The public perception of the American Western is inexorably intertwined with a specific concept of masculinity that- no, stop, don’t click away you asshole. I’m making a point. I’m not here to blow smoke up your ass, but if we’re going to have an honest conversation about the media that the National Film Registry has determined comprises the cultural fabric of America we need to talk about how and why without mincing any fucking words. The western genre was made with a very specific image of men in mind and, we need to be honest here, was broadly made for a very specific audience of men. This is probably why for a large chunk of my life, I stupidly, ignorantly, wrote off the entire genre as a loss. 

 

 

The perception of the big swinging dick American male is diametrically at odds with both the protagonist, Dan Evans, and antagonist, Ben Wade. Neither is a grizzled, cigar-chomping Man-With-No-Name or a swaggering John Wayne-type. In lieu of that, there is a softness to both of them; distinct from one another but both of their edges have been sanded off to create men who do not conform to the mold I (and maybe you!) believed men of the wild west had to adhere to in order to survive. The starkest difference between the two is Ben Wade is not unwilling to kill when pushed to it, but he also does not go around murdering as he pleases with his little gang of ruffians. Ben Wade is, apparently, a gentlemen who chooses to be a lout. Dan Evans is a man who lives so rigidly within the confines of “the rules” that he is being strangled by himself and taking his family down with him. In all the ways that two men can be so seemingly diametrically opposed, the ways in which they are human and honorable in spite of the harshness of the world outside are more meaningful measures of their character.

 

 

The movie has a…look in…in 2020 the movie has a…a vibe. It has a…Hey, why do they keep Ben Wade locked in a bridal suite for like 40% of the movie with Dan? Why specifically a bridal suite? I’m certain at the time they were not intending for any homoerotic subtext but. I might have to make my big post about what “death of the author” actually is so I can explain why seeing this movie as a bisexual in 2020 is so drastically different than in 1957. It seems difficult not read into Ben Wade bouncing suggestively on the bed and wondering absentmindedly “how many brides…”? Ben Is flirtatious and flattering to everyone he meets, from the barmaid to Dan’s wife to Dan himself, preferring to solve his problems by oozing charm and greasing palms than firing shots.

 

 

Dan, conversely, is charmless but reliable. He is nothing if not true to his word and it’s evident by the end of the movie that Ben deeply admires his character when he saves Dan’s life. Poor Dan is a failure and he knows it; his ranch being on the verge of financial ruin is why he’s volunteered to escort Ben Wade in the first place. But Wade pushes all of Dan’s buttons and picks and pulls at all the threads keeping together the only thing he has left: his integrity. 

It’s a strange kind of bond that forms over the course of 24 hours that ends in one man willingly going to jail for the other even though he could have easily slipped away. But Ben Wade saw something he liked in Dan. Maybe his complete refusal to succumb to Ben’s temptations, like everyone else who crossed Wade’s path. In turn, Ben chooses to rise to Dan’s level. rather than Dan stoop to his. There is no bloodied shootout. And really, no justice. But an equilateral exchange and a torrent of hope as the train leaves the station.

 

 

I know for a fact there are plenty of the archetypal westerns on the list, making “3:10 to Yuma” unique in its execution. Shed your preconceived notions about what the genre should be and join me in exploring more of it. 

Assorted thoughts:

  • The first thing said in this movie is “Now see here, I’m Mister Butterfield!” which is the most western thing ever.
  • Though it must have been an ordeal to film on location in Arizona in 1957, the film’s setting makes the southwest look better than it does in reality (a shithole).
  • ITS BULLSHIT MOVIES DONE HAVE THEIR OWN SONGS ANYMORE…what was the last movie to do this? “wild wild west”?

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