"Three-Ten to Yuma" (1953) by Elmore Leonard
Reviewed by Barry Ergang
Complicating matters are friends of Kidd who are in town with the intention of liberating him from his guardian, and a man named Bob Moons who is certain Kidd killed his brother during the robbery and who is out for blood. Playing some head games, Kidd tries to convince Scallen to let him go, that he won't succeed in getting him as far as the railway station, let alone to Yuma.
Revealing any more would spoil a subtly tense tale that runs 4,500 words, according to the author in an interview on YouTube (http://youtu.be/GUMHAvXG4zg), and which is the only story Leonard wrote for the pulps for which an editor requested revisions.
I read the story in an anthology titled Hard-Boiled (1995), edited by Bill Pronzini and Jack Adrian. I haven't read everything in it, but I'm pretty sure nearly all of the stories — maybe all except "Three-Ten to Yuma"—are detective and crime tales. Pronzini's introduction to "Yuma" calls it "a distinguished noir story, with all the elements of character, plot, incident, and suspense of the best contemporary thriller."
Until a few years ago, though I've enjoyed western films since childhood, the only western story I'd ever read was the one that served as the basis for "High Noon." Three or four years ago I started reading some pulp western short stories I found on the Internet and a few novels by writers including Clarence M. Mulford, William Colt MacDonald, Max Brand, William MacLeod Raine, and Louis L'Amour, all of whom have what I'd characterize as a "pulp sensibility" in their approach to story-crafting.
What differentiates Elmore Leonard, for me at least, is his more literary approach. The story has plenty of the tension and action in a cinematic style one would want and anticipate from a western that originated in a pulp magazine. But its characters aren't entirely stereotypes and are well-defined by their actions and words. Scallen is determined to see his job through, but not without some fear. Kidd is cocky at times, but he's not the one-dimensional gloating outlaw we've frequently encountered in print and on film. His relationship with Scallen, as it develops, is not entirely what one would expect. The dialogue conveys as much by what is left unsaid as by what is spoken.
"Three-Ten to Yuma" most definitely deserves its status as a classic.
Barry Ergang © 2013