Judge Clark Douglas ain't nothing but a sheepherder.
The sometimes violent story of a driftin' cowhand!
"You know, sometimes I think it's giving the good Lord the worst of it to say he invented people."
Facts of the Case
Jubal Troop (Glenn Ford, Superman: The Movie) is a soft-spoken drifter who stumbles upon a ranch owned by the jovial Shep Horgan (Ernest Borgnine, Escape from New York). Despite the fact that Jubal is unwilling to open up about his past or his work experience, Shep offers him a job. Jubal reluctantly accepts, and soon finds himself promoted to foreman—a development that angers Shep's hot-headed ranch hand Pinky (Rod Steiger, Doctor Zhivago). Making matters even more complicated: Shep's young, attractive wife (Valerie French, The 27th Day) has been making moves on Jubal. Before long, these men will find themselves embroiled in a messy personal drama of epic proportions. Will anyone emerge unscathed?
Though he's not well-remembered by the average movie buff these days, writer/director Delmer Daves had a lengthy and rather distinguished career behind the camera. In addition to writing such well-regarded films as The Petrified Forest and An Affair to Remember, he also directed a number of stellar genre outings like Dark Passage, Broken Arrow and Destination Tokyo. The good folks at Criterion are now making an effort to put Daves back in the spotlight again with remastered presentations of two of his stronger westerns: 3:10 to Yuma and Jubal. The former is the more well-known of the two, but the latter is honestly a bit more intriguing. It walks a tightrope between soapy melodrama and traditional horse opera; not really a surprise when you recall that Daves was the man who gave us both The Last Wagon and A Summer Place.
The core of the movie lies in the complicated love square between Borgnine, Ford, Steiger and French. Borgnine is married to French, Steiger wants French, French wants Ford, Ford just wants to keep his head down and Steiger hates Ford. You can see how all of this might eventually lead to trouble. There's a nervous energy during the scenes of confrontation that is aided immeasurably by the bright, expansive Cinemascope photography. It's a small tale in some ways, but the explosive emotions demand the widescreen treatment. Rich symbolism abounds for those who wish to find it (from the Biblical implications of the title character's name to the fact that the tale is largely a loose riff on Shakespeare's Othello), but on the surface, the movie admirably retains the sad simplicity of a weary country song. Daves never even attempts to handle things subtly—this is a melodrama through and through, and the movie proudly wears that fact on its sleeve.
There's more to the story beyond the basic conflict, however. A good portion of the film is devoted to Reb (Charles Bronson, The Great Escape) and Naomi (Felicia Farr, Kiss Me, Stupid), a pair of attractive youngsters who are part of a wagon train comprised of religious wayfarers. While the material may initially feel like little more than filler, it proves compelling in its own right and provides something engaging while we're waiting for the inevitable climax of the slow-burn central plot to play out.
The performances go a long way towards making the material consistently compelling, with Steiger in particular standing out as a legitimately creepy western Iago. Jealous, spiteful, angry and consistently self-serving, he's an immediately loathsome character who hangs over the rest of the movie like a ticking time bomb. Borgnine is all chuckles and backslapping as the good-natured rancher, who seems as clueless as he is pure-hearted (he's genuinely astonished when Ford suggests that Borgnine's wife might not like being slapped on the rear end in front of other men—"But it shows that you love her!" he protests). Ford is sturdy and likable as the title character, though his work in 3:10 to Yuma is vastly richer. French brings a lusty energy to her scenes; it's not hard to believe that she's capable of sending all of these men into chaos. Young Charles Bronson makes a strong impression in one of his early big-screen appearances; it's a treat to see him doing such solid work at this stage of his career.
Jubal (Blu-ray) Criterion Collection has received a handsome 1080p/2.55:1 transfer. While it's not as jaw-dropping as the best Cinemascope transfers I've seen, it still looks rather impressive. There's some softness at times (especially during interior scenes), but colors have a lot of pop, depth is strong and the image is largely free of scratches and flecks. The LPCM 2.0 Mono track gets the job done nicely, delivering the film's score and dialogue with clarity. There isn't too much in the way of immersive sound design throughout the film, but what's here is solid. Sadly, the only supplement included is a booklet featuring an essay by critic Kent Jones.
Jubal is hardly a long-forgotten masterpiece, but an engaging ambitious film that is worth checking out. Criterion's Blu-ray release is technically sound, but it's a shame that we weren't treated to some detailed analysis of this flick in the supplemental department. Recommended.
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