Jesse James rides (yet) again
The fascination that the screen, big and small, has for the figure of that unpleasant man Jesse Woodson James (left) never ceases to amaze me. Ever since the silent movie Jesse James Under the Black Flag in 1921, when JW James’s son, Jesse James Jr, starred as his father in a picture which made the Missouri outlaw into a paragon of virtue, Jesse James has been galloping across our screens, usually acting bravely, honorably and decently, a kind of Robin Hood of the West.
It’s still happening. In 2015 a certain Mr. Brett Kelly directed and produced a picture which has the look of a made-for-TV movie (perhaps it was straight-to-video, I don’t know) which goes for the old Little Big Man/YoungGuns II wheeze of an elderly man being interviewed by a journalist and claiming that he is the famed Western figure from the past. He was not assassinated by Robert Ford but staged his own death and disappeared to Brazil, he says. And he tells how he was once recruited by a sheriff to infiltrate a criminal gang and was a kind of deputy. In these days when conspiracy theories abound there are doubtless many who will be ready to believe that Jesse escaped death in 1882, just as those who believe that Billy the Kid escaped death at the hands of Pat Garrett in Fort Sumner are legion.
This ploy doesn’t quite work, though, mainly because the man concerned is talking to the journalist in 1928, when, if he had been JW James, he would have been over eighty, but he is played by Kevin Sorbo, who at the time of filming was a sprightly 56 and looks younger.
Jesse, having staged his own death, is now 81 and going by the name J Frank Dalton
(hope I look that good at 81)
The tale is therefore told in flashbacks, and a certain Andrew Galligan, who looks maybe to be in his twenties, takes the part of the young Jesse (on his own; there is no sign of Frank). That doesn’t work either, though, because this Jesse is involved with the Dalton gang, and the Daltons were active in the 1890s. Jesse had been dead eight or nine years by the time the Daltons were outlaws and even if he had survived being shot in the back he would have been in his mid-40s. Oh well, never mind.
Young Jesse beats the bandits for the law
When I say this movie has a TV look about it I am referring to the rather ratty sets, the fades-to-black and the fact that all the characters wear their clothes unconvincingly: they are very obviously costumes. Still, I suppose the picture is no worse than those cheap B-Western Jesse Jameses of the 40s and 50s with the likes of Don ‘Red’ Barry or Reed Hadley as Jesse. And the producers did manage to get Peter Fonda, 75, to play the fearful mayor. He had a bad costume too but at least he had a little four-barrel pepperbox derringer so that helped.
The plot, such as it is, is the corny old one about a crook who has treed the town because he has discovered gold there and wants it all for himself. “Gold!” cries Jesse, looking at a secret map in an unconvincing studio 'cabin', as if he were in the cheapest of Poverty Row serials back in the 30s.
The crook is sadistic Hoyt Killian (John NE Hill) but in the end he’s quite easy for Jesse to overcome and he is left full o’ holes lying in a coffin, spaghetti style.
The Jameses and Daltons were supposed to be related in some way, distant cousins or something, and Jesse sometimes appears in Dalton movies, but in this one there is no sign of that. But even if unrelated Jesse kinda respects the Daltons (only Bob and Emmett are there, and Emmett seems to be the senior one) and lets them go after shooting Bob.
Honestly, e-pards, this is pretty low grade stuff and you will miss little if you miss it. But as I said above, I guess it’s no worse than many big- and small-screen Jesses of yore.