The True Story of Jesse James

Robert Wagner in The True Story of Jesse James (dir. Nicholas Ray, 1957).

An engaging enough remake of King's 1939 Jesse James. Not only is it based on Nunnally Johnson's original screenplay, but some of the shots from the earlier film are directly recreated, such as the bandits scurrying across the top of the train at night with its interior all lit up, or the horses leaping off the cliff into the water (I just don't like to see that).

Wagner tries to give James an ambivalent, dangerous edge, but he's even more fundamentally clean-cut than Tyrone Power. Jeffrey Hunter is almost too believable as his brother Frank--that is, sometimes I had to strain to tell them apart. Other admirable cast members include Agnes Moorehead, Hope Lange, John Carradine (who played Robert Ford in the 1939 film, here a preacher), Frank Gorshin, and Alan Hale, Jr. Despite all this talent, and despite a story that combines generic elements of two of Ray's best films--They Live By Night and Johnny Guitar--Ray only infuses it with his distinctive directorial aura here and there, in an isolated shot or exchange. The lead-up to the inevitable "picture-straightening" scene is a beautiful superimposition of 50s suburbia onto the western past, complete with picket fence and children playing outlaw in the front yard. This too, however, was already set in place by King's film.


Dale said...

Kasey, did you know there was a poet in this film? Carl Thayler, who I published with Skanky Possum several years ago, and who passed away in a Madison, WI, nursing home in 2005, played a small role in the film. Here's a link to some of his films from the 1950s:


K. Silem Mohammad said...

Ah! I knew that name sounded familiar! I actually looked at his IMDb filmography when I was putting the post together, thinking that I must have seen him in something else recently, and that was why his name was ringing a bell. But none of the other films jumped out at me, so I just figured I was imagining things. Anyway, very cool. Thanks for pointing this out, Dale.

So, so far, the filmic Robert Fords I've seen since starting this blog are John Carradine, John Ireland, Thayler, Nicholas Guest, and Casey Affleck.