Audie Murphy plays a young Jesse James falling under the Svengali-like spell of the outlaw William Quantrill, played by Brian Donlevy. Jesse and his youthful gang join the rebels to avenge the death of his parents only to become disillusioned with the senseless violence and looting of innocent civilians. Goaded by Quantrill's girl to leave, Jesse vacillates until the Yankess close in. Quantrill forces Jesse to leave and faces the Yankess gunfire alone. Jesse rides off with his gang and the rest is history. Written by
Rita Richardson <RRichar790@aol.com>
Kansas Raiders is directed by Ray Enright and written by Robert Richards. It stars Audie Murphy, Brian Donlevy, Marguerite Chapman, Scott Brady and Tony Curtis. A Technicolor production, music is by Milton Rosen and cinematography by Irving Glassberg. Plot has it that the James and Younger Brothers along with Kit Dalton, join Quantrill's Raiders after witnessing at first hand Redleg atrocities. However, after believing they would be fighting soldiers for the war effort, the men find themselves participating in equally worse war crimes. Something that deeply affects the young Jesse James.
OK, it's very fanciful in its telling of a bitter and sad period of American history. Facts of the period and the characters are jettisoned in favour of making an exciting 1950 Oater. Any hope of a depth strewn historical take on William Quantrill's Raiders will lead to disappointment, something that is all too evident with many of the venomous reviews of the film out in internet world. Yet judged on its own unfussy entertaining terms, film scores high for the casual Western fan as shoot-outs, knife fights and stand-offs keep the film perky.
The ominous black flag of Quantrill.
As a story the film provides enough of an edge to make its point, we are left in no doubt about the "atrocity exhibition" dealt out by Quantrill's Raiders. There's also a neat thread within about the corruption of youth. Yes, for sure it's a picture low on accuracy, but it doesn't soft soap the subject to hand. This is a 1950 production after all and the makers at least manage to leave us in no doubt about the nature of the crimes committed by certain factions in the Civil War. In fact a couple of scenes really leave indelible images, and from an action viewpoint the "sacking of Lawrence" is excellent in construction and impact garnered.
Production wise it's also good value, Glassberg's Technicolor photography is gorgeous, not just for the Garner Valley and Kanab locations, but also for bringing out the quality of the set decoration (Russell A. Gausman/Ruby R. Levitt) and Bill Thomas' costuming. Cast are fine without pulling up any trees. Donlevy is the class act on show, but here as Quantrill he gets by on presence alone, the absence of outright character nastiness is sadly felt. The latter of which, however, is provided by the solid Brady as Bill Anderson. Murphy as young Jesse James has youthful exuberance and bravado down pat, while Curtis as Kit Dalton is enjoyable in amongst the five group dynamic. Marguerite Chapman (Coroner Creek) as Kate Clarke (Quantrill's girl) has the tough task of playing the sole female in the film, and although well older than the character in real life, she does a nice line in sexy and wise older woman for the scenes shared with Murphy's James. 7/10
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