Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Practically a child of the Warner Bros. lot, Delmer Daves began as a writer
(The Petrified Forest) and
graduated to directing in WW2, always with reasonably popular mid-range pictures, and a couple
of predictable successes, like
Dark Passage with Humphrey Bogart.
Daves' first picture at Fox was a western, Broken Arrow, that became a breakthrough hit,
and he went on to average one western a year for the next nine years. At least two of them are
bona fide classics
(3:10 to Yuma and The
Hanging Tree) and the rest are at least interesting.
Jubal is a good but not terrific
story that would seem to be out to prove that a western can be a completely legitimate drama that
doesn't rely on guns, horses and other genre trappings. In that respect Daves succeeded - with
only superficial changes the story of Jubal could easily take place in any setting.
Nice guy rancher Shep Horgan (Ernest Borgnine) is kind to his men but blind to
the disaffection of his wife Mae (Valerie French). She's been flirting with top cowhand Pinky
(Rod Steiger), a bitter malcontent. Then Shep picks up Jubal Troop (Glenn Ford) from the trail
and put him to work; Pinky becomes furious when Jubal becomes the favorite of both Shep and his
unfaithful wife. Jubal holds off Mae's advances while dreaming about Naomi (Felicia Farr), the
daughter of some passing fundamentalist settlers. But the malicious Pinky is waiting for his
chance to use jealousy to turn Shep against Jubal.
Jubal has just about everything one could ask for in a 50s western, production-wise:
Glorious scenery in Technicolor and CinemaScope, top actors (Borgnine was fresh from his Oscar
success in Marty and eager for meaty roles) and a script that isn't about maintaining
the status quo through law 'n order. It even has a classy soundtrack score courtesy of the great
David Raksin of
Laura. The daily life at
the Horgan ranch is broken up by a hateful
romantic triangle that reads like a reworking of Othello. In this case, the hero is
desired by a treacherous wife and her good-hearted but clueless husband. The rotten apple in the
bunch is Rod Steiger's Pinky, who behaves like a more credible extension of the Jud Fry character
he played in Oklahoma! just the year before.
Jubal is an 'unusual' western and was not an outstanding success; the advertising put too
much stressed on the theme of rape. The poster had an image of Valerie French cowering in a barn
while a menacing silhoutte of a cowboy advances on her threateningly. The film itself is an almost
easy-going drama that shows good-guy Glenn Ford slowly being drawn into a trap; there doesn't
seem to be any way to tell ranch boss Borgnine that he's being made a fool of. Unlike the setup in
Of Mice and Men, Borgnine's a friendly guy, but he's too unsophisticated to understand when
Pinky gives him the idea that Ford and French are cheating on him. Unavoidable disaster strikes
And maybe that's the problem with Jubal -- just about everything that happens is painfully
predictable. The audience understands the setup way in advance of the characters and we have to do
a lot of waiting while they catch up. What happens is more or less what we expect. Felicia Farr
(who also did western duty with Delmer Daves in The Last Wagon and 3:10 to Yuma) is
waiting on the sidelines to receive Ford with open arms, should he survive his ordeal. Welcome
cast addition Charles Bronson (as marauding Indian Captain Jack, he was the best thing about
Daves' Modoc uprising movie Drum Beat) is around but doesn't become particularly
active in the storyline.
Even more frustrating, few of the characters are changed by the story.
Ford's Jubal talks about a traumatic childhood incident (a near-drowning similar to
Leave Her to Heaven) but doesn't
learn how to effectively bond with anyone except Felicia Farr. Borgnine never gets the opportunity
to be anything but a fool. Rod Steiger remains a stubborn villain; we never see him question his
poor judgment. Valerie French alone may learn something from her reckless ways. She pays the price
of 50s moralism -- as the dark haired foreign woman
(well, Canadian) with a sexual drive, she's just asking for the worst. Daves doesn't even sympathize
with her enough to let her die on-screen.
Jubal is splendidly acted and nicely worked out as a story and remains an entertaining
change-of-pace western, if not a particularly memorable one. Delmer Daves would hit a home run
with the next year's 3:10 to Yuma (from a book by Elmore Leonard) and make his masterpiece
in 1959's The Hanging Tree with Gary Cooper in one of his last, best performances opposite the
wonderful Maria Schell.
Also doing support duty in Jubal are John Dierkes, Jack Elam and Noah Beery Jr., who
affects to lean on a horse rail the same way he does at the end of Howard Hawks' Red River.
Sony's DVD of Jubal is frequently shown on cable television's The Western Channel but this
DVD is its first appearance in full CinemaScope width since 1956. The image looks good but
unfortunately not terrific, as digital color timing was clearly needed to enhance a faded negative.
The picture is satisfying but sometimes overly grainy, and with intermittent unstable colors.
Curiously, no attempt was made to darken or cool off obvious day-for night material, but the
preponderance of scenes filmed in glorious outdoor settings offsets any minor picture problems.
David Raksin's sensitive score is well served by the clear audio track.
It's worth noting the way outdoor filming has changed since 1956. Glenn Ford stops to talk to
Felicia Farr down by a pretty lake. He approaches her and begins to speak somewhere up in the
Grand Tetons or wherever, and their dialogue is probably post-dubbed. The single angle on Farr
is made back in the studio against a fairly well-matched interior stage set that allows for more
flattering lighting and better audio recording. Glenn Ford's reverse angle is against a rear-projection
screen of the lake, clearly shot on a different stage at a different time. All that technical
effort for a simple little scene.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Movie: Very Good
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 24, 2005
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2005 Glenn Erickson
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