Reed Hadley (straightening the picture) and John Ireland (firing the gun and remembering firing the gun) in I Shot Jesse James (dir. Samuel Fuller, 1949).
Sam Fuller's directorial debut, shot in ten days. John Ireland's portrayal of "the coward Robert Ford" is nicely modulated, so that it's never too obvious how we're supposed to feel about him. (Fuller went on record as saying that he wanted to puncture the myth of James as a hero, but this seems odd considering Reed Hadley's performance of the famous outlaw: he comes off as almost saintly in his Abraham-Lincoln-style beard and his quiet, generous demeanor as a family man.) The love triangle plot with Ireland, Preston Foster, and Barbara Britton is slight in itself, but provides an affectingly lyric counterpoint to the balladistic thrust of the main narrative, and the shifting of the action halfway through from Missouri to the silver mines of Colorado feels like a graceful structural stroke. The true hight point of the film, however, must be when Ford enters a saloon and encounters a wandering troubadour (Robin Short) who unknowingly begins singing "The Ballad of Jesse James" to him. When the singer realizes his gaffe but Ford insists that he go on singing, the tension of embarrassment and fear is excruciating.
Labels: Samuel Fuller