3:10 to Yuma– Weapons as Character

I love Westerns and I don’t trust people that don’t.  3:10 to Yuma (the 2007 version) is one of my favorites for a bunch of reasons.  Great performances, gorgeous cimematography, lotsa shoot outs, and a nice tight pace.  The tight pace is accomplished partly by keeping exposition short and simple.  Get him on the train, get paid, save the farm.  It’s also smart enough to use genre convention to save time.  We’ve all seen enough evil ranchers, poor farmers, suave outlaws, and ruthless pinkertons to know where we stand. 

Yet the characters all feel real.  What struck me about this movie (and stikes me everytime I watch it) is how smart the weapons choices were.  I’m a gun enthusiast (some say gun-nut) and would guess that a lot of Western fans are as well.  In this one not only are the guns and gear correct for the period, they serve as a shorthand for the characters.

The Whip:  Okay it’s not a gun and some might (foolishly) not consider it a weapon but Ben Wade has a coiled whip on his saddle.  He doesn’t use it, doesn’t even touch it I don’t think.  So why is it there?  It’s a long bullwhip with a bone handle, a stockman’s whip and a working tool.  Wade hardly seems like the type to move cattle or drive freight.  A whip is supple, has a long reach, a wicked lash, and despite being kind of cool to look at, relies on cruelty for effectiveness.  Kind of like Ben Wade.

The Old Soldiers:  It’s mentioned early that Dan Evans fought in the Civil War.  Later he’s asked North or South but we can already guess.  The gun he uses most is a Spencer Carbine, a Union weapon and a cutting edge design in the War but at the time of our story most folks would rather have a Winchester.  His pistol is an open top Colt, an 1851 Navy with the cartridge conversion.  Servicable but again old fashioned.  In Dan’s house we even an old musket, probably a Springfield rifle-musket already a relic in the movie’s time frame.  It could be that Dan doesn’t care about fads or newfangled guns when the ones he has work fine.  It could be he’s just too damn poor to afford a new rifle.  But it could also be that he’s stuck in the War, can’t let go or get over what happened to him. 

The Hand of God:  Ben Wade’s pistol is a Colt Single Action Army.  Hundreds of thousands were made and carried and indeed it’s still made today.  It’s a fine weapon but it was by no means the only pistol in the West yet it’s the iconic ‘Old West Gun’ today and that’s it’s place in the movie.  There’s plenty of SAA’s in the film but Wade’s is special.  It’s decorated with a crucifix, has a name (Hand of God), and according to Wade is cursed.  He wears it in a holster that’s damn close to a modern quick-draw rig.  All gunman’s affectations that are largely the stuff of fiction.  There’s no doubt that there are two Wades.  The real man and the image he’s had a large hand in crafting.

‘Not the Prince of Cats’:  We’ll leave for now the question of whether Ben Foster as Charlie Prince stole the movie (hint: he did) and just focus on his gear.  Physically it’s the only thing to focus on.  With his leather jacket and leather chaps he just looks like one big holster.  It’s all about his pistols.  Smith & Wesson Schofields worn butt forward.  For the period the Schofield would be just about the pinnacle of handgun technology.  The big selling point then was it’s quick reloading capability which Prince shows off in the film.  Charlie Prince obviously loves his pistols and loves to use them.  Were Charlie Prince in a modern setting he would never own a Glock.  Sure it shoots bullets but where’s the style?  Where’s the love of using the finest tool money can buy (to kill someone)?  There’s no question Charlie is using his guns to compensate for something.  But does that make him less dangerous or more?

The Scepter of Power:  The shotgun in the movie is a brutal looking coach gun (I didn’t recognize the make but research says it’s a Colt 1873).  It doesn’t really add to anbody’s character but I noticed that whoever had the gun seemed to be in charge of the group.  First McElroy, the Pinkerton, then Wade, then Evans.  I don’t know if that was on purpose or if it’s just the natural authority of a sawed off shotgun.

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About Eric Bahle

Eric Bahle stopped going to his real job so he could be a full time digital author and storyteller. He loves being in the woods with his bow or on the water in his kayak. He lives in Pennsylvania with his lovely wife and a mongrel dog. He is working on his next bestselling story.

Comments

  1. SouthBeachleather.com is replica expert & there jacket was in magazine photo shot too

  2. Eric, I really enjoyed this article, as my husband and I are big Western fans. I don’t know how we had missed 3:10 to Yuma — actually we remembered the first part of it, so we must have gotten interrupted and sent it back to Netflix. But your posted prompted us to try again, and we truly enjoyed it. We are big gun-nuts, too, though not as much as you are, and we thoroughly enjoyed you weapon imagery. It was dead on. Westerns in which the shooting is inauthentic — those where everyone hits exactly what they’re shooting at, no kick back, etc. — leave us more than a little dissatisfied, but Yuma was a winner. Thanks for the recommendation, and I will always remember, “I love Westerns, and I don’t trust people who don’t.” Best to you.

    Rebecca

  3. Eric Bahle says:

    @Rebecca…thanks for the kind words and glad I could turn you guys on to Yuma. I try and cut some slack with recoil since I know they’re shooting blanks but a good actor can make it look real. I’m thinking Kurt Russel in Tombstone. He made it look like those .45s were buckin and rollin and the sound effects even put in blackpowder roars! In fact, I think I’m gonna go trhow in that DVD 🙂

    • Ha, Tombstone is one of our all-time favorites, probably second only to Open Range. There’s pretty much nothin’ that can top Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday twirling his tin cup to mimic Johnny Ringo, and the line, “I’m your huckleberry.” Best to you. Enjoying the blog very much.

      Rebecca