The last eighteen years in the life of Jesse James, showing his home life in Missouri, his experiences with Quantrill's raiders, his career of banditry with his brother Frank and the ... See full summary »
The last eighteen years in the life of Jesse James, showing his home life in Missouri, his experiences with Quantrill's raiders, his career of banditry with his brother Frank and the Younger brothers, and his attempt to lead a peaceful life after the disastrous attempt to rob the bank at Northfield, Minn. Written by
Fox's "The True Story Of Jesse James" (1957) is a remarkably poor widescreen remake of their prestigious 1939 Tyrone Power/Henry Fonda classic "Jesse James". I'm not sure where the fault lies but the casting in this version of the two central characters, the uneven direction of Nicholas Ray and the ham-fisted screenplay must surely have something to do with it.
In the late thirties and forties Tyrone Power was Fox's top leading man but in the fifties his star began to wane and studio head Darryl Zanuck started to groom newcomer Robert Wagner to take his place. This was a major error on Zanuck's part as Wagner proved to be a less than a suitable replacement. With the possible exceptions of "Broken Lance" (1954) and "Between Heaven & Hell" (1956) it is hard to think of Wagner distinguishing himself in anything! Also, Jeffrey Hunter was nothing more than a Fox contract player before being assigned to play Frank James to Wagner's Jesse in "The True Story Of Jesse James". Borrowed from the studio the previous year this actor's one distinguishing mark was his excellent and revealing performance in John Ford's classic "The Searchers". But his playing here, along with Wagner as the second half of the James Brothers, is nothing short of boring. Neither player bring any personality or colour to their respective roles. They totally miss the mark, lacking the charisma and appeal so vividly displayed by Power and Fonda in the original. The movie is also marred by too many flashbacks and with the all over the place screenplay Wagner, as the Robin Hood of the American west, comes across as a charmless introverted twit that you can feel no empathy for whatsoever. The supporting cast are hardly worth mentioning but it is a shame to see such a great actress as Agnes Moorhead barely getting a look in as Ma James.
The best aspects of this uninvolving so-so western is the wonderful Cinemascope/Colour cinematography by the great Joe McDonald and the excellent music score by the underrated and little known composer Leigh Harline!
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