Jubal Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Shakespeare in the Wild West

Glenn Ford and Charles Bronson as buddies? SOLD!
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While traditional and contemporary adaptations of William Shakespeare's works have been coming and going since someone figured out how to record moving images way back in the late 1800s, there's something about the more off-the-wall incarnations of the famous author's works that happen to appeal to those of us who don't like to shuffle through the Middle English language we just heard and attempt to translate it into Modern English (I melt with you, by the way) in our heads while still trying to listen to the next line. As such, we have been blessed with films like Forbidden Planet (a variation of The Tempest), West Side Story (as inspired by Romeo and Juliet), and the cult favorite Strange Brew (which was based on Hamlet - seriously).

But how does The Bard hold his own in the Wild West? Quite well, actually - if the 1956 western drama Jubal is any indication of the type of quality this probably very limited subgenre of Shakespeare adaptations has produced over the years. And the fact that the film features a stellar cast of great performers like Glenn Ford, Ernest Borgnine, Rod Steiger, Charles Bronson, and Jack Elam. Now, if you're wondering which of the works by England's National Poet in question this Columbia Picture is based upon, think Othello.

Here, we find the great Mr. Glenn Ford (the fastest draw in Hollywood) cast as a man named Jubal Troop - whom the film opens upon - tumbles down the mountainside, the unfortunate victim of some rather bad luck. As it turns out, Jubal's luck has always been a bit on the sorry side - and his last predicament literally lands him at the side of a kindly cattleman named Shep (no, not Shemp), as played by the wonderful Ernest Borgnine. Shep takes the hapless fellow in, eventually promoting the hard-working, honest individual to foreman - which ignites the spiteful hatred of Shep's nefarious hand, Pinky (Rod Steiger, who is at the top of his game as one of the most despicable characters he ever played). The fact that Shep's unfaithful bride, Mae (Valerie French), is completely attracted to Jubal further infuriates Pinky - as he had been seeing her behind Shep's back prior to the handsome stranger's arrival.

Jubal, however, being the just man that he is, will have none of it either way. But his bad luck is quickly catching up behind him on a very fast horse - and it isn't long before things take a turn for the worse. Charles Bronson puts in an early effort as the man who saves Ford's ass on several occasions (because he's Charles fucking Bronson, after all!); Felicia Farr (the former Mrs. Jack Lemmon) plays the real source of Jubal's attraction as the daughter of a traveling religious group's leader (who is named Shem - still another letter shy from paying respect to Shemp); Noah Beery Jr. and John Dierkes are Borgnine's nicer hands, who believe in their newfound pal; and Jack Elam gets a prominent spot in the credits for a rather minor role as a posse leader. Columbia bit players Robert Burton and Don C. Harvey are also featured in this well-made cowboy picture.

A hit during its time, Jubal had pretty much been left out to pasture before the folks at the Criterion Collection decided to revive it. And their 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer shows their appreciation for this almost-forgotten gem, with those vibrant 1950s colors getting the frontier justice they so aptly deserve here. Black levels and contrast are also quite notable, and the film is preserved in its original 2.55:1 aspect ratio. Audio-wise, the film has a well-balanced and clear LPCM 2.0 English soundtrack, and optional English (SDH) subtitles have been included. Sadly, there are no bonus materials features on the disc itself (!), but the release doesinclude a booklet with an essay by film critic Kent Jones.

Highly recommended.

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