In preparation for seeing the new film, I watched the original Glenn Ford/Van Heflin version of 3:10 to Yuma on the Western Channel a few days back (it's running twice more this Thursday if you've a mind to catch it before seeing the new one) and found it to be an interesting character study with one of the most "What the...? You can't be serious. I spent two hours watching, waiting for this?!?" endings ever, though I'm told they've majorly revised the ending in the new version. But what made the original film for me was the opening theme song, sung by the legendary Frankie Laine. Back then, the right theme song could help make or break a film. In fact, it's long been argued that what helped to make High Noon such a hit was a combination of the theme song, sung in the film by John's dad, Tex Ritter, and later on the record by the aforementioned Mr. Laine, and the brilliance of the film editor who cut in all those wonderful shots of the town's clocks counting down the minutes until the villainous Frank Miller (clearly in his days before 300 or Sin City) would arrive in Hadleyville to shoot hero Will Kane dead. And what would The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance have been without that haunting anthem by Gene Pitney? And even without lyrics, Elmer Bernstein's theme to The Magnificent Seven is one of the greatest movie scores of all time. But, as my friend Peter David often says, I digress. What I really want to talk about is the theme to 3:10 to Yuma, arguably one of the most surreal songs I've ever heard.
I apologize for the fact that I don't have the name of the composer or lyricist at hand (though you can easily check that out if you watch the film on Thursday) but I did take the time to copy down the lyrics. Imagine the great Frankie Laine (accompanied in parentheses by the inevitable chorus) singing this...
There is a lonely train called the 3:10 to Yuma.Wrong. Wrong. And, dear Lord, wrong. Take the stage. Take a carriage. Take a horse or a mule. Take gas, if you have to. But under no circumstances, get on that cockenlocker train. I mean, Jeez, they've just told you the train is lonely, it's haunted, you're more than likely to die while riding it, there are buzzards waiting to pick at your carcass, and you've got no sane reason to get on board in the first place. What are they trying to do, get you killed? Honestly, the lyrics could just as easily be...
The pounding of the wheels is more like a mournful sigh.
There's a legend and there's a rumor
When you take the 3:10 to Yuma
You can see the ghosts of outlaws go riding by (riding by)
In the sky. (in the sky)
Way up high, the buzzards keep circling the train. (ah ah ah)
While below, the cattle are thirsting for rain. (ah ah ah)
It's also true, they say, on the 3:10 to Yuma
A man may meet his fate, for fate travels everywhere.
Though you've got no reason to go there
And there ain't a soul that you know there,
When the 3:10 to Yuma whistles its sad refrain,
Take that train! (Take that train!) Take that train!
Want to die from a terminal tumorAt least, that would be more honest. Think about it, people, the train is so bad, there's not only a legend about it, there's a freaking rumor. What more proof could you possibly need?
Or perhaps be devoured by a puma?
Then the 3:10 to Yuma is surely the train for you (ooo ooo ooo)
'Cause you're screwed (ooo ooo ooo) really screwed.
But things get even worse. Know all that cool, horrible stuff the song talks about? Well, none of it actually happens in the movie. Zero. Zilch. No ghosts, no fate, no buzzards. Hell, the train itself doesn't even show up until the last few minutes of the final scene. If there had been Truth in Advertising laws back in 1957, I think I might have demanded my money back, despite the fact that, aside from the ending, it really is a pretty good film.
Still, the worst part of it all (and my lovely wife Christine will happily testify to this, assuming she hasn't already killed me by now) is this:
I cannot get the damn song out of my head.