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USA 1957
Directed by
Nicholas Ray
92 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars

True Story Of Jesse James, The

Although the opening credits make quite a brouhaha about the truthfulness of the film we are about to see nothing about the production, bar some broad historical markers, suggests that there is much truth here.

How much of this is down to Ray who, according to his lead actor, Robert Wagner, was off his face during filming and how much to 20th Century Fox who took the film off Ray and re-cut it, is impossible to say but what we see on screen is indistinguishable from any of the tinpot ersatz-looking Westerns so prevalent in the 1950s and early ‘60s and seems to bear out Wagner’s claims well . Indeed, the only moments that show a modicum of creativeness, one where Jesse (Wagner) and Frank (Jeffrey Hunter) ride their horses off a cliff into a river below and the other when the brothers ride their horses through a store window in a desperate attempt to escape a bungled bank robbery were both lifted from a 1939 version of the film which was scripted by Nunnally Johnson who gets a credit here along with Walter Newman who, presumably, tickled it up for a contemporary audience.

Both Wagner and Hunter epitomize the mannequin matinee ideal of the time and who, as do most of the cast, appear mysteriously well-dressed throughout the film add nothing of note to proceedings. Hope Lange in her first major screen role, is eye-catching but as Jesse’s wife is completely unconvincing.

The film, or perhaps Ray remembering his big hit with James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) tries to turn Jesse into a Ned Kelly-like icon for the early settlers of Missouri, his Southern family one of those persecuted by vindictive Yankees and other opportunists in the aftermath to the Civil War but Wagner’s blandness defeats any such notion.

The one, and possibly the only, interesting thing about the film is the relationship between the brothers but this is largely left undeveloped and it is more of interest for what it could have been than for what it actually is.




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