Actor Glenn Ford was born 100 years ago today in Sainte-Christine-d’Auergne, Quebec, Canada. Yes, the All-American star was actually Canadian, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1939. That same year, Ford signed a contract with Columbia Pictures and began a long, prosperous career with the studio. After getting noticed in films like HEAVEN WITH A BARBED WIRE FENCE, SO ENDS OUR NIGHT, and TEXAS (his first Western), Ford took a break from acting and joined the Marine Corps to serve in World War II.
After the war, Glenn Ford was one of Hollywood’s top leading men. He hit it big with 1946’s GILDA, co-starring Rita Hayworth in what may very well be the first true film noir. Soon he found himself the hero in a string of successes: FRAMED, MAN FROM THE ALAMO, THE BIG HEAT , BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, JUBAL, and TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON. But my favorite Ford role casts him as the villain, outlaw Ben Wade in Delmer Daves’ 3:10 TO YUMA.
Based on a story by the great Elmore Leonard, 3:10 TO YUMA begins with cattle rancher Dan Evans (Van Heflin) and his two young sons stumbling onto a stagecoach robbery by the notorious Ben Wade (Ford) and his gang. They witness the driver being killed, but Evans doesn’t get involved. He’s been beaten down by a harsh Arizona life, suffering through a severe drought, and needs money to survive. Wade and his crew ride to Bisbee, stopping at a saloon posing as cattle drivers, and alert the marshal to the killing. The town forms a posse and rides off, while Wade disperses his men so he can stay behind and dally with the local barmaid (Felicia Farr, wife of future Ford co-star Jack Lemmon).
Town drunk Alex Potter (Henry Jones in a good performance) arrives late to the posse, and tells them one of the strangers is still in town. They return, and Evans is used to trap Wade. The outlaw is captured, and the townsmen devise a plan to sneak Wade into Contention City by throwing the gang off the trail. Evans and Potter are the only men who volunteer to guard Wade at the hotel there while they await the 3:10 train to Yuma prison. Now begins a psychological cat-and-mouse game between Wade and Evans as the gang rides into Contention, and Evans is left on his own to bring the killer Wade to justice.
Ford exudes quiet menace as Ben Wade, by turns charming and coldly calculating. He plays head games as Evans’ prisoner, his sly smirk masking his evil intentions. Ford’s calm demeanor as Wade is just right for the character, in a role that might have caused a lesser actor to chew the scenery. Heflin is his equal as Evans, who’s doing his job not only for the money, but to gain the respect of his children. The two actors work nicely together, elevating the material above the standard horse opera.
The supporting cast features Richard Jaeckel in his patented “top henchman” role, and also includes Leora Dana, Robert Emhardt, and Ford Rainey. Director Delmer Daves was responsible for some fine films, like DARK PASSAGE, BROKEN ARROW, A SUMMER PLACE, and two others with Ford, JUBAL and COWBOY. The theme song is sung by Frankie Laine, who also did the theme from TV’s RAWHIDE, and Mel Brooks’ BLAZING SADDLES . 3:10 TO YUMA was remade fifty years later with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale in the Ford/Heflin roles, one of the few remakes of classic films that really works.
Glenn Ford went on to make many more pictures. THE SHEEPMAN, POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES, EXPERIMENT IN TERROR, and THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER were among the best. He did a series of lower budget Westerns in the late 60’s-early 70’s, and starred for a season in a modern-day TV Western, CADE’S COUNTY, with old Columbia cohort Edgar Buchanan. Later, he had a cameo as Pa Kent in 1978’s SUPERMAN, and even made a slasher film (1981’s HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME). Glenn Ford passed away on August 30, 2006, leaving a legacy of fine film performances. 3:10 TO YUMA may be his best, a complete change of pace that the actor nails with ease. Happy birthday, Glenn, and thanks for the memories.