3:10 to Macao

The B.W. and I were watching Delmer Daves's 3:10 to Yuma the other night. I wanted to take a look at it before the Mangold premieres next week and I haven't seen it in over 30 years (or maybe never, it certainly didn't ring any bells while we were watching it). The Westerns channel had shown what turns out to be a really lovely print, and Charles Lawton's cinematography and Frnak Hotaling's art direction are really quite nice, so we saw it under optimum conditions for home viewing, except that it was a VHS tape off the cable signal.

What came as a complete shock to me was how good the film itself is. On the one hand, it is very tightly scripted, acted, directed, a terrific miniature. But more than that, Daves gets levels of nuance out of Glenn Ford that I never dreamed were there, and a rather steelier performance from Van Heflin than i expected, with the result that the film has an emotional and moral complexity that really surprised me. Mangold will have his hands full matching this.

I was particularly interested, though, in the hotel set on which most of the second half of the film takes place, a two-story room with a balcony running all around, rooms off the balcony, and two large staircases at either end going down to the lobby. The reason I note this is not out of some fetishistic fascination with Hollywood architecture but because it reminds me so strongly of the main hotel set in Johnny To's Exiled, a very, very entertaining gangster homage to the American western. When I saw Exiled a few weeks ago, I was immediately taken by the film's obvious references to Sam Peckinpah and , in particular, The Wild Bunch. the thematic concerns are clearly there -- the sense that the "frontier" has moved into the past, that the code of the heroes is antiquated and the world is poorer for it, the Peckinpah fascination with uneasy alliances bred of necessity, the aesthticization of gun violence. But what I hadn't seen at the time was the references to the Delmer Daves film.

Exiled has a simple enough plotline. Wo (Nicky Cheung), a highly respected hitman decides to retire to Macao so that he can give his wife and baby a normal life, but the mob doesn't want him to do so. He is now being stalked by former friends Blaze and Fat, sent to kill him, and former colleagues Tai and Cat who have come to protect him, but all of them have plenty of history with him and no one is happy about the contract. In the meantime, the return of Macao to China (it's 1998) is the signal for a turnover in the mob hierarchy in town, which complicates the alliances being formed aruond our protagonist. Eventually, all five of the hitmen join forces to disrupt the various lines of power, etc., etc.

To handles this material with more bravado and less brooding than in Triad Election, which is the richer, denser film. But Exiled has such panache and energy and uses screen space so inventively in its big setpieces (of which there are several, all of them delicious), that it is only after the dust and gunsmoke have cleared and you are outside the theater that you find yourself thinking, 'wow, that was a lot of fun but, but, but. . . .'

So where does 3:10 to Yuma come in? Both films are predicated on a series of uneasy relationships that are based either on financial need or an overwhelming sense of responsibility based on debts incurred in the past. Each of them pivots on the spatial relationships -- inside/outside, private/public -- of the hotel, its lobby, rooms and internal balcony and stairs. And each is razor-wire-taut.

Exiled is playing in NYC at the Lincoln Plaza and the Angelika Film Center. It's good, noisy fun, to say the least.