Shakespeare Got the Cowboy Treatment With This Beloved ’50s Western

The Big Picture

  • Jubal is a unique Western adaptation of Othello, with a compelling storyline that explores themes of jealousy, love triangles, and lying.
  • Director Delmer Daves expertly captures the beauty of Wyoming’s natural environment throughout the film, adding to its visual appeal.
  • Valerie French’s standout performance as Mae is a highlight of the movie, making it a remarkable and must-watch Western romance.

Three key elements that make Western movies entertaining are jealousy, love triangles, and lying. The Shakespearean Western Jubal, a version of Othello directed by Delmer Daves, debuted in theaters in 1956 and has all three. Daves, a master Western movie director, exquisitely portrays the vastness of Wyoming’s Great Tetons’ natural environment throughout this film. His take on Othello gives us familiar characters with a unique twist. There are differences, though, between Shakespeare’s original play and Daves’ adaptation, especially comparing Jubal‘s Mae (Valerie French) with Othello‘s Desdemona. Differences aside, French’s performance is the stand-out that makes this film so remarkable.

Image via Columbia Pictures


A new foreman rejects the sexual advances of a frustrated rancher’s wife, which leads to conflicts that could get him killed.

Release Date
April 24, 1956

Delmer Daves


Main Genre

What Is ‘Jubal’ About?

Jubal (Glenn Ford), a cowboy who has been living life on the run, makes his way to Wyoming before he collapses from exhaustion. The character Jubal is a parallel to Cassio in Othello, thus representing the innocence of young men. Unlike Cassio, Jubal is the hero of the story and does not have a tragic ending. Spicing up Shakespeare’s tragedies, Jubal’s life takes a turn when he begins working for Shep Horgan (Ernest Borgnine). In the beginning, the two have an unbreakable trust for one another, but Horgan’s tragic jealousy of Jubal causes his death. Horgan is similar to the character Othello because they are both symbolic of pride and jealousy, but the kind and loyal wife of Othello is nothing like Mae. Mae immediately pursues Jubal, and she even dances with him in front of her husband, Horgan. Mae and Desdemona act as parallels and opposites simultaneously, representing the diversity of relationships that involve unhealthy amounts of jealousy.

This movie explores aspects of cowboy romance through a non-traditional Western narrative. Othello is a tragedy about a man going insane because of a rumor about his wife’s infidelity, which causes him to murder her and eventually kill himself. However, in Daves’ Western version, the tragedy plays out differently, as Jubal murders Horgan out of self-defense. Pinky (Rod Steiger) also confronts Jubal, a deceitful, double-dealing cattleman. Pinky’s hatred for Jubal begins instantly, which causes a conflict between the characters through similar forces in the tragedy of Othello.

‘Jubal’ Delivers on Jealous and Love Triangles

Jubal presents its conflicts through its love pentagon, with a complicated web of relations between five of the characters. Jubal has no interest in Mae and intentionally avoids her because he is in love with another woman, Naomi (Felicia Farr). But Mae’s persistence turned to stalking, despite his countless efforts to express that the feelings were not mutual. One night, she watches for him at night from her window and waits to approach him when he goes for a cigarette. In Othello, Cassio admires Desdemona, who causes Iago, the antagonist in the play, to convince Othello that they are sleeping together. However, Cassio loved a woman named Bianca, thus making Naomi and Bianca parallel to one another. Pinky’s jealousy towards Jubal only intensifies when Horgan promotes him as the foreman and uses Mae’s infatuation with Jubal to his advantage.

Mae purposefully rides her horse down to the campsite, where the ranchers are playing poker, to get Jubal’s attention. To her advantage, Jubal is not participating in the poker game, so they go back to the farm, where she tries to seduce him again. This scene signifies the cunning nature of Mae’s manipulative scheming, as she knew Jubal would be the one to take her back home because he doesn’t like playing poker. But it also emphasizes the tragedy of jealousy. Pinky stirs up the pot by waking Horgan at dawn and insinuating that Jubal’s absence means he is pursuing Mae over at the farmhouse. An enraged Horgan denies Pinky’s rumor and accuses him of being deceitful and a drama starter. Still, Horgan has a bad feeling about Mae and Jubal and returns to the farmhouse, insisting that he just wants to make sure that Mae is alright.

Why Is ‘Jubal’ a Perfect Western Tragedy?

Desdemona’s murder was violently unjust because she was murdered on behalf of false rumors that she was cheating on her husband, making kindness her weakness. However, in Daves’ version, Mae is so unhappy with her husband that she yearns for the attention of other men and feels trapped about leaving him, which is ultimately her weakness. Although Horgan becomes violently angry with her when she calls for Jubal’s name in her sleep, he does not kill her. Instead, he wants to kill Jubal, but Jubal kills him in defense. Calling for Jubal signifies her unconscious desire to destroy her marriage and also builds tensions between Jubal and Horgan.

In Daves’ version, Pinky uses the distraction of Jubal and Horgan’s conflicts to pursue Mae. He tells all the men in Wyoming that Jubal murdered Horgan, purposefully leaving out the fact that it was self-defense. He murders Mae after she declines his proposal to become his wife. Even though she had an affair with him in the past, Mae has disgust for Pinky just as much as she did for Horgan. Thus, Pinky’s weakness is similar to Othello’s, but in Shakespeare’s play, Iago kills his wife, Emilia. In Daves’ version, Mae parallels both Emilia and Desdemona because Pinky’s rage and jealousy are parallel to Othello, and his antagonizing and instigating behavior matches Iago. Horgan is a version of Othello who murders his wife and himself because he believes the rumors regarding Jubal and Mae. Mae’s murder signifies that she will never have the control and autonomy she desires, and Pinky’s crime of passion signifies that his jealousy cannot be controlled.

Delmer Daves’ Mae Is a Flirtatious Desdemona in ‘Jubal’

Mae, played by Valerie French, in 'Jubal'
Image via Columbia Pictures

Mae is the most complex character in the movie because of her fall from grace through her seductive and destructive behavior. Mae’s promiscuity stems from her pure disgust for Horgan, who constantly mocks and degrades her. She feels trapped and cannot leave Horgan, so she finds an outlet for coping with her anger by prodding other men. When Jubal denies her affection, she is feeble, even though it is the power she is looking for. Even so, her hatred towards Pinky leads to an affair, yet she, in the end, lets him know she would rather not be terrible. He attacks her and ultimately, more terribly, kills her. It is possible that Daves’ decision to make Mae unfaithful was to highlight the tragic consequences of lying. Another possibility is that Mae’s tragedy signifies her inability to have power in a predominantly masculine environment that is prone to violence. Regardless of the reason why, the tragedy of Mae points out the irony in Othello, shedding light on how inconsistent narratives ruin lives.

It is no surprise that Jubal reached a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Delmer Daves flawlessly embedded the character arcs and themes of Shakespeare’s Othello in a Western adaptation. However, the star of the show is Valerie French’s performance as Mae, which encourages the audience to either love or hate her. You may be rooting for her to seduce Jubal, or you may be rooting for Shep Horgan when he confronts Mae, regardless of the character being the most interesting part of the film. From the beautiful camera shots of Wyoming’s mountains to its never-ending twists and turns to its wonderful actors, this unconventional Western romance is a must-watch for all.

Jubal is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video in the U.S.

Watch on Amazon Prime

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