Somehow, I just figured it was time to watch 3:10 to Yuma (1957). My idea might have been to get it under my belt so I could see the 50th anniversary 2007 remake. Maybe Mr. Schprock had recommended it - I'm too lazy to check. Whichever, it was a good choice.
So, poor but honest farmer Van Heflin and his two sons happen upon a stagecoach robbery, led by notorious bandit Glenn Ford. Right off, the conflict is set up - Heflin is anxious, defeated from the start. He doesn't want to get involved in heroics that might put him and his sons in danger. Ford, on the other hand is charming, self-confident and cruel. But Ford is captured when he tarries in the saloon chatting up the bargirl. Now the citizens of the little town have to get him to prison in Yuma before his gang comes back and liberates him.
Van Heflin doesn't want to do it, but takes the job for the money. He will try to get Ford on the 3:10 train to Yuma without letting letting the gang find them. This gets harder and harder, and the tension just keeps building.
Director Delmer Davies made a bunch of westerns, none of which I've seen (I've seen his Hollywood Canteen). This one hits the right notes of revisionist (Heflin is a reluctant hero, Ford is a charming villain) and classic - the mechanics of the robbery and the chase are so precise and inevitable. He has a nice visual sense, nothing fancy. It's clear why this is considered a classic. Now I don't want to watch the remake.