“You really like killing, don’t you?”
Shorty after legendary outlaw Jesse James (Robert Wagner) and his brother Frank (Jeffrey Hunter) carry out an infamous bank raid in Northfield, Minnesota, their dying mother (Agnes Moorehead) reflects back on her son’s progression from a put-upon Confederate war veteran to one of the most wanted men in America.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Agnes Moorehead Films
- Flashback Films
- Hope Lange Films
- John Carradine Films
- Nicholas Ray Films
- Robert Wagner Films
Nicholas Ray directed this remake of Henry King’s Jesse James (1939), which similarly posited that the notorious outlaw had a reasonable rationale for turning to a life of crime — though in this film, it’s even more clearly emphasized how Jesse used and abused his initial motivations to continue his intimidating and felonious behavior.
The production was a challenging one for Ray, who was gradually forced to make a film unlike the one he’d envisioned (see CineSavant’s review for many more details). The result is a somewhat confusing flashback film in which we follow the general gist (especially after having seen the original 1939 film) but don’t understand the “logic” behind the order of the vignettes. With Lange such a sympathetic character, and Moorehead pleading for compassion on behalf of her son:
… it’s difficult to know how to manage our distaste for Jesse’s actions and choices. Coming across best are Hunter as Jesse’s brother Frank:
… and Alan Hale as gang member Cole Younger:
.. and the visuals are compelling throughout.
Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:
- Fine cinematography by Joseph MacDonald
No, though Nicholas Ray fans will likely be curious to check it out.