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Criterion does its best with this Delmer Daves western, but it can't quite bring the movie to life...
Criterion / 101 Minutes / 1956 / Unrated / Street Date: May 14, 2013
In some ways, Delmer Daves’ Jubal is a perfect candidate for Criterion: it sports big level stars and collaborators (Ernest Borgnine, Glenn Ford, Rod Steiger), but has all but completely fallen off the radar in modern cinematic discussion. Long out of print, Jubal hasn’t blipped on the radar of major motion picture discussion for decades.
What this bare-bones Blu-ray release proves very early on, though, is that while it’s always nice to see a vintage film liberated from the dusty archives, Jubal is pretty much a mess, a movie that knows how to juggle its simple plot and star presence, but never fully succeeds as a dramatic piece of storytelling. A romance in the guise of a gruff western, the movie attempts to plug the holes of its narrative missteps with seriously emotive romance, and while Valerie French (as the ranch owner’s wife with eyes on multiple good-looking dudes) certainly earns a pin-up status here (va-va-voom!), the loveplay in Jubal is laughable.
In fact, Jubal is such a minor film compared to Daves’ own 3:10 to Yuma (which also sees a Criterion Blu-ray release this month) that it might have made a better bonus-film extra on Yuma’s disc than a standalone release. There’s a workmanlike stasis to Daves’ work that cannot be denied – the guy certainly knew how to connect the dots of movie plots – but Jubal is one of his lesser achievements: it’s nice to see it back on the market, but even so, western fans will only need to watch it again once.