|LUST FOR GOLD
THE VIOLENT MEN
TEXAS (SONY PICTURES HOME ENTERTAINMENT)
Click on the radio to hear Joel Blumberg's (WGBB radio) interview
with Peter Ford (peterford.com) , Glenn Ford's son!
The scandalous fact that Glenn Ford, (as well as Edward G. Robinson, Joseph Cotton, Errol Flynn, Alan Ladd, Tyrone Power, Robert Taylor, Joel McCrea etc.) has never been nominated for an Academy Award might be reason enough for rational minds to question the very validity of this highly publicized and prized statuette. When one considers that Ford has continuously been taken for granted while consistently contributing multifaceted and deeply felt performances during his thirty-five year career in scores of films of varying quality it becomes increasingly clear that this is one actor who never ever "phoned it in" no matter how lame some of the material may have been. Because Ford was a soft-spoken actor whose unfailing honesty and integrity prevented him from ever delivering the type of flashy and false histrionics that make undiscriminating Academy voters sit up and take notice it remains a shameful reality that he has been denied the honors and acclaim he so richly deserves. The good news is that Sony has released five of Ford's Columbia westerns, including two undeservedly obscure gems, LUST FOR GOLD and JUBAL, which easily rank among the very best of the genre.
Take a rough-hewn and hardbitten tale of the unscrupulously murderous behavior of a bunch of greedy lowlifes who will literally commit any crime necessary to get at the alleged treasure in the fabled Superstition Mountain, mix in equal parts of THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE and DUEL IN THE SUN, hire perpetual good guy Glenn Ford to play by far the scummiest bad guy he's ever enacted in his legendary career, and top it all off by allowing a director (S. Sylvan Simon) whose previous work consisted mostly of low-brow and raucous Red Skelton comedies to supervise the harsh and gritty proceedings and, by all reasonable logic, the sum total should be nothing less than a fiasco.
But the bracingly invigorating news is that the end result these unwieldy and decidedly unpromising ingredients have somehow miraculously produced is a film with the unimaginatively generic title of LUST FOR GOLD (1949) that fairly tingles with a searing degree of passion and excitement that never lets up for one moment, aided and abetted by an uncompromisingly intense, coarse and callous turn by Ford which ranks as the most unusual assignment of his career, and the surprisingly deft direction of former lightweight Simon. Certainly Ida Lupino, in her final leading role in a quality production, is no liability as she spits out her venomous dialogue with great aplomb, and a top-notch supporting cast, including William Prince, Will Geer, Edgar Buchanan, and Gig Young, skillfully deliver the goods in their respective roles. Perhaps the most intriguingly unusual aspect of this taut and terrific tale is the flawless manner in which it shifts from the present (1949) to the past without missing a beat or losing its stark urgency. Take it from us, LUST FOR GOLD, obscure or not, is a must-see diamond-in-the-rough.
JUBAL (1956) is a horse of an entirely different color. Reviewers at the time of its release belittled it by dubbing it a sagebrush OTHELLO, but in reality this tale of a tragedy-prone drifter (Ford) who's taken in by a kindly but crude cattle baron (Ernest Borgnine) only to be sexually intimidated by Borgnine's lascivious wife (Valerie French) and taunted unmercifully by her former illicit lover (Rod Steiger) is really a reworking of Renoir's LE BETE HUMAINE (1938) and Fritz Lang's sequel HUMAN DESIRE (1954, in which Ford played essentially the same part).
What makes this dark and doom-ridden tale so compelling is a screenplay of unusual economy and insight that is directed with great sincerity by Delmer Daves that allows Ford to display the kind of gut-wrenchingly raw and multi-layered sensitivity that one usually associates with Montgomery Clift. His is a towering and original performance that is the very foundation of this film's considerable success, and Borgnine is at his very best and simplest here, as are Noah Beery as a loyal ranch-hand and Charles Bronson as a sympathetic drifter. Only Steiger lays it on too thick, as if he were covering his previous portrayal of Judd in OKLAHOMA with over-generous slices of mostly indigestible ham, and Felicia Farr is dependably drab and colorless as the good girl.
While JUBAL displays all of the usual visual trappings of a Western, the fact is that, given the consummate power of the screenplay, direction and acting, those aspects become largely irrelevant. Indeed, JUBAL is really an anti-Western, and a perfect film to show those poor souls habitually less than enchanted by the genre.
The other three Ford Western releases, on the other hand, make no pretenses at being anything more than your standard garden variety high budget Western sagas with ambitions no loftier than to supply prodigious amounts of conventional Western action, romance and adventure. Despite their sheer ordinariness, or indeed perhaps because of it, each offer ample pleasures to fans like me who dote on this type of feudin', fightin' and fussin' shenanigans.
TEXAS (1941) teams the very young Ford and William Holden for the first time as two saddle bums whose dreams of making their fortune in the Lone Star state have gone seriously awry, THE DESPERADOES (1943) pits Ford against Western legend Randolph Scott in Columbia's very first Technicolor film, and THE VIOLENT MEN (1954) combines the talents of Ford, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson in a by-the-numbers but eminently watchable range war epic that continually holds interest due to their enthusiastic contributions.
As is usually the case with Sony releases of Columbia oaters, the quality of the transfers ranges from excellent to very good. TEXAS exhibits a crisp and clear full screen black-and-white image, though not in a class with LUST FOR GOLD which is virtually flawless, and the similarly full screen transfer of THE DESPERADOES makes it abundantly clear that no cost was spared in bringing this early Technicolor film to the screen. The monaural sound on all three is entirely reasonable as it is on JUBAL, which, like THE VIOLENT MEN, is gratifyingly on display in its full 2.55:1 anamorphic glory. Only THE VIOLENT MEN has a Dolby Digital 3.0 sound mix which makes Max Steiner's rather unimaginative musical score sound better than it actually is.
Ford aficionados should be aware that Sony has previously released on dvd such Ford flicks as GILDA, THE LOVES OF CARMEN, THE MAN FROM COLORADO, THE BIG HEAT, EXPERIMENT IN TERROR, 3:10 TO YUMA, and COWBOY, all of which, with the glaring exception of the grainy and shockingly non-anamorphic COWBOY, showcase absolutely first-rate transfers.