Friday, June 28, 2013

FFB Review: "Three-Ten to Yuma" (1953) by Elmore Leonard--- Reviewed by Barry Ergang

Friday means Friday’s Forgotten Books hosted by Patti Abbott. This week Patti declared today a celebration of Elmore Leonard. Make sure you check out the other reading possibilities here after you read the review below……

"Three-Ten to Yuma" (1953) by Elmore Leonard

Reviewed by Barry Ergang
Originally published in the pulp magazine Dime Western, Elmore Leonard's short story concerns Deputy Marshal Paul Scallen's efforts to get convicted Wells Fargo robber Jim Kidd onto a train that will take them to the penitentiary in Yuma. The story opens in the early morning hours, with Scallen
and Kidd riding into the aptly-named town of Contention. Here they meet Timpey, a Wells Fargo agent who has made hotel accommodations for them. The plan is to hole up in the hotel until they can get on the train later in the afternoon.

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 (, 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
A Derringer Award winner, some of Barry's written work is available at Amazon and Smashwords.


Earl Staggs said...

Definitely a classic, and one of my favorites. Although originally a short story, it has been made into a full movie twice. I enjoyed the first one (Glenn Ford and Van Heflin) more than the second.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Seen both movies and prefer the Glenn Ford version. Have not read the short story.

Barry Ergang said...

I agree with you both: the first version of the movie was much better than the second.