Friday, February 24

Jubilee Trail: Favorite Movie #50

1954 Western
From Republic Pictures
Directed by Joseph Kane

Vera Ralston
Joan Leslie
Forrest Tucker
John Russell
Ray Middleton
Pat O'Brien
Buddy Baer
Jim Davis
Barton MacLane
Jack Elam

Yes, number 50.  I'm betting you've never heard of Jubilee Trail.  If you do know it, you may say well at least it's number 50 of 50 but you're more likely to ask why it's on my list of favorites at all...?!?!

With Friday's posting still fresh in your mind, you already know this film will measure up to a few of the standards I have laid out for what could qualify as a favorite film for me.  Here we have one of my earliest favorite actresses in one of the best films to showcase her, Joan Leslie.  I saw it about a half dozen times I would say when it first came out and I was around 10.  Consequently we can add to the stack that it's a childhood favorite.  And I just got done watching it so let's realize it's brought out my inner cowboy.  So yes, yes, the last piece of the puzzle is that this is a western.  Hello...?

It is by no means a great movie.  Some might say not even a good one, but they don't say it to my face lest they choose to meet me out in the dusty street at sundown.  As a western it's unusual in at least two ways:  (1) it has little action and (2) the two main roles are played by women.  (Ok, there we go loosing all the husbands who are heading for the strato-lounger and another viewing of The Wild Bunch.  Hey, I liked that one, too, but it didn't make my top 50.)

Jubilee Trail was produced by Republic Pictures, a little known company by today's population and little regarded by those in its heyday.  It produced mainly "B" westerns and serials and its most famous contract stars were Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and a newly-minted John Wayne.  Wayne would go on to star in two of Republic's rare "A" productions, the superior war drama The Sands of Iwo Jima and the robust excitement that was The Quiet Man.  But it wasn't often that the studio did much that caused any stir.  Jubilee Trail is not an exception.

Republic's list of contract stars seemed to be those who were on their way down or new hopefuls who would become disenchanted about their way up.  They did seem to be a family of sorts and they all certainly played opposite one another in a gaggle of movies.  Several of those in Jubilee Trail had worked together before and would again. 

Did you know that there are lovers of bad films and along with it fans of bad actors and actresses?  There are cults out there.  There are several books on my shelves detailing the awful and embarrassing.  They all can be easily Googled.  Its lead actress is one of the reasons Jubilee Trail attracts the attention it does.

Vera Ralston was considered quite a poor actress for her entire career.  She failed to capture a prize once called something like The Worst Actress Ever, but she was one of the Miss Runnerups.  Vera, a Czech ice skater, came to America and married Herbert J. Yates.  Who?  Well, hold on.  He was the head honcho of Republic Pictures.  Are you catching on?  Do we need to call Columbo?

Yates was beyond smitten by this whirling dervish of the ice and was convinced he could turn her into a top actress.  In time there were other contract stars that would have lived on bread and water rather than work with her again. 

Jubilee Trail would become Republic's most expensive acquisition up to that time; Yates paid big bucks for the rights to Gwen Bristow's novel to star his wife.  Oddly, however, Ralston didn't pick the starring female role.  Call that a curious move.  What was she thinking?  Actresses do not turn over showier roles to someone else while they more or less support them.  Vera, Vera, Vera.  She did, however, have top billing, proving she didn't take that many falls on the ice.  And for the record, I did not find her awful in the part but I wouldn't sing her praises either.

Leslie's career regrettably was on the way down and she would retire in two more years.  Before Republic she had been the darling of Warner Bros. for a spell... an adorable, red-haired ingenue whose smile was as sunny and fresh as a spring day but who had a way of raising one eyebrow when she was annoyed that I found quite fetching.  She played the wife to two actors who won Oscars as her husband... Jimmy Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy and Gary Cooper in Sgt. York.  In her last months at Warners, she and the brass apparently saw things differently and next thing she was at Republic.

Vera Ralston (l) and Joan Leslie

I have always remembered Leslie's character's name in Jubilee Trail... Garnet Hale.  I always loved that name.  She was a New Yorker, a polite lady who newly-married a westerner, a trader by profession.  Prior to beginning their journey west, they encounter a dancehall belle with an apparent shady past and she, too, winds up on the Jubilee Trail.  The women become good friends despite their obvious differences.  Tragedies befall them on the trail and Garnet's husband is murdered, leaving her pregnant.  After arriving in Los Angeles, Garnet has problems with her late husband's cruel brother who wants the baby and her friends gather round to protect her.  The women open a fancy saloon a few years before California statehood.  At fadeout our two heroines are toasting wine with their men and thinking about heading north for gold.

I quite liked Victor Young's score... and all these years later I sometimes find myself humming it.  The title tuned is played throughout and we occasionally hear some lyrics.  Ralston sings a few songs, although as her character says, let's just make it good and loud... and that's about all one can say for it.  Leslie, who had a very nice voice and sang in numerous movies, sadly did none here. 

Jubilee Trail was filmed in TruColor, a rather garish process peculiar to just Republic.

Two funny things before I let you get back to whatever you were doing.  Ralston had the film's funniest line.  She wore long gloves as a bartender and when a customer asked her why she wears gloves, she replies because I promised my mother I would never touch liquor.  Review the above picture for the look.

Then glance again at the top of that poster... The greatest American drama since Gone with the Wind.  OMG, a collector's item.  Those Republic folks really got carried away with that one.  I mean, Jubilee Trail is on my Top 50 list but I haven't gone that far over the moon.

NEXT POSTING:  Child Actors


  1. I also loved Jubilee Trail. I saw it in the movie theatre in Elizabeth NJ when it first came out...I was a fan of Forrest Tucker..It was a usual western (I like Republic movies (their A movies)...they all had a republic style...but it was the Victor Young theme that made me watch it over and over again when it came to tv...especially that great ending.

  2. Thanks for sharing your comments. I know what you mean about Republic movies. Right on. And it's reassuring to know that two of us like Jubilee Trail.