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Joe Branch (Brett King), reputed to be the son of Jesse James, comes riding into Coffeyville Kansas in 3-D, looking for proof one way or the other regarding the question of who is father was. He rescues Kate Manning (Barbara Lawrence) from being lynched by a mob because she had killed the son of the towns's leading citizen while defending her honor, or what was left of it. Rescuing Kate is an important plot hinge, in a movie that makes little or no sense historically or plot-wise, as her father had ridden with Jesse James. Joe also has an idea that he can learn something by making contact with the Daltons, and his method of doing that is by holding up the train to steal an Army payroll, as he knows the Daltons had intended to steal it themselves and knows they will come looking for him. Being smart enough to beat them to the payroll evidently doesn't equate to being smart enough to know the Daltons are going to be more than a little miffed when they find him. The title is a misnomer ...Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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.
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