|Index||4 reviews in total|
Obviously B-grade mass-consumption fodder from the likes of Sam Katzman
and William Castle to cash in on the 3-D craze of the early fifties,
"Jesse James vs. the Daltons" still has its moments. The story though
presented in a somewhat mediocre fashion is intriguing: A man who has
been told that he is the notorious Jesse James' son desires to find the
truth and to verify the rumors that Jesse James is still alive, that
the shot in the back while hanging a picture mythos was a ruse to get
the Pinkertons off his back. He seeks to join the Dalton gang to learn
more about Jesse, hearing that they are searching for loot stashed by
Jesse while he was riding with Quantrill's Raiders. Along the way he
joins up with Kate Manning, saving her from the hangman's noose. He
does this because he has learned that she knows where the loot is
hidden and that she and her father were confidants to Jesse. The film
ends with the shoot-out in Coffeyville, Kansas, on October 5, 1892.
The story is not as fanciful as it first appears. Jesse rode with Quantrill's Raiders in l863, the year Lawrence, Kansas, was burned by them. Jesse was sixteen at the time and old enough to father a son. To this day some believe that Jesse was not killed on April 3, 1882, that he lived to be an old man. His body was actually exhumed in 1995 to discredit the doubting Thomases and though the medical examiners determined that this was indeed Jesse's body and that he was shot in the back as told, there are still a few die-hard believers who refuse to accept the historical account. Also from the historical perspective, Joe Branch (Brett King) would have been the right age to give credence to his claims in the movie (had he been born in 1863 as explained in the film, he would have been in his late twenties on that fateful day when the Daltons rode into Coffeyville, Kansas).
Another positive feature of "Jesse James vs. the Daltons" is the camera work by Lester White. When not having to gimmick up the screen with 3-D shots of objects flying toward the viewer, White is able to capture some effective angles such as the one where the riders are gently loping from afar down the plains toward the camera. The eye of the camera lingers on the vision for several seconds creating a livid picture of isolation and doom.
There are also believable characterizations by many of the actors. Even if Bret King is a bit lame for the lead role--he would have been better suited for a second lead part--Barbara Lawrence does well as the leading lady. Best of all is the virtually ignored character actor James Griffith as Bob Dalton. Why Griffith never made it in Hollywood except in bit parts is a mystery. He could always be counted on to give a good performance. Rory Mallinson makes a good Bob Ford and the rest of the cast turn in acceptable portrayals. Of note is Nelson Leigh as a priest with a sense of humor, Father Kerrigan. Seldom in films is a man of the cloth shown in a lighthearted manner, making Leigh's role much more interesting than it otherwise would have been.
Producer Sam Katzman was from the "make 'em cheap and grind 'em out fast" school of film-making, and his output was so prolific that once in a while one of his films actually turned out to be pretty good. This low-rent western isn't one of them. The script is soggy, the acting is atrocious, the action is limp, the direction is almost non-existent--even the color is washed out. The lamest of westerns usually has at least a halfway decent supporting cast of veteran character actors to take your mind off of how lousy the rest of the movie is, but apparently ol' Sam didn't want to spring for the money it would have taken to hire those types of competent actors, as most of the unknowns he has here don't cut it. Originally shot in 3D--as is evident by all the objects, including falling bodies, thrown directly at the viewer--but even that gimmick couldn't help this lumbering mess. It has absolutely nothing to justify wasting your time on it.
Jesse James vs. the Daltons (1954)
** (out of 4)
William Castle directed this Western for Columbia about a young man (Brett King) who believes he's the son of Jesse James. The man seeks out the help of the Dalton Gang in hopes of finding Jesse who humor has it is still alive. This is certainly a "B" film but it does have a few good things going for it. Castle's direction is better than average, although he's really not given too much to work with. The screenplay is lazy to say the least and the leading man is as dull as anything. Another positive is the Technicolor, which leads to some good looking scenes. The film was originally released in 3D, which is obvious from all the things flying at the screen. This isn't a bad film but it's only for Castle completest.
This one didn't stand a chance from the outset-the plot has James' son teaming with the Dalton Gang to find him. The time-line is screwed; for Jesses' son to be the age our hero is here, the story would need to be set in the 1920s. Combine this with a cast you never heard of, and poor direction, and it's a mess. Oh, did I forget to say it was originally released in 3D?
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