WESTERN NIGHT AT THE MOVIES
Our Western Film group convened last night.
The first entry was an episode of the GUNSMOKE television series starring James Arness that aired in May of 1956. Entitled “Cooter,” it was written by Sam Peckinpah, and tells the story of a slow-witted man named Cooter, played by terrific character actor Strother Martin, who becomes a pawn between Marshal Matt Dillon (Arness) and a crooked gambler. A twist at the end almost works.
The main feature was JUBAL from Columbia Pictures in 1956. Shot mostly in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the same location for SHANE a few years earlier, JUBAL feels less like a Western and more like a soap opera set in the West. Rather than a love triangle, it presents a quirky quadrangle.
Jubal Troop (Glenn Ford) is a man whose past is filled with problems and, rather than face them, he runs away. He’s offered work by Shep Horgan (Ernest Borgnine) a cattle rancher. Pinky, (Rod Steiger) one of the hired hands already working the ranch, takes an immediate dislike to Jubal, though Shep and the other ranch hands tell him not to concern himself because Pinky hates everybody. The fourth side of this quadrangle is Mae (Valerie French), the femme fatale. The young, attractive Mae is married to the coarse though good-natured Shep, but has been bedding Pinky behind her husband’s back. When she lays her eyes on Jubal, she wants nothing more to do with Pinky and throws herself at Jubal who fends off her advances.
Based on the novel by Paul I. Wellman, whose other books include THE IRON MISTRESS and THE COMANCHEROS, also made into films, I’m not certain how closely screenwriters Russell S. Hughes and Delmer Daves, stayed to Wellman’s novel. However, there is a bit of Shakespeare’s OTHELLO thrown in as Pinky, trying to win Mae back, tells Shep that Jubal and Mae are lovers.
While it may sound like a kind of campy delight, the film often plods along. And on a couple of occasions, the script has characters tell us what has happened rather than show us. It’s particularly glaring as the set-up to the climactic, though somewhat lackluster, confrontation between Jubal and Pinky.
While Screenwriter Russell S. Hughes may be better known for the science fiction film classic THEM!, Delmer Daves had already achieved success with his scripts for THE PETRIFIED FOREST (1936) starring Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, and LOVE AFFAIR (1939) that would later be remade as AN AFFIAR TO REMEMBER with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. He had also written and directed the noir classic DARK PASSAGE (1947), along with well-regarded Westerns like BROKEN ARROW (1950) and DRUM BEAT (1954). But for Western fans, his best work would arguably come the year after JUBAL with Glenn Ford again in 3:10 TO YUMA.
Our evening’s films were chosen by award winning thriller author @David Morrell. Also in attendance were @Johnny D. Boggs, who’s novel RETURN TO RED RIVER earned him his seventh Spur Award from the Western Writers of America, tying him with Elmer Kelton’s seven wins, and journalist Robert Nott, author of books about Western icons Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea and Audie Murphy, and with Max Evans, a book about Sam Peckinpah.
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Another great one!!
Solid review, Thomas. I hadn’t seen this flick is such a long time, and describing it as more of a soap opera than western strikes me as a perfect analogy.
Many thanks, Thomas. I wasn’t sorry I saw it, but I wouldn’t rush to see it again.