Shakespeare and westerns really don’t sound like they go together. However, in the case of the former, the universality of his themes means that the location and period in which the drama takes place is largely irrelevant. And as for the latter, the genre is so flexible that pretty much anything can be tackled within its framework. William Wellman’s Yellow Sky has been described as a reworking of The Tempest, while Jubal (1956) sees the ideas central to Othello transported to a ranch in Wyoming. In a way, the isolated simplicity of the west provides an ideal backdrop for the presentation of such timeless concepts. Like an uncluttered stage, the absence of the trappings of civilization helps to better focus attention on the more important aspects of the story.
Jubal Troop (Glenn Ford) is a wanderer, a man who has spent his life running; he claims that he’s been trying to escape the bad luck that’s always dogged his steps. In reality though, he’s been running away from himself, or rather his own perceived inadequacies that stem from traumatic childhood experiences. When ranch boss Shep Horgan (Ernest Borgnine) takes him in and offers him a job and a chance to make a fresh start, it looks as though his streak of ill-fortune may be coming to an end. In spite of Jubal’s initial optimism, he soon realizes that he’s actually walked into a highly volatile situation. Shep is one of those salt of the earth types, brimming with hospitality and geniality yet lacking certain social graces. It’s this cheerful disdain for (or ignorance of) the niceties of polite society that has apparently pushed his young Canadian wife, Mae (Valerie French), away from him. I say apparently, because Mae merely uses this as an excuse – it’s clear enough that the remote ranch life and lack of social contact play an equally significant role in shaping her dissatisfaction. Almost as soon as Jubal arrives on the scene Mae begins to show an interest in the newcomer. On top of all this, there’s the problem of Pinky (Rod Steiger), Shep’s current top man and the previous recipient of Mae’s attention. Where Jubal resists Mae’s advances on the grounds that it would be a betrayal of the one man who ever handed him a break, Pinky never displayed such qualms. Now that he’s been sidelined by the new arrival, his resentment and natural antagonism bubble closer to the surface. Due as much to his own petty and spiteful nature as Jubal’s dedication to his job and his boss, Pinky finds himself falling out of favour both as a lover and an employee. It’s this displacement that triggers Pinky’s pent-up jealousy and latent misanthropy. When the opportunity arises, he slyly plants the seeds of doubt in Shep’s mind. And it’s from this point that the classical tragedy at the heart of the story starts to develop fully.
Delmer Daves had a real affinity for the western, his films within the genre all displaying an extremely fitting sense of time and place. In addition, he also had a great eye for telling composition and the use of landscape. His best movies look beautiful, and Jubal takes advantage of the breathtaking vistas that the location shooting in Wyoming offered. The exteriors have a kind of clean, bracing quality to them reminiscent of the mountain air their backgrounds suggest. These wide open spaces are representative both of the freshness of Jubal’s new life and also the remoteness of Shep’s ranch. However, Daves was no slouch when it came to interiors either; he, and cameraman Charles Lawton, create some extremely moody and tense imagery when the action moves indoors. It’s not always easy to achieve effective depth of focus and shadow density when filming in colour, yet Daves and Lawton manage to pull it off time and time again. When you’re telling a story as thematically dark as this it’s vital to keep the mood of the visuals in tune with the plot – Jubal always looks and feels just right at all the critical moments. What’s more, although Daves’ endings had a tendency to be a letdown in comparison to what went before, this movie maintains the correct tone right up to the rolling of the credits.
Glenn Ford was an excellent choice to play Jubal Troop, his edgy affability and that slight unease were well suited to the role. The character has an innate nobility and honesty, but there are demons lurking there too, torturing the man with personal doubt and a devalued sense of self-esteem. Ford had a gift for projecting all these qualities on the screen; perhaps that’s why he seemed at home playing in both psychologically complex westerns and film noir. In the following year’s 3:10 to Yuma, Ford and Felicia Farr played out one of the most touching and affecting romantic interludes it’s been my pleasure to see on film. This picture also features a romance between the two, just not as memorable or emotionally loaded as what was to come. Part of the problem is the weaker role handed to Ms Farr, but she still manages to convey something of that bittersweet tenderness in her scenes with Ford that would prove so effective in their next collaboration. The other, and much more substantial, female role was that of Valerie French. There was certainly nothing likeable about the part of Mae, whose infidelity (both real and imagined) sets three men at each other’s throats. Her frustrated sexiness is well realized and, by the end, in spite of her deceit, it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for her fate. Ernest Borgnine’s cuckolded husband draws even more pity though; the way he positively radiates a love for life means that his betrayal really hits home. His brash good humour makes him a favourite of the men, but also leaves him blissfully unaware of the coldness of his wife. When it suddenly dawns on Shep just how much of a fool he’s been, Borgnine’s highly expressive features show very clearly how deeply Mae’s playing around behind his back has affected him. Rod Steiger was always an extremely showy actor, forever in danger of allowing his intensity to spill over into inappropriate grandstanding. As the scheming and reprehensible Pinky, he just about manages to stay the right side of the line – although his tendency towards showboating does raise its head as the movie nears its climax. Among the supporting cast, Charles Bronson makes a strong impression as a hired hand who befriends Ford, and whose intervention at two critical moments help save the day.
Jubal has been available on DVD for a long time via Columbia/Sony in the US. The disc boasts a very good anamorphic scope transfer that looks rich and colourful. There are no extras offered, unless you count the preview snippets for other western titles from the company. The film remains an excellent example of Delmer Daves’ skill at telling a mature and thoughtful western tale. I think the fact that both the director and the star went on to make the better known 3:10 to Yuma a year later has overshadowed this picture to an extent. I’d say that anyone who enjoyed that movie will also appreciate the work on show here. This is yet another strong entry in the western’s golden decade, and fully deserving of any fan’s attention.
34 thoughts on “Jubal”
Jubal is very engrossing from beginning till the end and most of the stars handled themselves remarkably well. I have always enjoyed those westerns directed by Delmar Daves, particularly Drumbeat and The Last Wagon. REgards.
I’ve always been a fan of Daves’ work – it’s hard to go wrong with any of his westerns. Some work better than others, and at different points, but all of them are quality.
That’s beautiful, Colin. Really so appreciative of all this film’s qualities.
As you would probably guess, JUBAL is a movie I love. I share your estimation of Daves as one of the best practioners in the genre ever. And personally, I believe the mature Westerns of the 50s are as close to Shakespeare as anything that has come along in cinema, not in one specific way but in the richness they have and the ways they can appeal on both simple and complex levels.
Those who like Felicia Farr here and in that magical sequence in 3:10 TO YUMA should take note that she is also in Daves’ THE LAST WAGON (also 1956), opposite Richard Widmark, and again she is beautifully directed by Daves. I don’t know if you’ve written on that one yet but assume if not you’ll get to it at some point.
Thanks very much Blake.
Jubal stands up extremely well, both as an entertainment piece and an examination of human relationships. The better westerns of the 1950s all managed to weave real human drama into their stories in a grown up way – I think that’s where a good deal of their strength comes from.
As I said in reply to Chris, I like all of Daves’ westerns. The Last Wagon is an excellent movie that’s let down somewhat by a weak ending. Apart from its interesting plot, the film is visually arresting too; both the landscapes and the image of Widmark chained to the wagon wheel linger in the memory. I agree too that Felicia Farr was used to very good effect in that one. I haven’t gotten round to writing anything on the film yet, but you’re right – I fully intend to at some point.
Most of Delmer Daves westerns were appealing in both plots and landscapes but I found Cowboy also starring Glenn Ford to be rather disappointing.
I don’t mind Cowboy at all, although I think it’s a bit of a lesser work from Daves. Part of the problem, for me anyway, is accepting Jack Lemmon in a western setting. I understand that the part, as written, called for someone who could project a sort of green innocence, but Lemmon just feels too odd, too contemporary if you like, for westerns.
Great write-up Colin – Shakespeare and Westerns are often a great combination, even in comedies like MCLINTOCK – and you are so right about Daves and his often comparatively weak endings! It hadn’t really struck me before, but it is quite true, even is superior works like DARK PASSAGE and 3:10 TO YUMA, and I say this as a real fan of this often underrated craftsman.
It’s something that’s jumped out at me on a number of occasions. Of the two films you cite, the ending of 3:10 to Yuma is more viable. I think that’s probably due to the film being a western, where a sense of redemption is more or less expected. It does jar somewhat, but also leaves you with a feeling of satisfaction. The remake of that movie made the error, although the whole thing is frankly riddled with flaws and false notes, of retaining the least convincing aspect of the original’s ending and disposing of the uplifting element that just about saved it.
The finish of Dark Passage is much more damaging though. For one thing, that’s a noir picture. In this case, the last scene feels carelessly tacked on just to give a typical Hollywood happy ending. If the coda had been cut, the bus station/phone booth scene would have retained a far greater degree of poignancy. As it stands, those last few minutes dilute and drain away much of its power.
I agree with you really, but personally I’ve always felt the oppsite in some regards. YUMA is so closely studied as a psychological suspense yearn that the (literal and figurative) leap at the end really jars, though I agree that you really want it – and need it in fact, so no complaints. DARK PASSAGE is such a curates egg of a movie that in a way the lack of plausibility and emotional resonance to what feels like a fairy tale finsh doesn’t hurt it too badly due to the great stylistic flourishes and the genral pervasise air of eccentriity. It is so implausible and strange throughout that the daftness of it never troubled me much. Which is not to disagree in what you say – your criticisms are not just valid but correct – it’s just my personal preference I guess.
In some respects Daves has never got the respect he deserved for his strong visual sense,even in the soap operas he made in the 60s, and I’m really glad you pointed that out in this review.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that although I’ve never been particularly happy about the ending of 3:10 to Yuma, I can live with it and accept it on a certain level – a little like a release valve to relieve some of the tension that’s been built relentlessly.
You’re right; Dark Passage is full of eccentricities and more improbable coincidences than any other movie I can think of. However, for me, those last moments go in a different direction. There’s none of that grotesque quality that helps carry the viewer through the often barely plausible events that precede it. It’s just too much of a popcorn moment – with the emphasis on the corn – for me to accept.
I think it’s probably safe to say that Daves’ name is virtually unknown to all but hardcore film buffs. My own take on his lack of reputation is that he went in the wrong direction after The Hanging Tree – a really superior film BTW. The soapy stuff that he did in the 60s came at just the wrong moment. At a time when directors were beginning to be reassessed from a different perspective, he decided to go down a path that must have brought financial rewards but wasn’t going to earn him any kind of critical reputation.
It’s certainly hard to imagine Budd Boetticher making “A Summer Place” or “Spencer’s Mountain”, the precursor to ‘The Waltons’ on TV. and still getting the streetcred he still enjoys. No one is putting out a Daves box set are they … “The Hanging Tree”, now there is a movie I’d really like to see again. Remember liking it alot and thinking that it stood out, Like “Man of the West’ amongst Coop’s last few offerings.
The Hanging Tree is a first class film in just about every respect. It’s another of those thoughtful, grown-up westerns that leave a very strong impression, and the performances of Cooper, Schell and Malden are virtually flawless.
The DVD is readily available throughout Europe, and it’s usually very cheap too. Sadly, however, the transfer leaves a lot to be desired.
Greetings….have been following your Westerns blog for a little while and enjoy your reviews, Colin. I actually teach a Westerns film course at the college level and write about them at my own site – http://www.westernsreboot.com . It’s great to see such well-written prose exploring the genre on your blog. 🙂
In terms of Jubal, in my view it presents one version of the dual role for women in Westerns when they are both periphery (on the outside) and key to a story. It also offers one example of how the “passive” woman causes an important reaction in the male character-hero – i.e. when the young girl migrating westward with her religious settler group draws out Jubal’s personal history. As happens in many Westerns, the male hero is left wondering why he has shared so much – there is a latent power in the female character to lead the male hero toward an intimacy that is both unfamiliar and that he previously resists.
This clip provides the above scene:
Jubal (1956) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDv9C2EUZzM
Again, thanks for some great writing, Colin.
Thanks for the compliments Chad.
Those are interesting and pertinent comments on the way women are portrayed in Jubal. Considering the macho image that tends to be associated with the western in general, it may surprise some to think that there have been a number of strong female characters, especially in the classic era. Carolyn Jones in Last Train from Gun Hill springs to mind for the pivotal role she plays in that drama.
Your site looks wonderful Chad; I’ve added it to my blogroll and I’ll be exploring it with interest.
ToChad – I can’t help but be curious as to whether you have read my piece “Saloon Girls and Ranchers’ Daughters: The Woman in the Western” in THE WESTERN READER as my thoughts on the subject are similar to yours. If not, I hope that maybe you will sometime–and of course,
you too, Colin. I do talk about Jubal’s confessional scene by the river to the Felicia Farr character there. My thesis in the piece is that women are essential in Westerns and that the conventional wisdom is an ill-considered cliche; the genre is one of the best places in all cinema for women, for female characters and for a balancing feminine aspect to its masculine one. Of course it’s especially true of the genre in its 1946-1962 maturity but I do believe it is innate.
And also, 3:10 TO YUMA gets perhaps the greatest share of space in the piece than any movie as
I deal with both women. And so of course, the ending. I cannot understand anyone’s reservations about that ending–the whole movie, narratively, thematically, and physically (the storm breaking after the train jump) builds toward that ending and to me its one of the sublime endings in all cinema.
Sometimes 3:10 TO YUMA is treated strictly as a story of the two men, because so much of the movie consists of them waiting in the hotel room together, but the two women are key to what the film is. It wouldn’t be the same movie at all without them. The remake (and I’ve never made a secret of my utter contempt for it) didn’t even know why the two women were there, managed to make the wife, so beautifully played by Leora Dana, into someone unsympathetic, nor does she return at the end. The Felicia Farr sequence was mindlessly and soullessly mimicked and it was embarrassing to see something so sensitive turned into something so meaningless. I won’t go into detail now on something I’ve written about better in my piece so these comments are just a guide. But to put it simply, the ending makes sense in terms of the whole and the unexpected action of Glenn Ford especially does and requires no leap of faith (that phrase used advisedly) on our part.
Colin, since you didn’t take down the end of JUBAL I didn’t argue the point but I can’t think of an ending in his films I’m unhappy with, even if his Westerns are of course inevitably unequal taken as whole films. The fault of JUBAL to the extent there is one is surely Steiger–even though he’s
well-cast he just can’t be a subtle, natural actor and it’s a little too much, especially contrasted with the others, but I thought you were fair about this in talking about it.
COWBOY is my own next favorite Daves after 3:10 TO YUMA. I guess a lot of people seem to think of it as lesser but to me it’s a beautiful blend of Western fiction and a touch more realistic approach to the historical realities of cattles drives. Jack Lemmon is playing an Easterner so
for me he’s well cast and I enjoy him a lot in it. I certainly wouldn’t believe it he and Glenn Ford
had traded roles! As in his other two Daves movies, Glenn Ford is at his best–I’m not sure he
was ever better than in COWBOY because the character is not as innately as interesting as
Jubal or Ben Wade but in the hands of Daves and Ford, he becomes so. If I were to name
five Glenn Ford Westerns I most favor, the three Daves would head the list, Marshall’s
comedic THE SHEEPMAN and Boetticher’s pre-Ranown THE MAN FROM THE ALAMO
being the other two.
I’ve seen all of Daves 30 features. The Westerns handily dominate the top tier of his work and
I know I wouldn’t rate him nearly as highly as I do without them. But he tried a lot of things and
sometimes did do well in other genres. I don’t like DARK PASSAGE as well as a lot of people
do, but given its essentially implausible, even dream-like nature (anyone interested should read
Jean-Pierre Coursodon on this–and he loves the film), I find the ending people are complaining
about to be perfect–it’s dream-like, Warner Bros, happy ending, Bogart and Bacall together
again, fairy tale quality being highly pleasurable. Not that I’m taking up for it as I do for the end
of 3:10 TO YUMA; I don’t care nearly as much but I like it.
And so finally, re Daves, the post-HANGING TREE melodramas with which he finished his
career in the 60s. I once ridiculed these films, and long underrated them, but I have changed
my mind and now appreciate them, and would suggest people might want to look again. The
studio system was ending and with it this kind of glossy melodrama–the Daves films are excessively glamorous to the point that they almost make Douglas Sirk seem naturalistic. They go very far in a certain direction that melodrama was going and so become a kind of end point for the genre as it had been–and beneath the surface are boiling cultural and especially sexual changes, and Daves handles these with a lot of insight. We might remember the strong sexual element in the Westerns that he always made the most of (everything with the women, and the whole Felicia Farr
interlude in 3:10 TO YUMA was not in Elmore Leonard’s original story and was created for the film).
I won’t say this is an ardent defense, just that there is something may be something to be said for
PARRISH and SUSAN SLADE after all.
But it is for the Westerns that I’d like to see Daves elevated to a place few seem to accord him at this point in time, Tavernier and Coursodon always excepted.
Blake, that’s easily the most comprehensive reply that anyone has posted on anything I’ve written. I want to thank you for taking the time to go into such fascinating detail and arguing your case so well. I havent had the chance to read your contribution in The Western Reader, but a quick visit to Amazon has ensured that this will only be a temporary oversight.
There is a tendency to view females in westerns as existing mainly as a kind of passive window dressing. While the inherent masculinity of the genre is undeniable, it’s important to remember that women’s roles are just as necessary. Even where the woman is not the focal point of the story, it’s her presence that frequently shapes the course of the action – and I’m not referring to some cliched damsel in distress scenario.
I recall your defence of the ending of 3:10 to Yuma from an earlier discussion we had on that subject, and I know your feelings on the matter. It’s an undeniably uplifting moment when the clouds open and the reunited couple wave to each other as the music kicks in. The less said about the cack-handed nature of the remake the better.
Ford was very good in Cowboy, and the other Daves movies, but then I think he was far better and had a lot more range than he’s sometimes given credit for; Lust for Gold makes for interesting viewing for anyone who wishes to see him playing against type.
As for Daves’ non-westerns, I’ll freely admit I have only a passing acquaintance with his 60s output. My interest in those types of pictures is slight at best. I will say though that the coda to Dark Passage remains problematic for me. I can quite understand the studio’s desire to capitalise on the Bogart & Bacall aspect at the time, and I’ve no doubt it must have pleased contemporary audiences. But it’s just too much sugar for my taste. I don’t know if you’re quite suggesting it ought to be viewed as Vincent and Irene’s dream, or just that it has a dreamy quality. Either way, the former would be an interesting way of interpreting it.
Dreamy quality/Vincent & Irene’s dream–I guess it could be interpreted either way and for me is interesting either way. Anyway, I like it, though it’s not a cause for me, and I could see why it would be problematic for some depending on what you want from the film. My favorite of Daves’ 40s movies, all made before his Westerns, are THE RED HOUSE as an overall film and PRIDE OF THE MARINES for certain things, especially a brilliantly realized wartime scene with John Garfield, Dane Clark and Anthony Caruso that is very unlike what one sees in most WWII movies made then because the three men are all openly frightened and its their vulnerability that is emphasized.
Probably should mention for Daves Western fans —
1) RETURN OF THE TEXAN is a hard to find 1952 movie of his set in contemporary West and I remember this one as being a beauty and rating well with the actual Westerns
2) WHITE FEATHER, directed by Robert D. Webb (1955) originated with a Daves screenplay and possibly he was to direct it at one time. In any event, another excellent Western and very much in a line of his own Indian Westerns (beginning with BROKEN ARROW) as well as so many others for this period in the 50s.
Thanks for the kind words too. Yes, I also remember the earlier 3:10 TO YUMA exchange that we had. A lot of good pieces in THE WESTERN READER so you’ll probably be glad to have it and I’m pleased if do you read mine. If you want to share any thoughts please feel free to email me email@example.com
But I hope this subject of women will be opened up a little more here. Carolyn Jones in LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL is indeed an ideal example of how women can be situated in a Western to have profound effect on the movie without being the main character–not only would it not be the same movie without her but it’s surely the best role Jones ever had and she is memorable in it, and what happens to her character is important in itself for the whole movie too. I say this after just reseeing that gem about a month ago and I remember Toby of 50 Westerns from the 50s had also mentioned her in the film here when you wrote about it so exchanged thoughts on the subject with him too.
As with Toby at 50 Westerns, thanks for all you do for a genre that needs discerning people to give these films the fresh consideration and eloquent voice they deserve.
Women in westerns – it’s easy to get distracted by the baroque hysteria of the likes of Johnny Guitar or Ranch Notorious and come away thinking that’s what it’s all about. The truth is that movies like Hondo, Seven Men from Now, or the underrated A Man Alone use the characters far more effectively, the latter offering an especially strong role to Mary Murphy. In these films there’s nothing showy about the female characters, yet they all have a profound influence on the story and the male leads.
There’s also a small group of movies – Westward the Women, Guns of Fort Petticoat, Secret of Convict Lake – where the emphasis is on the dynamic within a group of women confronted with the harsh realities of frontier life and their gradual reliance on their own resourcefulness. In these films, the influence on the male lead (Robert Taylor, Audie Murphy, Glenn Ford) has much less significance (although it is still there) than the influence the women have on each other.
Hello Blake….thanks for your note…yes, I have read that “Saloon Girls and Ranchers’ Daughters” article that you wrote and should credit it/you with helping to develop my own thinking on the subject of women in the Western. The article has been a good base for subsequent reflection upon how often in many films the male Western hero is left “staggered” by sharing his thoughts/feelings. It was a great read.
Thanks so much, Chad. Few writers ever get as much feedback as they’d like and I’m no exception so it means a lot to me. I know the two editors Kitses and Rickman both had their classes read the piece and had some positive reactions in papers turned in, especially gratifying to me because these often tended to be from female students.
I have your site linked now and can only echo Colin’s appreciation that you joined in and hope you will in more discussions here that catch your interest. I think everyone agrees Colin is a very savvy genre appreciator.
Blake, thanks so much for those kind remarks.
Filmed in my neck of the woods, just north of Jackson Hole for the most part but up on Togwatee Pass to the east of the Valley of the Snake River and the Tetons. When Jubal met his love while she was picking wild strawberries, they were at Wind River Lake. I pick wild strawberries there. Many scenes were shot at Brooks Lake, you see the Lake in the frame often. Ha…old home week.
That’s fantastic Robert. One of the great strengths of the movie, and indeed all of Daves’ western work, was the wonderful use of locations. Jubal is set among some breathtaking scenery and I truly envy you living there surrounded by such natural splendor.
I like this film from start to finish. Not what one was expecting from a duster at all. One of Daves’ best imo. Nice review as always.
I’m a huge fan of Daves’ westerns in the 50s, how they look and the ideas at the heart of them. There’s so much of value to take away from a viewing of these movies and they repay return visits too – those films represent a lovely little body of work in themselves.
Would have been a 9 out of 10 except for Steiger doing his usual chewing of scenery. Gad, every movie he goes over the top. Someone needed to give him a whack with a large piece of lumber.
Yes, Steiger is often problematic and something of an acquired taste. He was a great talent but needed to dial it back more and not always aim for the “big” performance.
I reread Hamlet this past week and when I read the following I was reminded of how Rod Steiger’s chewing the scenery bugs several readers at RTHC. Here is Hamlet instructing one of the traveling “players” to avoid overacting:
“Nor do not saw the air
too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently;
for in the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say,
the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget
a temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it
offends me to the soul to hear a robustious
periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to
very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who
for the most part are capable of nothing but
inexplicable dumbshows and noise: I would have such
a fellow whipped for o’erdoing Termagant; it
out-herods Herod: pray you, avoid it.”
Immediately thought of Rod and got a chuckle out of Hamlet’s direction. Steiger always managed to do a little attention-grabbing with his hands. Orson Welles said Hamlet was a “genius” — maybe he was.
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Excellent. Thanks for posting that.
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