Directed By: Delmer Daves
Starring: Glenn Ford, Ernest Borgnine, Rod Steiger
Tag line: "THE SOMETIMES VIOLENT STORY OF A DRIFTIN' COWHAND!"
Trivia: Very loosely inspired by William Shakespeare's "Othello"
Delmer Daves certainly wasn’t the most recognizable filmmaker to emerge from Hollywood’s Golden Age, and I’m sure there are a good many people out there who haven’t seen one of his movies. As a writer, he penned the script for the classic The Petrified Forest, as well as the Busby Berkeley musical Dames; and when he tried his hand at directing, he made movies like Destination Tokyo and Dark Passage (one of four pictures to feature both Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall). After signing with 20th Century Fox in 1950, Daves jumped head-first into the western genre, turning out 3:10 to Yuma (1957) and Cowboy (1958), both of which are still held in high regard. Before today, I had never seen Jubal, his 1956 film starring Glenn Ford, Ernest Borgnine, and Rod Steiger, but if it’ any indication of what to expect from the rest of Daves’ filmography, I’m anxious as hell now to see some of his other movies!
While checking out his land, rancher Shep Horgan (Ernest Borgnine) comes across an unconscious man lying in the middle of the road. After bringing him inside and giving him something to eat, Shep manages to get the man’s name: Jubal Troop (Glenn Ford), who, despite having spent time as a sheep herder, claims to be a pretty good cowboy. In need of extra help, Shep decides to hire Jubal, and later on even names him his new foreman, much to the chagrin of Pinky (Rod Steiger), who, having worked for Shep for several years, believed he should be the man in charge.
Unfortunately for Jubal, he also catches the eye of Shep’s flirtatious wife, Mae (Valerie French). Out of respect for Shep, Jubal refuses to get involved with Mae, and instead turns his attentions towards Naomi (Felicia Farr), the daughter of a religious leader who, along with a group of others, is heading west, looking for a piece of land to call their own. Yet, try as he might to avoid her, Mae continues to pursue Jubal, which doesn’t sit well with Pinky (apparently, has had a “relationship” of his own with Mae years earlier). Though anxious to discredit Jubal, Pinky hesitates to tell Shep what’s been going on behind his back. But will he stay quiet forever?
First and foremost, Jubal is a beautiful motion picture; right out of the gate, Daves wows us with spectacular panoramas (it was filmed on-location in Wyoming), and there are many times throughout the movie where he utilizes wide shots to show off the extraordinary backdrop. But there’s more to Jubal than just pretty scenery, which we discover once the characters have been introduced. Glenn Ford delivers an outstanding performance as Jubal, who, despite the mystery surrounding him (where did he come from? Is he running from somebody?), is, at all times, an upstanding guy. Equally as good are Ernest Borgnine as the friendly yet naïve Shep, who is better at handling his employees than he is his own wife; and Rod Steiger as the ornery Pinky, who doesn’t like anyone or anything (he and Jubal remain at odds through much of the movie). Each of these actors, plus the supporting cast (also worth noting is Valerie French as the bored housewife looking for some excitement), keep Jubal interesting, and while the story itself isn’t anything new, the strong characters, as well as Daves’ keen eye for landscapes, do their part to make it all seem fresh.
Compared to his contemporaries, including Howard Hawks, George Stevens, John Ford, and even Anthony Mann, Delmer Daves was something of a hidden gem, but that didn’t prevent him from shining just as brightly as the others.