The True Story of Jesse James

Screening on Film
Directed by Nicholas Ray.
With Robert Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter, Hope Lange.
US, 1957, 35mm, color, 93 min.
Print source: Fox

Ray’s bold retelling of this American myth repositions Jesse James as an angst-ridden teenager pushed by the moral fallout of the Civil War into an irremediable life of crime. Echoing the lost youth of Rebel Without a Cause, Jesse lashes out at an unfair world in confusion and pain after he is savagely beaten by Union soldiers for refusing to betray his rebel brother. Unlike James Dean’s Jim Stark, however, Jesse embraces his demons. Ray utilizes a dizzying flashback structure to chronicle the transformation from tormented young man to the self-destructive, violent and fame-obsessed fugitive he would become, ingeniously opening the film with the swirling chaos of a botched robbery revisited later in the film from a radically different perspective that gives new, unstable meaning to the same event.

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Nicholas Ray. Hollywood's Last Romantic

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