Delmar Daves’ (3:10 to Yuma) uncomplicated western soap opera has taken the fancy of the Criterion Collection resulting in a visually spectacular high-def transfer, though underwhelming in special features. Despite some ovepraise in the Criterion notes, Daves’ very loose Othello story set fits the western genre well. Shakespeare’s themes such a male loyalty, codes of honour and betrayal are transplanted successfully to the story of a wandering cowboy caught in the power struggle between a naïve cattle rancher and his devious ranchhand looking to seize his wealth.
Jubal (1956) dir. Delmar Daves
Starring: Glenn Ford, Ernest Borgnine, Rod Steiger, Valerie French, Charles Bronson
By Alan Bacchus
Glenn Ford's a commanding presence as the old fashioned hero Jubal Troop, a lonesome wanderer righteous, noble and on the moral right. When he first wanders into the company of Shep (Borgnine) and his group of cattle herders, he becomes the attraction of the wandering eyes of Shep's philandering wife Mae, and the target of the aggressive antagonism of Shep’s ranchhand Pinky (Steiger). Steiger's method-fueled rage easily fits the skin of the nasty Pinky.
Daves chooses to place his characters in their accustomed archetypal roles. If you follow the Othello adaptation, Shep would be Othello, Jubal, Cassio and Pinky, the vile Iago. There’s no mistaking the lines ofdivision between good and evil here. Jubal’s characterization as a soft spoken man, but brave and powerful and attractive and yet invulnerable to the sexual advances of Shep’s wife Mae is blunt. Pinky is unequivocally diabolical, engineering Shep’s demise by planting the seed of an affair between Jubal and Mae in Shep’s mind.
Borgnine is the ideal Shep, an uncomplicated man susceptible to Pinky’s manipulation. Shep’s admonition of his inexperience with women makes for some strong unintentional humour, questioning Jubal why his wife wouldn’t a pat her on the backside as a sign of affection.
This leads to the film’s most interesting character Mae (French), the doting wife of the ignoramous Shep. Though she’s in part the architect of his demise we sympathize with her place as the object of sexual desire in the company of Shep’s male-dominated lifestyle.
Charles Bronson’s endearing humanism provides strong character support. After Pinky sends his posse out to get Jubal, Ford disappears from the picture for a longer than expected period. Bronson as Jubal’s brother-in-arms partner takes the leadership role. His loyalty to Jubal despite the storm of violence upon him provides strong contrast to the betrayals which befell poor Shep.
Jubal is also anchored by his beautiful locations - lush rolling green hills of the midwest framed by jagged mountain peaks composed with epic grandeur by Charles Laughton’s sumptuopus colour CinemaScope cinematography.
Jubal is available on Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection