Saturday, November 17, 2012

I Shot Jesse James

Based on the article by Homer Croy, I Shot Jesse James is the story about Robert Ford’s assassination on the infamous Jesse James and life after his notorious killing. Written and directed by Samuel Fuller, the film is an exploration of guilt and torment where it explores the events of Robert Ford’s life after the assassination. Starring Preston Foster, Barbara Britton, and John Ireland. I Shot Jesse James is a decent yet underwhelming directorial debut from Samuel Fuller.

Following a heist that went wrong, Jesse James (Reed Hadley) and Robert Ford (John Ireland) go into hiding as James is pondering about ending his life as a criminal. Ford wants to do the same as he hopes to marry a stage actress named Cynthy Waters (Barbara Britton) as she is falling for a man named John Kelley (Preston Foster). Learning that there’s a $10,000 reward for the death of Jesse James, Ford decides to kill James for the reward money. Yet, it only gets him in trouble as Cynthy couldn’t believe what Ford did as all he got was $500 and a governor’s pardon. In the hopes to win Cynthy’s heart, Ford would take stage shows to re-enact James’ assassination only to deal with the fact that the people in a small Missouri town thinks of him as a coward.

Leaving to Creede, Colorado for the silver rush, Ford tries to live a new life and raise money so he can marry Cynthy. He would later find Kelley there as well for the silver rush as he’s hoping to make something of himself in a new town. When Ford finally strikes it rich with silver, he sends Cynthy a telegram to come to town in hopes to marry her. She arrives with her friend Harry Kane (J. Edward Bromberg) as she also learns that Kelley is there as she wants to tell Ford something. Suddenly the arrival of Jesse’s brother Frank (Tom Tyler) complicates matters as he wants to go after Ford while some big revelations are unveiled that would lead to Ford confronting Kelley over Cynthy.

The film is essentially a melodramatic take on Robert Ford’s life following his assassination on Jesse James where he would be branded a coward. While the film does explore into the complexity of Ford’s relationship with James, it would also show some reasons into why he killed James that would eventually become his undoing. While some facts stay true about some of the events of James’ assassination, there’s a lot of dramatic liberties that are taken into Ford’s motivation as the idea of him killing James over a woman seems ludicrous. It is the one part of the story that doesn’t really work as it also plays to what would really happen to Robert Ford.

Samuel Fuller’s direction is quite engaging for the way he creates an element of suspense in the first act in the way he would present James’ assassination in the hands of Robert Ford. Fuller’s direction has an air of excitement in the fight scenes as well as some of the showdowns that occur. Yet, he falters with the film’s melodramatic moments as it plays too much into its schematics where it sort of bogs the film down a bit. It also makes it uneven where it would leave an audience for westerns seem uninterested in this love triangle between Ford, Kelley, and Cynthy. Even as it reaches towards the film’s climax in a showdown between Ford and Kelley which has an air of suspense but an aftermath that is really a let down. Overall, Fuller creates a fascinating but uneven film that explores the life of Robert Ford.

Cinematographer Ernest Miller does nice work with the black-and-white photography to create a mood in some of the film‘s nighttime exteriors as well as more brighter scenes in the interiors. Editor Paul Landres does excellent work with the editing to utilize many styles for the transitions such as wipes and dissolves along with newspaper montages to help tell the story. Art director Frank Hotalins does superb work with the set pieces from the saloons and homes that the characters interact in to the look of the suite that Ford wants to marry Cynthy at.

Special effects by Ray Mercer does some terrific work with the few effects driven scenes in the showdowns. The film’s music by Albert Glasser is wonderful for some of the suspense that occurs including a few country-western pieces with lyrics by Katherine Glasser in one particular song although some of the more dramatic orchestral cuts is overwrought at times.

The casting is brilliant as it features some notable small roles from Tommy Noonan as Robert’s brother Charley, Victor Kilian as a prospector named Soapy, Jeni Le Gon as Cynthy’s maid Veronica, Barbara Woodell as Jesse James’ wife Zee, J. Edward Bromberg as Cynthy’s friend/manager Harry Kane, and Tom Tyler as Jesse’s brother Frank. Reed Hadley is excellent as Jesse James in the way he presents himself as well as the fact that he’s just a criminal living in his final days. Preston Foster is terrific as John Kelley who wants to give Cynthy a better life while wondering about Robert Ford’s presence. Barbara Britton is okay as Cynthy where she presents herself as a strong woman but is often bogged down by the script’s melodrama. Finally there’s John Ireland as Robert Ford where Ireland gives a fine performance as a man motivated to kill James to impress a woman only to get himself into trouble as the scenes where Ireland emotes doesn’t really work as if he’s trying to hard.

I Shot Jesse James is an intriguing but very messy film from Samuel Fuller. Despite a good cast and some wonderful technical work, it’s a film that doesn’t really do much to standout while the dramatic liberties it took to tell Robert Ford’s story really undermines a lot of the facts that would really happen. In the end, I Shot Jesse James is a lackluster debut film from Samuel Fuller.

Samuel Fuller Films: The Baron of Arizona - The Steel Helmet - Fixed Bayonets! - Park Row - Pickup on South Street - (Hell and High Water) - House of Bamboo - (China Gate) - Run of the Arrow - Forty Guns - Verboten! - The Crimson Kimono - Underworld U.S.A. - Merrill’s Marauders - Shock Corridor - The Naked Kiss - (Shark!) - (Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street) - The Big Red One - White Dog - (Thieves After Dark) - (Street of No Return) - (The Madonna and the Dragon)

Related: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

© thevoid99 2012

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