest actors currently working in the lead, one of the ultimate A-listers of the last 40 years in support, and a director at the top of his game. How can that be anything other than something to celebrate?