I Shot Jesse James (1949)

I Shot Jesse James (1949)

“I just want a chance to prove I ain’t no murderer.”

An accomplice (John Ireland) of Jesse James (Reed Hadley) decides to shoot James in exchange for amnesty and $10,000 so he can marry his beloved singer-girlfriend (Barbara Britton). However, Ireland quickly becomes known as a notorious traitor, and ends up competing with another man (Preston Foster) for Britton’s affections.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Historical Drama
  • John Ireland Films
  • Preston Foster Films
  • Sam Fuller Films
  • Westerns

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “Samuel Fuller’s directorial debut is this interesting low-budget film about ‘that dirty little coward’ Robert Ford”, who “Fuller keeps… in close-up much of the time to hint at his psychological confusion, first about deciding to kill his best friend… and then about being regarded as a traitor by his fellow townspeople.”

Peary argues it “makes sense” that “Ford becomes increasingly sympathetic” given that “Fuller despised Jesse James and thought his murder was a public service”. As a low-budget psychological western, Fuller’s flick works quite well, and it hardly matters that “there isn’t enough action to satisfy most western fans.” Ireland gives an appropriately haunted performance in the title role: it’s easy to see how extreme cognitive dissonance fuels his inability to understand his girlfriend’s (Britton) waning love for him, as well as Britton’s fear for her life if she risks leaving Ireland.

There’s plenty of genuine tension here.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • John Ireland as Bob Ford
  • Ernest Miller’s cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended, and certainly a must for Fuller fans.


One thought on “I Shot Jesse James (1949)

  1. Just rewatched this. It’s a once-must, for its place in cinema history and for its worth as Fuller’s fine directorial debut.

    It’s a tale economically told and well-acted. Even though “there isn’t enough action” as compared with westerns in general, Fuller delivers a compelling film – full of sensitivity to character and nuance.

    It’s easy to check on the fact that the script takes considerable liberties (i.e., according to Wikipedia, it doesn’t seem to be known why Ford met his death) but that, of course, is a separate issue.

    This would go well as a viewing opposite Andrew Dominik’s underrated ‘The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford’.

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