Jubal is a deftly put together tale ever-so-slightly modeled on Othello in which Glenn Ford and Rod Steiger compete for acting honors, with the edge going to Steiger. Ford, who had just come to major fame with his starring role in the previous year's Blackboard Jungle, is Jubal Troop, a cowhand found lying unconscious in the road. Picked up by rancher Ernest Borgnine, Ford gets a job on Borgnine's ranch, rousing the dislike of malcontent Pinky, played by the inimitable Rod Steiger with an odd voice that doesn't quite lisp but gets awful close; it's a mesmerizing, perfectly attuned performance. Borgnine's wife, Valerie French (overacting, who later appropriately ended up on soap operas) makes many passes at Ford, who refuses to cooperate; Pinky, however, is jealous, as French's ex-lover. When Ford becomes foreman of the ranch because of Borgnine's need to attend to his new administrative duties as the head of a cattleman's association, the stage is set for a tense showdown.
Concentrating more on the relationships between the men on the ranch than on the various showdowns that ensue, Jubal is a well-paced character study. Well-photographed in Cinemascope (letterboxing is a must), Jubal's screenplay can be clumsy and has too much hollow-sounding dialogue for comfort; the success of the film rises and falls on the delivery. Ford delivers his lines with conviction, and Steiger is terrific; Borgnine, I fear, is far too over-the-top in his caricature of a crude but good-hearted rancher. Charles Bronson has a small part, in one of his first appearances where he wasn't billed as "Charles Buchinsky." David Raksin's score is sometimes, but sometimes very obtrusive, straining to create heated conflict where there is none.
Jubal is a bit unusual for the genre in concentrating first on the sex angle (the storyline is motivated solely by it), and also for its sympathetic portrayal of wandering religious fundamentalists searching for a promised land; apparently, a stock evangelical preacher wouldn't do for this film. Although the acting and writing is variable, the compelling themes at work here and the superior directorial execution make Jubal a worthy psychological Western of the 50s (though it's still a long way from here to Anthony Mann and Budd Boetticher).
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