French Wants to go Farr with Ford
In many a western from the 50s there was usually an element of romance where the hero gets the pretty girl, but it was there out of being a text book requirement rather than really adding anything to the movie. "Jubal" is difference because it is the romance, or at least a woman, who is at the centre of this story as she causes jealousy between men leading to a series of deadly events. It is not exactly an original idea as a few years earlier there was "Blowing Wild" which ran with similar ideas but Paul Wellman's story and Russell S. Hughes' screenplay works the relationship drama well. And so does director Delmer Daves who delivers a beautifully paced movie with moments of drama from an impressive cast which features Glenn Ford, Ernest Borgnine and Rod Steiger.
Having been picked up by ranch owner Shep Horgan (Ernest Borgnine - The Last Command), Jubal Troop (Glenn Ford - The Man from the Alamo) finds himself working for Shep on his ranch becoming both his foreman and best friend. Shep's wife Mae (Valerie French) who hates her marriage and life in the midst of nowhere likes this as she tries to secretly seduce Jubal who rebuffs her advances because not only is Shep his friend but he has met pretty traveller Naomi Hoktor (Felicia Farr). The only trouble is former top man Pinky (Rod Steiger) because not only does he dislike the fact that Shep made Jubal foreman but also dislikes the fact Mae has cast him aside as her secret lover for Jubal instead. And it is only a matter of time before that jealousy and anger in Pinky boils over.
"Jubal" is in fact a simple storyline which really revolves around Mae, the wife of ranch owner Shep Horgan as she both hates the life in the middle of nowhere and being married to Shep, acting cold towards the good natured Shep at all times. And we soon learn that she is manipulative and when she sets eyes on new ranch hand Jubal plans to have her way him, flirting with him in the shadows, enjoying courting danger. And we also learn that Jubal is not the first man she has tried it on with as Pinky use to be her dirty little secret till Jubal came along leading to jealousy as Pinky feels his dominance being taken from him as the top man at the ranch, be it Mae's affection or being Shep's right hand man.
As such "Jubal" is alongside being simple is also obvious because you can guess that Pinky feeling rejected will not only try and force himself on Mae but at some point tell Shep about his wife and Jubal even though we know that Jubal isn't responding to her amorous advances. And so what we have is a waiting game as we watch Mae flirt with Jubal, Shep become best friends with Jubal and Pinky seething and planning his revenge. We get a few sub plots, there are the travellers who Jubal befriends including the attractive Naomi, the daughter of the leader and we also meet Reba who Jubal having become foreman for Shep employs. But it is a case that we are waiting for Pinky to light the fuse and blow the whole thing open by telling Shep about Mae.
Now when he does things don't get any less predictable but they do end up enjoyable because there is a twist. But more significantly we have some very powerful scenes full of great camera work which makes it a memorable climax despite not being a surprise. And so both director Delmer Daves and cinematographer Charles Lawton Jr. both deserve praise for making what is often quite routine into something full of atmosphere. It's not just atmosphere because the wide shots of the stunning lake side location is enough to make you understand why so many cowboys loved the wide open spaces, truly beautiful.
And things continue to impress when it comes to the acting with a lot of talent on show. Ernest Borgnine is entertaining as Shep, the good natured ranch owner whilst Glenn Ford is his usual reliable good guy, a thinking man who reaches for his gun only when he has to defend himself. Throw in Felicia Farr making her debut as Naomi and also Charles Bronson as Reb and you have 4 good performances there. But then you have Valerie French as Mae and she delivers this brilliant performance as a woman who hates her marriage but who is also a manipulative seductress who flirts knowing that she is beautiful. And then we have Rod Steiger as Pinky, a seething brute of a man riddled with jealousy that is just waiting to erupt. It is French and Steiger who end up dominating "Jubal".
What this all boils down to is that "Jubal" is one of the better westerns to come out of the 50s which is a little surprising as the underlying storyline and themes isn't original. But between the direction, cinematography and acting it comes alive and makes this basically predictable romantic drama entertaining.