Westerns have a few standout names that I always associate with the genre. John Wayne, John Ford, Sam Pekinpah, James Stewart. I’d say every one I’ve seen that was made before the 80s has at least one of those names attached to it. Which makes it even better when I find a great one that I’ve never heard of, and one that doesn’t include any of those usual suspects. Which is what made Jubal such a good surprise.
Jubal Troop (Glenn Ford) is found half dead on the side of the road and taken to a nearby ranch where he’s fed, sheltered and given work by the owner, Earnest Borgnine’s Shep Horgan. Shep thinks Jube is great, Shep’s trophy wife Mae, played by Valerie French, likes him even more. And jealous farmhand Pinky (Rod Steiger), injects himself as Jubal’s antagonist from the get go. Also, Charles Bronson shows up about halfway through to play Reb, the coolest cowboy you ever did see.
Jubal is running from something, but it’s immediately clear to Shep (and the audience) that whatever he’s running from wasn’t his fault and that he’s a genuine, good guy. Which is why it’s also immediately clear that happy endings will be very few and far between when the credits roll.
There’s something about Westerns that makes me feel like I missed out by being born in the late 20th century. I know it’s all Hollywood fiction, but all that horse breakin’, gun slinging’ and real man bein’ makes the world today seem so soft and boring and easy. I know I wouldn’t last five minutes in that world, but Hollywood sure knew how to romanticise with the Westerns of the 40s and 50s.
Like Sean Connery and Robert Duvall, Earnest Borgnine is one of those dudes who must have born middle aged. No matter how old a movie is, if one of those three is in it, they’re already old enough to have kids in college from their first marriage, while trying to avoid having a baby with their new, young, trophy wife. I’m sure Borgnine came out of the womb with a five o’clock shadow and a cigar in his mouth, while placing a drink order with the midwife.
Jubal is a great example of the Western genre of that time. The strong, silent type hero, up against the insecure, loud braggart bad guy. A romantic angle shoehorned in there to keep the studio happy, while never getting in the way. The gun shots are kept to a minimum, so when the bullets do fly, it actually means something. And a simple story about simple people living and dying by a simple code. I haven’t seen enough classic Westerns, but I feel like Jubal fills a substantial hole in that movie watching weak spot.