Jubal: A Shakespearean Western


I did not complete any shames for 2015 after March. Shame on me. But I’m back and going to give it another go. I’m kicking off 2016 with a look at a western. The first I saw in 2016 was also a western, Quentin Tarrantino’s The Hateful Eight so I felt that genre was appropriate to start the year off with. 

 Jubal was released in 1956. It was directed by Delmer Daves who would direct 3:10 to Yuma one year later. I wrote about that film last year. It is based on a novel from 1939 called Jubal Troop that was written by Paul Wellman. The film stars Glenn Ford, Ernest Borgnine, Valerie French, Rod Steiger and Charles Bronson.  

 Jubal Troop (Ford) is found in bad shape and without a horse. He is taken in by rancher Shep Horgan (Borgnine) and his wife Mae (French). Jubal’s work ethic impresses Horgan who promotes him to foreman. This brings him into conflict with Pinky (Steiger), a fellow cattleman.

In high school I read quite a bit of Shakespeare. Fortunately this was based on one of my favorites, Othello. The character equivalents are Jubal as Cassio, Mae as Desdemona, Horgan as Othello and Pinky as Iago. If you’ve read that play you know the story. It plays out similarly here. It may be familiar tale but that doesn’t make the film any less interesting. 

 I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Delmer Daves is an underrated director. Particularly in regards to the western genre. I may have said that when I wrote about 3:10 to Yuma. This time however I’m sure of it. In an era where the western was churned out as dime a dozen, Daves seems to make his feel a bit ahead of their times. The biggest strength of Jubal is with its actors. They have that movie star look, but really turn in fantastic performances that transcend the film’s era of its creation.  

 Ernest Borgnine gives an aura of experienced naïveté as Horgan. A man unaware of what’s going on around him. Ford plays a cautious and aware Jubal. A man trying to just make his way. Steiger gives Pinky an obvious jealous streak from the moment he and Jubal meet. The star of the show for me however is Valerie French as Mae. In addition to a very stone faced yet welcoming look, I did have sympathy for her. She was a young woman who made a decision at an early point in her life. She wants to start over. That’s nothing that most of us have not felt at some point in our lives. 

 Jubal is a nice way of working classic literature into film. It’s fantastically shot and directed but it’s the cast that make this more than standard 50s western fare. Delmer Daves, you’ve got a new fan.

3 thoughts on “Jubal: A Shakespearean Western

  1. Pingback: Jubal: A Shakespearean Western | DeaconsDen

  2. Othello in the Old West is a fascinating idea that is brilliantly executed by Delmer Daves and the great cast. Nice review.
    I’ve just noticed that Cowboy with Glenn Ford and Jack Lemmon is on BBC 2 tomorrow morning, I must remember to set the DVR.

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