Saturday, January 27, 2024

#2,946. Frank and Jesse (1994) - The Wild West


Jesse James has been the subject of a number of films over the years. From director Henry King’s 1939 biopic Jesse James to Walter Hill’s superb The Long Riders, the exploits of the American West’s most notorious outlaw have been brought to life time and again on the silver screen.

Released in 1994, writer / director Robert Boris’s Frank and Jesse might not be the most spectacular of the Jesse James sagas, but with a strong cast and a handful of explosive scenes, it manages to leave its mark all the same.

The American Civil War is over, and the James Brothers, Frank (Bill Paxton) and Jesse (Rob Lowe), who fought for the south under Quantrill, have returned home to Missouri. When their kid brother is murdered by one of the railroad’s hired guns (Luke Askew), the James boys join forces with the Younger brothers, Cole (Randy Travis) and Bob (Todd Field), as well as former compatriots Clell Miller (John Pyper-Ferguson) and Arch Clements (Nicholas Sadler), and turn to a life of crime, robbing banks and Northern railroad trains by the dozen.

Their back against the wall, the railroad hires Allan Pinkerton (William Atherton) and his detective agency to apprehend the James / Younger gang. Pinkerton knows he is facing an uphill battle; the locals, as well as the press, have turned Jesse James and the others into folk heroes, which makes tracking them down damn near impossible. But when Pinkerton’s own nephew is shot dead, he vows to bring Jesse James to justice, dead or alive.

Rob Lowe is solid as Jesse James, an outlaw who sometimes lets his temper get the better of him (he murders a banker during their first hold-up, despite having promised Frank there would be no bloodshed), but it’s Bill Paxton as the more reflective Frank who delivers the film’s finest performance. Frank does his best to reign in Jesse, which occasionally puts him at odds with his brother. Yet Frank himself isn’t a man to be trifled with (he’s a much better gunman than Jesse). Also good in support are Randy Travis as Cole Younger and William Atherton as Allan Pinkerton, a man who will stop at nothing, including murder, to get his man.

Shot on-location in Arkansas, Frank and Jesse boasts a number of memorable scenes, chief among them the infamous Northfield Minnesota bank robbery, and while the film doesn’t bring much new to the table, the final act changes things up in a unique way, handling Jesse’s last moments in a manner I had not seen before.

When it comes to movies about Jesse James, my personal favorites are The Long Riders and 2007’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. But Frank and Jesse proved an entertaining entry in the outlaw’s filmography, and is well worth checking out.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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