Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Young Jesse James

It's actually been quite some time since I've done a full-length blog post on any movie, mostly because there's a lot of stuff that I've already blogged about, or stuff I haven't seen, or stuff I don't particularly like. Getting back to something resembling normal service, I see that the Fox Movie Channel is running Young Jesse James again, tomorrow morning at 11:45 AM.

Now, any American will know who Jesse James is: the outlaw famous for his bank robberies until being shot by Robert Ford. But this movie doesn't really deal with that portion of his life, except at the very end setting up that he's going to go into something that's not quite what he does in the movie. The movie, instead, starts off in Jesse James' (Ray Stricklyn) home state of Missouri during the Civil War, when Union soldiers hang Jesse's father. This understandably radicalizes Jesse, so he goes off looking for his elder brother Frank (Robert Dix, son of Richard Dix). Frank has joined Captain Quantrill (played by Emile Meyer), who leads a band of guerrillas harassing Union troops in southwesther Missouri and further west into Kansas. Jesse really only wants to get back at the Union officer who hanged his father, before he can get back to the farm where his mother and girlfriend live.

It's with Quantrill's Raiders that Frank and Jesse James meet the Younger brothers (portrayed here as cousins to the Jameses, although that wasn't the case in real life), and learned the raiding tactics that they would use during their career as outlaw bank robbers. At first, Frank doesn't want Jesse around because war isn't for kids (Jesse would have been 15 or 16 at the time), and everybody else isn't sure whether this kid can really do a man's work. Quantrill uses Jesse first as a decoy -- dresses as a woman! -- to get information from a COnfederate sympathizer, and then later in other raids, until Jesse gets the revenge he was looking for on that Union soldier. Jesse returns to the farm, but unfortunately he can't get the war out of his head. So eventually, it's back to Quantrill....

The Union wins the war, of course, which is trouble for the Raiders. What drove the Jameses and Youngers to continue raids is, I think, not quite clear. The movie presents two possibile scenarios, an amnesty for Confederates gone wrong when one of the Union soldiers tries to shoot Jesse; and Jesse's monetary difficulties in running a farm. Whatever happened, Jesse and Frank would join up with the Youngers, which is about where the movie ends.

Young Jesse James is not a major motion picture, using lesser-known actors and running a scant 73 minutes, as well as looking like it's done entirely on the back lots. But those 73 minutes are interesting and worth a look, even if nothing particularly great. This is a part of Jesse James' life that probably deserves a better, more fully-fleshed movie version. Young Jesse James hasn't received a DVD release, and has also been subjected to a pan-and-scan print from the folks at the Fox Movie Channel, which is a shame.

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