Sunday, March 21, 2021

#2,542. The True Story of Jesse James (1957) - The Films of Nicholas Ray


With his penchant for making movies about troubled young rebels, it seemed only natural that Nicholas Ray would direct a film about the exploits of Jesse James, the former Confederate guerrilla who - along with his brother Frank and the Younger brothers - turned to a life of crime and subsequently became a folk hero.

The True Story of Jesse James opens in exciting fashion, with the Northfield Minnesota bank robbery, the last that the James / Younger gang would ever attempt. The heist doesn’t go off as planned, and most of the gang, including Cole Younger (Alan Hale Jr.), are either captured or killed.

Jesse James (Robert Wagner) and his brother Frank (Jeffrey Hunter) survive, and while making their way back to Missouri they recount their past accomplishments, as well as the reasons why this latest robbery was doomed from the start.

Told mostly in flashback, The True Story of Jesse James covers a fair portion of the famed bandit’s later years, from his service in Quantrill’s raiders during the Civil War (though no battle scenes are actually featured) through to his marriage to his cousin Zee (competently portrayed by Hope Lange). The action scenes are well staged (especially the Northfield raid, which we see twice – once at the beginning of the film and again at the end of it), and it seems that Ray and the screenwriting duo of Nunnally Johnson and Walter Newman went to great lengths to ensure the film was historically accurate (right down to the beating a teenage Jesse received at the hands of a neighbor / Northern sympathizer, for refusing to reveal the whereabouts of his brother Frank).

And while The True Story of Jesse James can be a bit stiff at times (due in part to the uninspired performance delivered by Robert Wagner as the title character), it remains, along with The Long Riders and 2007's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, one of the better movies made about the ill-fated outlaw.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

No comments: