New on Disc: 'Jubal' and more …3 Jun, 2013 By: Mike Clark
Criterion, Western, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Glenn Ford, Ernest Borgnine, Rod Taylor, Valerie French.
1956. Even on a handsome spread, it can be lonely for a straying wife way out there on the range when her romantic choices are husband Ernest Borgnine and the otherwise bunkhouse-designated Rod Steiger. This is the motivating plot point of an underrated Delmer Daves Western that, aside from the missing racial angle, has more than a little bit of Othello thrown in, just so that Borgnine lovers can get some culture. At the very least, Steiger performs heavy-duty Iago labors, though as Daves expert Kent Jones notes in his Criterion liner notes, the heavy Steiger plays also has a lot of similarities with his even lonelier-guy “Jud” in the screen version of Oklahoma!, which had hit theaters just a few months earlier. No singing duets this time, however.
Based on a novel by Paul I. Wellman, whose writings were the source of several Westerns that included Apache and The Comancheros, Jubal is a well-paced CinemaScope/Technicolor tale of frisky knickers and what happens when a more eligible male, Jubal (Glenn Ford), is discovered in a state of outdoor exhaustion by Borgnine, who offers a job and human kindness at his spread. Cast as Borgnine’s wife is Valerie French, who is quite good at conveying the frustrations of a French-Canadian looker who thought she had a ticket to the promised land but instead has to endure a well-meaning husband.
Steiger’s innate hamminess is even less bridled than usual here, but it kind of works opposite Ford’s more repressed brand of intensity. Borgnine, who was just coming off his Marty Oscar win, is again all “good guy.”
The Technicolor here doesn’t quite melt in your mouth, but at least Columbia Pictures was still utilizing the process in ’56, so it is still within hailing distance of striking. The casting rewards extend to Charles Bronson in a sympathetic role as a Jubal defender (and he’ll need it) and Jack Elam as a neighbor ranch hand who isn’t given much to do but comes off as less than pleasant in the scenes that he has.
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Duffy of San Quentin
Manufactured on demand through online retailers via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $18.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Paul Kelly, Louis Hayward, Joanne Dru, Maureen O’Sullivan.
1954. This fact-inspired prison picture about Warden Clinton T. Duffy has been something of a lost film, ever since it failed to be included in the 1961 package of post-1949 holdings Warner sold to TV. The irony of lead Paul Kelly playing Duffy after he himself served time for manslaughter simply gives the movie too much of a curiosity factor. As it turns out, Kelly (a good actor who was especially memorable in Crossfire and The High and the Mighty) is just right in the role, and Duffy himself was a remarkable prison reformer.
Given the job because the prison board can’t agree on anyone else, Kelly’s Duffy immediately puts his stamp on what is initially intended to be a 30-day interim assignment. The focus here is on a railroaded prisoner (Louis Hayward), which kind of loads the narrative deck. A somewhat provocative inclusion is a pretty cigarette-prone nurse of 29 (Joanne Dru), who chums it up with the cons and is attracted enough to Hayward to call him “Romeo.” Through it all, Duffy goes home to dinner amid a warmer environment provided by his wife (Maureen O’Sullivan).
The movie is just off-center enough to reward “curio time.” There’s even a little visual distinction here, and it’s no surprise: The cinematographer was John Alton, who was the King of Noir — at least in so far as cameramen were concerned.
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