The emotional core of the film is rooted in the excellent performances of its primary cast. Glenn Ford plays Jubal as a thoughtful drifter, allowing us inside his troubled mind as we learn about his tragic backstory. He gets taken in by Shep Horgan (Ernest Borgnine), a rancher with a motley crew of sometimes unmotivated workers. Borgnine is just this side of goofy, instilling an infectious sense of humor in the kindly Shep. Suitably impressed with Jubal’s hard-working nature, he makes the newcomer his foreman. Not surprisingly, this ruffles a few feathers amongst the longtime cowhands, with Pinky (Rod Steiger) taking particular issue.
Of course, there’s a girl. The beautiful, Canadian temptress Mae (Valerie French) is Shep’s wife. Unfortunately for the painfully naïve Shep, Mae has strayed as a result of her boredom in the male-only world of cattle ranching. Her past with Pinky (played with well-modulated insecurity by Steiger) comes into play as Jubal’s status at the ranch grows more important. Mae sets her sights on Jubal, who’s torn because of his loyalty to Shep (who he regards as a father figure). Jealously and suspicion take center stage as Jubal moves toward an understated, believable finale. Look for a young Charles Bronson in a fine supporting role as Reb, another drifter who comes to work the ranch.
Criterion’s 1080p transfer, framed at 2.55:1, offers a very strong image with little to quibble about. Colors are generally muted but consistent. Moderately prominent grain, expected for a film of this period, is present throughout. Extremely few visual flaws are visible—the original negative, used for this transfer, was apparently in good shape. Criterion’s restoration work lives up to their reputation. Not much need to comment on the LPCM 2.0 stereo soundtrack, other than to say the dialogue and David Raksin’s music are clear and strong. A solid, no-frills presentation.
There are no features included on Jubal. Film scholar Kent Jones’ essay in the booklet conveys some background information about director Delmer Daves, with an appropriate focus on this film. Jubal may not be among the most celebrated Westerns of its era, making Criterion’s excellent restoration all the more valuable. It’s well worth keeping around for a wider audience to appreciate.