Glen Ford makes quite the most inauspicious entrance in Jubal of any leading man I can remember. Just as the credits fade we see him stumbling along the crest of a hill, trip then fall over the ridge to the road below where he passes out. Luckily for him and us he is soon met by Ernest Borgnine who lifts the lifeless body into his wagon and takes him to his ranch. Nursed back to health we learn he is called Jubal Troop (surely a movie character name bettered only by Snake Plissken) but not much more, and certainly not what brought him to this place. Borgnine takes pity and offers him room, board and a job on the ranch. Despite this generosity, however, Jubal soon finds himself caught in a dangerous triangle between the rancher’s wife who throws herself at him from the outset and the chief ranch hand who immediately cultivates a bitter jealousy toward him.
The set-up is a good one: Borgnine as the kind-hearted boss, Valerie French as Mae, the sultry temptress and a captivating Rod Steiger playing Pinky, the mean and unpredictable rival. The script clearly channels Othello, with the added twist of putting a stranger between the two main players and having him at as much risk from the romantic fallout. In fact as the story deepens it becomes apparent this has more tropes in common with Film Noir than it does with Westerns. Yes, the Wyoming backdrops look great and the decision to shoot in the as then new CinemaScope pays off handsomely but we’ve seen this story play out many times in the grimy streets of the big city; French would look easily at home propping up a bar, cigarette in hand while Steiger could as well swap his stetson for a fedora.
Naturally Jubal turns down Mae’s affections (what do you expect? this is Glen Ford after all) while at the same time accepting the ranch owner’s offer of the position of foreman, very much over the objections of Pinky, and these two decisions inevitably put him on a path toward a deadly confrontation.
Ford, as ever is excellent, playing the strong silent type very well. Throughout he’s always slightly uncomfortably in his own skin and late in the film delivers a touching story of his pained childhood with barely constrained emotion, leaving Felicia Farr and no doubt much of the audience in tears. Newcomer Valerie French does a great job as the sexually frustrated wife trapped in “10,000 acres of loneliness” and seems to really enjoy smouldering at Ford in the presence of her lunking husband. But the standout performance comes from Steiger who mesmerizes as the sly and brooding thug, intent on stirring up disharmony with a vocal delivery that stands just short of a weird, agressive whine.
Jubal demonstrates the mature and thoughtful western sensibilities the director showed in his earlier film Broken Arrow and while it does not quite hit the heights that film did it’s still recommended viewing.
Jubal – directed by Delmer Daves (1956)
A mysterious cowhand emerges from the wilderness to force an impact on the cosy lives of everyone he encounters, both in the cattle ranch and beyond.