Monday, August 10, 2015

Cinematography in "3:10 to Yuma" (1957)

Now I'm just going to share some of my favorite images from the movie and talk a little about how they get used.  A lot of important moments get framed in a very literal way, with a door or window within the movie serving as an extra frame to focus our attention.  Here's one of my favorites, shooting from inside the stagecoach to show Ben Wade and one of his gang outside.  They're free, we're trapped, and it's such a cool moment of putting us inside with the imperiled passengers.

Here, the porch roof and posts of the ranch house frame Alice Evans as she sees her husband and sons walk toward her, horseless and tired after their initial encounter with Wade:

The saloon doors get used as a frame a bunch of times too.  When Ben Wade first sees Emmy:

When he decides to stay in town instead of riding out with his men:

When Dan Evans arrives in town and sees that Wade is still there:

After Ben Wade gets captured, the kids of Bisby crowd around the saloon window, trying to get a glimpse of the famous bad man.  Looks like a few adults join in too:

Later, when they arrive at the hotel in Contention City, they use the hotel's back door to frame the four principal participants in the second half of the movie:

Here, they watch from the hotel room's window as Wade's gang begins to arrive in town:

And here, there's just Ben Wade looking out from his little make-shift prison:

Each one of those moments serves to accentuate separateness.  Who is shut in or out, who is choosing to walk through a barrier even though reason says they shouldn't.

Now, I'm exceedingly fond of shots that are crammed full of characters.  For an intimate drama that focuses mainly on the tension between two men, this movie manages a lot of awesome shots where lots and lots of people fill the frame.  I showed a couple of them above, and here are a bunch more.

Ben Wade's gang descending on the saloon in Bisby:

Inside the saloon, where they overwhelmingly outnumber Emmy:

Another one reinforcing how alone she is, surrounded by what we know to be desperadoes:

Emmy caught in the middle of Dan and Ben, when Ben's complicity in the stage hold-up is confirmed:

Now it's Ben who's surrounded, with Dan looming over him:

The townsfolk and stage line owner confer with the marshal on what's to be done with their captive:

Ben Wade has become a spectacle, the Big Bad handcuffed and forced into the very stagecoach he held up hours earlier.  Everyone gapes and gawks at him, except Emmy:

Ben having supper with Dan's family, surrounded again:

I love how all those super-full-of-people shots reinforce the fact that, although this movie centers around two men, their actions touch so many other lives.  Ben's gang, the people of Bisby, Emmy, Dan's family -- they're all affected by the hold-up, by Ben's capture, by Dan taking Ben to the stage.

Finally, I do think 3:10 to Yuma has a noir-ish feel to its use of images, and here are a few that highlight that.  First, here's a beautiful shot of Ben Wade entering the saloon a second time, his shadow looming on the floor:

Later, here's Dan Evans' shadow overpowering Ben:

This is what we first see of Ben Wade and Emmy after their romantic interlude:

Soon after, the camera pulls almost uncomfortably close to them, both their faces alternately in shadow and light:

My favorite shot from the whole movie involves shadows too, with Ben Wade's dark past behind him and the possibility of a light new future ahead:

Then there's this ominous shot of a really creepy chandelier in the hotel's lobby.  Something about it looks evil and tarantula-like to me:

Later on, we get the most noir-esque shot of all, when Alice Evans arrives and discovers someone she knows hanging dead from that very chandelier:

That previous shot also highlights another noir-ish framing device used a lot in this movie:  positioning the camera high above the characters, or below them.  Here's one from slightly below, positioning our hero against the wide, free sky:

Here's another from slightly below:

Camera angles can convey so many things -- in the above picture, it emphasizes that Dan has triumphed over Ben, but puts Ben on a level with the town lawman, and above another character, showing that he hasn't lost as much control as he might seem, and backing up the threat he's making there.

Okay, I could go on all day, sharing beautiful images from 3:10 to Yuma -- I screencapped 126 of them, and even though this is the third post I've written using them, there are still a bunch left.  But I'll end with this exterior, shot in Old Tuscon, Arizona, of a lone good guy riding into town.  Look at how the mountains box him in, how the buildings overshadow him, and even the cacti seem like unfriendly sentinels.

No, wait, just one more that shows off Glenn Ford's dimples.  Maybe at some point I'll just load all the extra pictures into a big photo dump post because they're so delicious.

But I can't leave this one out:

Okay, this is the last one, honest:


  1. Wow, you can just tell this is a REALLY well-filmed movie, just by looking at the screencaps! I especially love the photo of Mrs. Evans on the porch waiting for her husband and sons. That's just so . . . old-Western-y.

    It's kind of funny, people usually just think of actors and plot when they're thinking about a particular movie, but how you frame the actual pictures is super important, too. It's visual art--it's not like a book.

    By the way--I just finished my first battle scene for my novel, the one we were talking about earlier. (It's one chapter--roughly 500 words, I think.) I was wondering if you might have time to read it for me and tell me if you notice any obvious problems? I know you've been very, very busy for the past few weeks, so if you don't have time, I totally understand :)

    1. Thanks, Jessica! Yes, you can really tell that the filmmakers put a lot of thought and care into this film -- it's not just over-over-two-shot all the time.

      I am trying to finish up a first draft of a story by the end of this week, and then I want to take a good 2-week break from it, so if you want to send it over here, I can take a look at it beginning this weekend or so -- will that work for you? Do you have my email address?

  2. That would work fine--thanks so much! Yes, I have your Gmail address, although I'll probably be sending it, not from my Gmail, but from my school account, since that one is simpler for me to use.
    Thanks again! I can't wait to hear what you think :)

    1. Cool beans. I look forward to it! Actually finished off my rough draft last night, so I am free and clear for a couple weeks.

  3. Sweet--I'll send it to you, then! (And congratulations on finishing your draft!)

    1. It's back in your inbox, Jessica :-) And thanks! I'm really looking forward to digging into this new story -- right now it has potential, but it's kinda just a big lump of dough that needs kneading, rolling, cutting, and baking before it can be yummy biscuits.

  4. Those are really cool. I liked the ones with the realistic framing and then the ones crammed full of people best:D Though the shots of Emmy and Wade are also cool.

    1. Olivia, thanks! This movie is definitely a visual feast. Pretty much every shot is so deliberate, so thought-provoking.

  5. What a great breakdown of the framing of shots in this movie! Really enjoyed seeing the screenshots, with your comments. I still love that shot of Ben in the train with the rain/light and shadow. So beautiful and perfect.

    1. Thanks! I am kinda thinking of making that rain/shadow one my desktop. It's amazing.


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