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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: September 2017

Introduction: “No One Would Know It Was Mine”: Delmer Daves, Modest Auteur


I much prefer the audience not to know that there's a director. That's my general thesis in regard to directing.

Delmer Daves

Delmer Daves is the property of those who can enjoy stylistic conviction in an intellectual vacuum. The movies of Delmer Daves are fun of a very special kind. Call it Camp or call it Corn. The director does not so much transcend his material as mingle with it.

Andrew Sarris, The American Cinema

American critics have never taken Delmer Daves seriously, and the way things look, they probably never will.

Jean-Pierre Coursodon, American Directors

It is tempting, in introducing a book of this nature, to declare at the outset something like, “Delmer Daves is the best filmmaker you've never heard of!” Alas, we cannot resort to such rhetoric—not because Delmer Daves is not a great, critically overlooked filmmaker, but because you likely have heard of him. Daves is remembered principally as a maker of Westerns, and of two Westerns in particular: Broken Arrow (1950) and 3:10 to Yuma (1957). The former, about an Army scout who brokers a peace treaty between the American government and the Chiricahua Apache, offered viewers a comparatively nuanced, sympathetic depiction of Native American culture, and in so doing helped to transform how American Indians are represented in cinema. The latter, a stylish, psychological frontier drama about a poor farmer who agrees to help escort a dangerous outlaw to the train that will take him to prison, is frequently considered among the best Westerns of the 1950s, and was even subject to a high-profile remake in 2007. As these synopses suggest, however, Broken Arrow and 3:10 to Yuma are quite different films, and are remembered for different reasons: the former for its sociocultural significance, the latter for its style. This perceived difference, it turns out, matters a great deal.

Making the jump from discussing individual films to discussing filmmakers normally requires us to detect consistency, not difference. Identifying recurring features of style or theme across multiple films implies the underlying presence of an impelling, organizing personality: an artist who imbues his work with his own vision of the world.