3:10 to Yuma (1957)

Movie: Directed by Delmer Daves.

Inciting Event: Desperate ranch owner Dan Evans escorts marooned stage line owner Mr. Butterfield towards Bisbee, Arizona, where they encounter a posse chasing after outlaw Ben Wade, who held up the stage. They realize Wade is still back in Bisbee, and since Evans has business there anyway (attempting to borrow enough money to buy the necessary water rights to save his dying cattle), he reluctantly agrees to come along and help arrest Wade.

First Plot Point: Evans enters the saloon, where Wade is alone with the barmaid. Through a stratagem, he distracts and delays Wade, allowing him to be arrested. This is the Key Event, engaging Evans with the main conflict. When he fails to borrow the money he needs, he then takes Mr. Butterfield up on his offer of $300 to any man who will deliver Wade to the train station on Contention. This is then the First Plot Point, in which his own decision firmly entangles him in the main conflict as it moves forward into the Second Act.

First Pinch Point: According to plan, the posse tricks Wade’s men into believing he’s on the stage, when really he is kept hidden at Evans’s house until after dark. The pinch points are easily the weakest bits of structure here, but in fairness, the whole story practically oozes “pinches,” with the ever-hovering threat of Wade’s men finding him, freeing him, and killing Evans.

Midpoint: Evans, Wade, Butterfield, and the deputy Alex Potter arrive in Contention and hole up in the hotel, where they must wait for the 3:10 train to Yuma prison.

As with all great Midpoints, this provides a perfect swivel point between the first half (getting Wade to Contention) and the second half (getting him to the train).

Second Pinch Point: Wade’s right-hand man, Charlie Prince, reveals himself as the supposed drunk “sleeping it off” in the hotel lobby. He sees Wade through the window and rides off with a promise of fetching the rest of the gang. The pressure mounts as Evans realizes the near-suicidal mission of fulfilling his word and delivering Wade to the train.

Third Plot Point: Wade’s gang ride into town. All of the local deputies recruited by Mr. Butterfield abandon Evans. Potter is hanged in the hotel lobby. Even Mr. Butterfield decides the mission isn’t worth the risk. Evans’s wife arrives to plead with him to back down.

Climax: Evans refuses to back down and walks Wade to the station, dodging gang members at every turn.

Climactic Moment: As the train begins to pull out, Wade (impressed with Evans’s fortitude) jumps into the train in front of Evans, preventing his gang from shooting him.

Resolution: Wade indicates he knows he’ll be able to break out of Yuma again. Evans waves to his wife in a wagon below, as the long-awaited rain pours down.

Notes: The differences in endings of this and the 2007 remake are interesting. Although I’m not a big fan of the remake, I much prefer its portrayal of Evans’s death. His not dying in this version is almost anticlimactic. However, Wade’s progression feels much more realistic in this version—his simply refusing to allow his men to rescue him doesn’t require nearly the suspension of disbelief as in the remake when he personally guns them all down to a man, including his fanatically devoted sidekick.

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.