Archive for the ‘John Doucette’ Category

Kino Lorber’s second hi-def batch of Audie Murphy Westerns is coming in June. This set includes Sierra (1950), Kansas Raiders (1950) and Destry (1954).

Sierra (1950)
Directed by Alfred E. Green
Starring Wanda Hendrix, Audie Murphy, Burl Ives, Dean Jagger, Tony Curtis, James Arness, Jack Ingram, Houseley Stevenson, I. Stanford Jolley

Audie and his dad, Dean Jagger, have been hiding in the mountain for years. A chance meeting with Wanda Hendrix brings civilization to their doorstep, where it’s not welcome.

Wanda Hendrix and Audie Murphy were newlyweds when production began on this one. They were separated before its release. Some really nice horse stuff (some of it lifted from 1949’s Red Canyon) and a great cast of character actors.

I’m doing a commentary for this one.

Kansas Raiders (1950)
Directed by Ray Enright
Starring Audie Murphy, Brian Donlevy, Marguerite Chapman, Scott Brady, Tony Curtis, Richard Arlen, Richard Long

U-I mangles history again, but who cares? Murphy is Jesse James, Brian Donlevy is Quantrill. Yet another solid Western from Ray Enright, with typically-gorgeous cinematography from Irving Glassberg.

Destry (1954)
Directed by George Marshall
Starring Audie Murphy, Mari Blanchard, Lyle Bettger, Thomas Mitchell, Edgar Buchanan, Lori Nelson, Wallace Ford

For this 1954 remake, U-I puts Murphy and Mari Blanchard in the roles played by James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich in 1939’s Destry Rides Again. George Marshall directed both versions. (There was a semi-remake in 1950, Frenchie, with Joel McCrea, Shelley Winters and Marie Windsor.) In this one, it’s good to see Murphy play against type a bit, and it’s always great to see Wallace Ford. Of course, Mari Blanchard looks terrific.

All three of these pictures boast the usual U-I 50s Western Technicolor sheen. (Destry should be widescreen.) They’ll look wonderful on Blu-Ray. Highly recommended.

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Directed by Fritz Lang
Screenplay by Daniel Taradash
Story by Silvia Richards
Produced by Howard Welsch
Director Of Photography: Hal Mohr
Film Editor: Otto Ludwig
Music by Emil Newman

Cast: Marlene Dietrich (Altar Keane), Arthur Kennedy (Vern Haskell), Mel Ferrer (Frenchy Fairmont), Gloria Henry (Beth Forbes), William Frawley (Baldy Gunder), Lisa Ferraday (Maxine), John Raven (Chuck-a-luck dealer), Jack Elam (Mort Geary), George Reeves (Wilson), Frank Ferguson (Preacher), Francis McDonald (Harbin), Lloyd Gough (Kinch), John Doucette (Whitey), Russell Johnson, Fuzzy Knight, Emory Parnell, Kermit Maynard, Tom London, I. Stanford Jolley

I love Fritz Lang’s Hollywood movies, Rancho Notorious (1952) in particular. I’ve written about it on this blog before, and it’s got a chapter in my long-promised book.

With the new Blu-Ray from Warner Archive, well, here it is again.

First, the movie. It’s very, very Fritz Lang. You have Chuck-A-Luck, a retreat for outlaws run by Altar Keane (Marlene Dietrich) — sort of an Old West variation on Dr. Mabuse and his criminal network. Then you have Vern Haskall (Arthur Kennedy), whose fiancé (Gloria Henry) is raped and murdered in a holdup eight days before their wedding. Vern is absolutely consumed with revenge, another Lang favorite, and his journey for justice leads to Keane, gunslinger Frenchy Fairmont (Mel Ferrer) and Chuck-A-Luck.

As the ballad that runs throughout tells use, it’s a story of “hate, murder and revenge” — themes that served Lang well in all those terrific noirs.

All this is placed in a low-budget, studio-bound (though there’s a little Iverson Ranch and Republic Western street in there), Technicolor setting that comes off rather dreamy and operatic. Somehow it seems more dated that Lang’s Western Union from 1941. But let me be perfectly clear — all of these are good things.

Rancho Notorious is often compared to Nick Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954). Some folks hate it, some find it corny and laughable (especially that song). For me, however, it’s just wonderful, one of the few films I’ve watched back to back on the same evening (had to make sure I actually saw what I thought I saw).

Now, on to the new Blu-Ray. Warner Archive often shows us just how good an older film can look in high definition. Their exquisite restoration of Anthony Mann’s The Naked Spur (1953) is a shining example. Rancho Notorious has been given a new 4K transfer from the original nitrate Technicolor negative, and it’s just incredible. From the B&W RKO logo to the final fade, it’s as sharp as anything I’ve ever seen on a TV, highlighting the detail (thanks to the nitrate, grain’s almost nonexistent) and depth of Hal Mohr’s cinematography. The artifice of the whole endeavor is more noticeable than ever, and I stopped it a number of times to study the costumes, sets and backdrops.

The audio has been given plenty of attention, too, and it’s as clear as a bell. (The old DVD’s audio level was a bit low.) If Fritz Lang’s weird Western is ever gonna get the reappraisal it so richly deserves, this is the way to make it happen.

Warner Archive keeps raising the bar. This is a stunning, as-close-to-perfect-as-you-can-get presentation. Highly, highly recommended.

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Directed by Henry Hathaway
Starring Steve McQueen, Karl Malden, Brian Keith, Arthur Kennedy, Suzanne Pleshette, Martin Landau, Pat Hingle, Paul Fix, Gene Evans, John Doucette, Lyle Bettger, Ted de Corsia

It’s about time on this one! Kino Lorber is bringing Henry Hathaway’s Nevada Smith (1966) to Blu-Ray from the camera negative.

It’s a prequel to The Carpetbaggers (1964) with Steve McQueen playing a younger version of Alan Ladd’s character. It was beautifully shot by Lucien Ballard in a number of incredible locations. For 50s Western fans, its biggest appeal might be its supporting cast of great Western character actors. Highly recommended.

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Directed by Henry Hathaway
Starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, Martha Hyer, Michael Anderson Jr., Earl Holliman, George Kennedy, Paul Fix, James Gregory, Dennis Hopper, John Doucette, Strother Martin, Percy Helton

Paramount has announced a September Blu-Ray release of The Sons Of Katie Elder (1965). It’s a terrific movie, with an incredible cast and gorgeous cinematography from the great Lucien Ballard. Paramount’s Blu-Rays of pictures like this can be stunning, if they’re not overly processed like El Dorado (1966) was. Still, it comes highly recommended. 

With this announcement this week, and last week’s news of The Gunfighter (1950) from Criterion, things are looking pretty good.

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Directed by Henry Levin
Produced by Pat Duggan
Written by Harry Essex & Robert Smith
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Music by Van Cleave
Film Editor: William B. Murphy

Cast: Jack Palance (Jacob Wade), Anthony Perkins (Riley Wade), Neville Brand (King Fisher), Robert Middleton (Ben Ryerson), Elaine Aiken (Ada Marshall), Elisha Cook, Jr. (Willie), Claude Akins (Blackburn), Lee Van Cleef (Faro), Harry Shannon (Dr. Fisher), James Bell (Judge Hart), Adam Williams (Lon), Denver Pyle (Brad), John Doucette (Sundown Whipple)


It’d be easy to call The Lonely Man (1957) another gunfighter-wants-to-hang-up-his-guns movie, with an estranged son tossed into the mix. But you’d be really selling this one short. After all, one thing you learn from watching a couple hundred 50s Westerns is that the fun often comes from seeing what each picture does with a well-worn, basic framework we’ve all seen before.

After many years, gunman Jacob Wade (Jack Palance) comes home to lead a normal, peaceful life, only to find the wife he abandoned dead (suicide?) and his son a very bitter young man. Father and son wind up at Wade’s other ranch, where Ada (Elaine Aiken), a herd of mustangs and plenty of trouble await. That trouble, it’s some guys from Wade’s past — Neville Brand, Claud Aikens, Lee Van Cleef and Elisha Cook — and they have a score to settle. And to top it all off, Jacob’s going blind.

Palance is dressed a bit like his character, Jack Wilson, in Shane (1953), but all similarities end there. Jacob Wade has a conscience here, and is filled with regret. This isn’t how he wanted things to turn out, and he hopes to make things right with his son. Anthony Perkins is quite good as Riley Wade. He has plenty to learn, but he doesn’t come off as a spineless toad. Though he’s angry and spiteful, we still like him and feel for him.

Robert Middleton, who’s always good, has a great part as the one member of Wade’s old gang who’s still loyal. We like him, but we don’t really trust him.

9209_0007__20151015141858Elaine Aiken is really good as the woman Jacob’s been with since leaving his family. She didn’t make many movies, this was her first, but she became a noted acting teacher — and a founder of the Actors Conservatory. The bad guys, from Neville Brand to Lee Van Cleef, have well-rounded parts — and the actors make the most of their limited screen time.

The dialogue by Harry Essex and Robert Smith is terrific and the direction from Henry Levin and editing by William Murphy are very tight. This is solid picture.

But for my money, the real “star” of The Lonely Man is cinematographer Lionel Lindon. He did some fine work over the course of his long career — from Road To Utopia (1945) and The Black Scorpion (1957) to The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and The Munsters, but this one is just stunning. (Let’s not forget his beautiful Trucolor work in 1955’s A Man Alone.) The rich shadows of the interiors and the deep focus of the Alabama Hills exteriors are gorgeous in black and white VistaVision.

The Paramount DVD of The Lonely Man has been around for a while, and it’s a terrific example of what a good transfer can be. The VistaVision is sharp as a tack, as it should be, and the blacks are absolutely perfect, and that’s critical to appreciating Lionel Lindon’s work on this film. The Alabama Hills have rarely been presented so beautifully. I’d love to see this make it to Blu-Ray.

The Lonely Man certainly deserves more attention than it gets. Highly, highly recommended.

Interestingly, a few months later, Anthony Perkins and Neville Brand were back in another black and white VistaVision Western for Paramount — Anthony Mann’s The Tin Star (1957).

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Directed by Henry Hathaway
Starring John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Strother Martin, John Doucette

To mark the 50th anniversary of True Grit (1969), TCM has put together a string of screenings in hundreds of theaters this Sunday and Wednesday, May 5 and 8. To find a theater near you, click the lobby card above.

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Directed by Nicholas Ray
Starring Robert Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter, Hope Lange, Agnes Moorehead, Alan Hale Jr., Alan Baxter, John Carradine, Rachel Stephens

Nicholas Ray’s mangled masterpiece The True Story Of Jesse James (1957) is coming to Blu-Ray from Twilight Time. It’s one of my personal favorite 50s Westerns — for Ray’s incredible use of CinemaScope if nothing else, and it’s the subject of what I think is my best post ever for this blog.

It’s coming November 20. Not sure what the extras will be, but I can’t wait.

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Republic studios yellow

Welcome to The Republic Pictures Blogathon. Over the weekend, we’ll be celebrating the studio’s incredible talent roster, wonderful output and lasting legacy. This page will serve as its hub, and you’ll be able to reach all the posts here. Keep checking back.

One of my earliest movie memories, maybe the earliest, is of a 16mm print of John Ford’s Rio Grande (1950). So Republic has always been a huge part of my movie world.

It was formed by combining a number of the Poverty Row studios, and the goal of its head, Herbert J. Yates, was always commerce over art. So in a way, it’s surprising their films displayed the level of craftsmanship that they did. That craft may be what, in the end, sets them apart. After all, there were lots and lots of B Westerns and serials out there. But there’s a polish to a Republic picture — from the camerawork to the editing to those wonderful special effects to the performances to the stunts, that’s very special. It’s easy to see why their films are still so popular. If only they were readily available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Over the next few days, we have plenty to celebrate. The cowboy movies. The serials. The crime pictures. And on and on. Some great movie bloggers have saddled up or strapped on their rocket suit to be a part of this whole deal — and I really appreciate their efforts. This should be fun, folks!

Click on the images below to be linked to the appropriate blog.


Day Three.


Angel And The Badman (1947) – The Round Place In The Middle


Ride The Man Down (1952) – 50 Westerns From The 50s


City That Never Sleeps (1953) – Speakeasy


Radar Men LC Ch4

Radar Men From The Moon (1952) – The Hannibal 8


Day Two.

Fabulous Texan OS

The Fabulous Texan (1947) – Blake Lucas at 50 Westerns From The 50s

Hoodlum Empire TC

Hoodlum Empire (1952) – Jerry Entract at The Hannibal 8


Jubilee Trail (1954) – Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings


Rock Island Trail (1950) and California Passage (1950) – The Horn Section


Day One.


The Outcast (1954) – Jerry Entract at 50 Westerns From The 50s


Blackmail (1947) – John Knight at The Hannibal 8

Angel And The Badman (1947) – Thoughts All Sorts

Red Pony 6S

The Red Pony (1949) – Caftan Woman

Dakota_Incident TC

Dakota Incident (1956) – Riding The High Country

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Directed by Harmon Jones
Screen Play by Jesse L. Lasky, Jr.
From a novel by Jack Schaeffer
Director of Photography: Lloyd Ahern
Musical Director: Lionel Newman

CAST: Dale Robertson (Race Crim), Rory Calhoun (Tom Davisson), Robert Wagner (Jess Harker), Kathleen Crowley (Kathy Riley), James Millican (Luke Bowen), Lola Albright (Waco), J.M. Kerrigan (Riley), John Kellogg (Slater), Ian MacDonald (Hank), Burt Mustin (Uncle Ben), John Ducette, Chuck Connors.


It had been ages since I’d seen The Silver Whip (1953), and I remembered very little about it. Revisiting it thanks to the Fox Cinema Archives DVD-R, I didn’t expect much more than an interesting pairing of Dale Robertson and Rory Calhoun.

Turns out, I really underestimated this film. There’s a lot more going on here than just pairing a couple cowboy stars. It’s a strong story built around a few key action scenes, given plenty of punch by editor-turned-director Harmon Jones.

Race Crim (Robertson) is a stagecoach guard who recommends young driver Jess Harker (Robert Wagner) for his first major run. It goes horribly wrong when Slater (John Kellogg) and his gang shoot up the stage. Sheriff Tom Davisson (Calhoun) and Harker go after the gang, trying to get to them before Race, who’s out for revenge, does. This creates an interesting three-way conflict with both justice (Calhoun and Wagner) and vengeance (Robertson) going after Slater. I won’t go any further than that — this is a cool movie and I don’t want to spoil it.

sanstitre5rth cropped

Of course, Robertson and Calhoun are terrific. A lot of us have been enjoying Calhoun pictures lately, and this has become one of my favorites. But the film belongs to Dale Robertson, whose change from Calhoun’s best friend and Wagner’s mentor to a bitter, obsessed rival gives The Silver Whip a lot of its strength in the last few reels. Robert Wagner (seen in a color still below) seems so young — he was still three years away from The True Story Of Jesse James (1956).

Harmon Jones never seemed to make much of an impression as a director, or at least nothing to match his clout as an editor (Yellow Sky, Panic In The Streets), and he spent the bulk of his career directing TV (Rawhide, Perry Mason). But the final chase here, expertly staged along a tall ridge, shows he had the chops. (I’m fond of his 1956 Universal Western, A Day Of Fury, again starring Dale Robertson.)

6tgn cropped

We’ve all been hard on the 20th Century-Fox Cinema Archives DVD-R program for problems with aspect ratio, etc. I’m happy to report that this one looks great. It’s 1.37, as it should be, with a black and white transfer that shows off Lloyd Ahern’s crisp cinematography. Unlike some of you, perhaps, I like a little dirt and dust in these things. Growing up watching 16mm prints of films like this, a speck here and there is part of the experience.

It’s so easy to recommend The Silver Whip, along with its appearance on DVD (available from major online retailers).

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Directed by Nicholas Ray
Produced by Howard B. Swope, Jr.
Screenplay by Walter Newman
Based on a Screenplay by Nunnally Johnson
Music: Leigh Harline
Director Of Photography: Joe MacDonald, ASC
Film Editor: Robert Simpson, ACE

CAST: Robert Wagner (Jesse James), Jeffrey Hunter (Frank James), Hope Lange (Zee James), Agnes Moorehead (Mrs. Samuel), Alan Hale (Cole Younger), Alan Baxter (Barney Remington), John Carradine (Rev. Jethro Bailey), Rachel Stephens (Anne James), Barney Phillips (Dr. Samuel), Biff Elliot (Jim Younger), Frank Overton (Major Rufus Cobb), Barry Atwater, Marian Seldes, Chubby Johnson, Frank Gorshin, Carl Thayler, John Doucette.


This is my contribution to the Nicholas Ray Blogathon, celebrating what would be Ray’s 100th birthday. Hosted by Cinema Viewfinder, you’ll find more posts here.

There’s an infamous group of films that have achieved an almost mythic quality for a very odd reason — they were taken out of the director’s hands and re-thought, re-cut, re-shot or just generally monkeyed with by their studios, leaving us to wonder what could have been. The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid (1973). Once Upon A Time In America (1984). The history of cinema is littered with such films.

Home video has given many of these films a second chance, allowing them to be restored, reconstructed or re-re-cut to give us an idea of what should have been. Touch Of Evil (1958), for example. With others, such as Ambersons, the materials are lost, leaving us with not much more than anecdotes to attest to the fact that a true masterpiece was mauled.

But other pictures have no Director’s Cut, no alternate ending, no defenders, no myth. We’re left with just another movie that doesn’t quite add up. Sadly, that’s where Nicholas Ray’s The True Story Of Jesse James (1957) winds up.

Nicholas Ray was on a bit of a roll heading into this picture. He’d directed two Westerns in recent years, the incredible Johnny Guitar (1954) and Run For Cover (1955). Rebel Without A Cause (1955) brought him together with James Dean — and would go on to become Ray’s biggest success and a truly iconic film. And Bigger Than Life (1956), though it wasn’t a hit upon release, is now seen as perhaps his masterpiece.

As part of the deal that had included Bigger Than Life, Ray owed 20th Century-Fox another picture. And the studio decided they wanted to remake Jesse James (1939), their big Technicolor hit from Henry King starring Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda as the James brothers. That version of the James gang story made enough to warrant a sequel, Fritz Lang’s The Return Of Frank James (1940), so why not return to the well?

Every indication is that Ray, going in, was excited about the project and had big ideas. The studio’s ideas, however, turned out to be a bit smaller.

Nicholas Ray: “I’d do it entirely as a ballad, stylized in every aspect, all of it shot on a stage, including the horses, the chases, everything, and do it in areas of light.”

This radical approach was turned down, if it was even pitched. Ray then became excited about actually shooting on location — Northfield, Minnesota, for example. The studio, however, wanted to shoot on rehabbed sets from other Fox pictures. What’s more, they had another recycling effort in mind — repurposing footage from the 1939 Jesse James.

Ray: “The real reason they made it was because some genius at Fox had figured out a way of reprocessing old footage into Scope… Now, if you’ve seen it, the one scene that you’ll recall is this incredible stunt where Jesse and Frank elude the posse by riding through a plate glass window, down the streets out of town, and over a huge cliff into a river. Well, since the picture had been made, the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) cracked down on abuse to horses in movies. I mean those animals really took a fall. So basically, that whole picture was made to use that scene again. We matched the clothing and everything. A lot of the same buildings and props were still around.”

So far, Ray’s lost his location shooting and he’s saddled with stock footage from a film that his picture will certainly be compared to. And we haven’t gotten around to the script.

Nicholas Ray was fascinated by the subject of youths finding their way in the world, a theme that runs through many of his films, Rebel Without A Cause being an obvious example. In the early 60s, working on King Of Kings (1961), he explained himself: “I have always been concerned with youth and their struggle for belief and understanding.”

This theme, this struggle, seemed appropriate for the story of the James gang. Herbert B. Swope, Jr., the picture’s producer, played up this angle in a promo article he probably didn’t write: “The James story is essentially the story of juvenile delinquency. The gang was made up of youths who were, for the most part, teenagers. The clothes, customs and the use of the horse may have been replaced by rock ‘n’ roll and hot rods, but the basic problem of youth at war with the world and with itself was the same as it is now.”

In the beginning, 20th Century-Fox handed Nick Ray a script by Russell S. Hughes. He didn’t like it. So with Nunnally Johnson’s script for the 1939 picture as a springboard, Ray hired Walter Newman to work on a new screenplay. Newman had once worked with Ray on a picture about gypsies that never happened, and he’d recently written The Man With The Golden Arm (1955).

Walter Newman: “Both Nick and I were psychoanalytically oriented, and in doing research were struck by the fact that Jesse was unmistakably self-destructive… We thought that was a novel angle of attack for the story.”

They had more in mind than just working in a little psychology.

Walter Newman: “In telling the story, we moved back and forth through time — the way people did several years later in other films. This was Nick’s concept. In my pedestrian way, I used flashbacks — some character talking about an experience with Jesse, then we’d flash back, the conventional approach. Nick said, “Why the prologue? Let’s just flash back and forth with no explanation at all. Write it conventionally and I’ll shoot it that way, but then I’ll try to convince the studio to do it my way. If I succeed, all right, and if I don’t, we’ll use the prologues.”

Newman’s script, dated July 1956, was rejected by Fox — hard to read (those flashbacks), and Jesse wasn’t sympathetic enough. The next draft, by Ray and Gavin Lambert, and dated September 4, went over a bit better. Shooting began September 6, with the “final” script dated September 14. That script contains plenty of blue pages, indicating that changes continued during filming.

Maybe somewhere in all those changes, it came to pass that The True Story Of Jesse James became not all that true — his granddaughter is credited with “historical data” — just truer than the Jesse James pictures that came before it.

Then there was casting. Ray was convinced that Elvis Presley would make a good Jesse James. Elvis has just appeared in his first film, Love Me Tender (1956), for Fox, and was a dialogue-quoting fan of Rebel Without A Cause. But Hal Wallis had the King locked down tight at Paramount, and Fox was keen on using a young actor they had under contract, Robert Wagner.

Joining Wagner was Jeffrey Hunter, who’s excellent as Frank James; Alan Hale as Cole Younger; Hope Lange as Zee, Jesse’s wife; Agnes Moorehead as Mrs. Samuel, the James boys’ mother; and Alan Baxter as the railroad man determined to bring the outlaws to justice. John Carradine, who played Bob Ford, Jesse’s murderer, in the 1939 film, is on hand here as the preacher who baptizes Jesse and Zee. And Nick Ray’s son, Tony, has a small part as Bob Younger.

James Dean, dead. Elvis Presley, not available. Location shooting in Missouri and Minnesota, out. The flashback structure, compromised. As time went on, and as his vision of the picture began to fade, Ray began to think of the picture as a studio assignment, not a Nicholas Ray film. There wasn’t a lot to get excited about, and he turned to liquor and pills. Before photography began, Ray took a drunken fall at the Chateau Marmont, spraining the same ankle he’d injured during the shoot for The Lusty Men (1952). This gave him another reason to self-medicate.

Robert Wagner: “I was looking forward to working with Nick Ray on a Western, but he was a very strange man. He was bisexual, with a drinking problem and a drug problem — a very confused and convoluted personality, even for a director, few of whom were as obviously tormented as Nick… he hardly ever gave you a physical direction. It was all about emotions, and that’s what he tried to put in the movie.”

The picture begins with the botched Northfield robbery. The James gang fleas with a posse lead by Sheriff Hillstrom (John Doucette) on their trail. They escape by leaping off a cliff on horseback, thanks to the aforementioned footage from Jesse James. A newspaper man asks, “What makes him Jesse James?” — and the picture spends the rest of its running time trying to answer that question. Much of the flashback structure is built around an ailing Agnes Moorehead telling us of her sons’ troubles. Naturally, she sees her boys as loving sons, while other characters recall things from a different point of view. Starting in the days immediately after the Civil War, Frank (Jeffrey Hunter) and other Confederate veterans are being persecuted by Union sympathizers — making it hard for them to return to a simple life of farming. To feed their families and get back on their feet, Jesse suggests they return to the type of raids they excelled at during the war.

Eventually, the picture takes us back to the Northfield job, and after learning of Jesse’s past, we see the robbery in a different light. We also see the change in Jesse. He’s no longer in it to fund a fresh start, but driven by his self-destructive nature, paranoia and a growing belief in his own myth. Of course, we all know where this leads, to his assassination by the Fords, guests in his own home.

From fade-in to fade-out, The True Story Of Jesse James reeks of studio tampering. While the flashback structure works, the cloud-the-edges-of-the-frame device (which Ray didn’t want) is embarrassing. Swope, the producer, was sympathetic to Ray’s narrative style and persuaded the studio to test two versions — Ray’s and a more chronological approach. In the end, after a blowup in which Nick cussed out the Fox executives, the picture was re-cut, eliminating some of the flashbacks and narration. While Ray handled some of the re-shooting, in the end it was handed over to contract directors and a team of editors.

Wagner: “Every morning we’d all wonder how Nick was going to be today, which is no way to make a movie. I liked working for him — he was as close to the avant-garde as Hollywood got at that time — and he was very interesting in his various pathologies.”

Walking away from The True Story Of Jesse James, Nicholas Ray left for Europe where he’d soon make the brilliant Bitter Victory (1957). He claimed to have never seen the James film as released.

Ray: “I think some of the best scenes I ever directed were in that film but cut out. One was the fight between Frank and Jesse in the cave with very straight dialogue in a good heavy sense. The action was a little too violent. For taste, I re-shot it.”

So why do we bother watching a film when its director couldn’t be bothered to finish it?

Maybe Jean-Luc Godard answers that question best: “That something has gone wrong from the point of view of the production is hardly in doubt; but not the direction, in which each shot carries the indelible mark of the most peculiarly modern of film-makers.”

In other words, the whole can’t touch the sum of its parts. Ray’s unparalleled use of color and ‘Scope, along with some terrific sound design, make many sequences very effective — even if the picture as a whole falls short.

Director of Photography Joe MacDonald had just shot Ray’s Bigger Than Life, another psychoanalytic study of self-destructive behavior — and one of the most incredible-looking CinemaScope films ever made. His credits also included John Ford’s My Darling Clementine (1946), a film of almost unreal beauty. There was no way The True Story Of Jesse James could be anything but stunning to look at.

No one composes or blocks scenes even remotely like Nicholas Ray. The way characters come in and out of the wide frame is amazing to watch, with action in the foreground and background at the same time. (The Northfield posse scenes are especially good.) Much is made of Ray’s training under Frank Lloyd Wright and how it might have impacted his films.

Ray: “I like the horizontal line, and the horizontal was essential for Wright. I like the CinemaScope format very much; and when I am free to use it as I please, as in Rebel, I get great satisfaction from doing so.”

Along with the widescreen photography and stereo sound design, the picture makes great use of music, though this aspect was also compromised. Leigh Harline, who wrote “When You Wish Upon A Star” for Pinocchio (1940), uses the traditional “The Ballad Of Jesse James” throughout, most effectively in the final scene, with a man singing it outside Jesse’s home after his murder — while inside, the gathering crowd steals souvenirs — the legend already in place.

“But that dirty little coward shot Mr. Howard,

An’ laid Jesse James in his grave.”

Jean-Luc Godard: “…one should not forget the ambition which attended its inception. So reader is warned. One must judge The True Story Of Jesse James on its intentions.”


SOURCES: Nicholas Ray: An American Journey by Bernard Eisenschitz; Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure Of An American Director by Patrick Macgilligan; Pieces Of My Heart: A Life by Robert Wagner with Scott Eyman.

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