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True Story Of Jesse James, The (Twilight Time) Blu-Ray Review

    Mark Tolch
    Senior Member

  • True Story Of Jesse James, The (Twilight Time) Blu-Ray Review

    Released By: Twilight Time
    Released On: October 16, 2018.
    Director: Nicholas Ray
    Cast: Robert Wagner, Jeffrey Hunter, Hope Lange, Agnes Moorehead, Alan Hale Jr.
    Year: 1957
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The True Story of Jesse James - Movie Review:

    It's fair to say that there was about as much ink-slingin' as gun-slingin' going on in the Old West, thanks largely to strange packs of biographers that rode the trails to tell the stories of the infamous outlaws and murderers who dominated the gossip of the day. Published with about as much attention to quality as an 80's punk rock zine, these accounts of Billy The Kid, Wild Bill Hickok, and others were often dosed heavily with exaggeration; if there was any truth to be found at all.

    So, then, what does The True Story Of Jesse James really entail? Like other tales of other gunslingers, the vicious criminal activities of The James Gang have often been glamourized and glorified, painting the outlaw as a well-intentioned victim of circumstance, forced to take up the six-shooter to make his way through life. And 1957's The True Story Of Jesse James is no exception. Nicholas Ray's film opens with the James-Younger gang in a shootout, certainly a fine way to open a Western. They've just robbed the bank in Northfield, Minnesota, a bunch of their guys have been killed, and numerous lawmen and posses are in effect to bring the boys down. Bernie Remington, of the Remington Detective Agency is even along for the ride, with his biggest concern being the plan to use dynamite to blow Jesse (Robert Wagner) and his brother Frank (Jeffrey Hunter) out of the cave they're holed up in.

    Fate shines on the James Brothers, though; they've bypassed hiding out in the obvious caves, and instead taken to jumping their horses off a nearby cliff and into the river far below, a stunt that allegedly killed one of the horses. And although the brothers do get the chance to pose with rifles, staring off into the future, the purpose of this film is not about the present. No, we're here to witness flashbacks bookended with smoky segues, a look at the last eighteen years of James' life.

    Mother Samuel (Agnes Moorehead), the matriarch of the James family, tells the tale of Jesse as a younger man, a good, honest-church going boy who was set on the wrong path by those Damn Yankees; enemies of the Confederacy, and none too keen on the bushwhacking activities of the James boys. Union threats against the James homestead send Jesse into the Civil War as a more willing participant against the north, but when he's injured in battle, he finds that Missouri's split stance on the whole North vs. South thing doesn't make him a welcome guest in many places.

    Jesse finds shelter in the home of Major Rufus Cobb, whose wife, Rowena, is insistent that they take the boy in; and it's here that he meets their daughter, Zee (Hope Lange) a gorgeous girl who he falls in love with while she nurses him back to health. Jesse asks Cobb for his daughter's hand in marriage, which he is agreeable to, providing Frank hands over the money for this year's crops. But Jesse's plans for owning a home and raising a family with Zee are put on hold when a nasty neighbour rats them out to the Army as Southern sympathizers, earning the James family a visit that results in the crops being burned, his family injured, and Hughie, the farmhand, being lynched. What else is a boy to do in the face of such evil but commit a few robberies to earn back that cash, sticking it to the North in the process? And rob, they do; with the help of Cole Younger (Alan Hale Jr.) and his brothers, the James Gang rides into bank holdups, train robberies, and an assortment of murders that write their names in the history books, continuing right up until an unarmed Jesse catches a bullet in the back of the head from the coward Robert Ford.

    The True Story of Jesse James, while probably just as true as any other differing true story of Jesse James, is also a pretty typical Western for the time. Robert Wagner does a fine job as Jesse, dominating most of the screen time, though Hunter and Lange are also enjoyable during their screen time. Agnes Moorehead, only 57 at the time the film was released, does a fine Granny Moses, but it's a one-trick role. The scenery is adequate, the shootouts are about what you would expect; Ray's film hits the right marks for the genre in that era, but that's about it. Direction is solid but not noteworthy, and the attention to detail in wardrobe again fits the genre, but won't impress historians. Really, there's nothing about this one that makes it stand out as good or bad, but the film does lack a bit in the charisma required to make it a classic.

    The True Story of Jesse James - Blu-Ray Review:

    Twilight Time brings The True Story of Jesse James to Blu-ray in a 2.35:1 AVC-encoded blu-ray that looks....okay. Much like the film itself, this isn't a transfer that anyone is going to feel the need to write home about. It must be said that the opening 20 minutes of the film didn't impress at all, with detail coming across as globby and undefined with what looked like a bit of a contrast boost. The film did get better looking, fortunately, with more detail and a pleasing colour palette, but overall remained just okay. Although there were a few minor instances of ghosting, the picture was largely dirt and damage free, likely an upgrade over the existing DVD.

    Primary Audio Options came in the form of DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 tracks; both were perfectly serviceable, though I'd give the edge to the 5.1 for opening up the soundtrack a bit, and throwing some gunshots in the surrounds. Both tracks had good dynamic range and an absence of hiss or distortion. Twilight Time has included their usual isolated score track as an option, and English subtitles are available.

    Fox Movietone Newsreels (10:48) are included, showing some footage of people going to the movies in Times Square (though I can't read anything about this film on the marquee), and the silent nature of the footage doesn't lend itself to explanation of every scene.

    A Theatrical Trailer is also included, as is the Twilight Time Interactive Catalogue and liner note essay by Julie Kirgo.

    The True Story of Jesse James - The Final Word:

    It's fun to see a young Robert Wagner posing with a rifle and talking about the inefficiencies of rival gangs, but The True Story of Jesse James isn't likely to dazzle anyone with it's cookie-cutter genre formula. The Twilight Time blu-ray offers up an adequate transfer for fans of the film.

    Click on the images below for full sized The True Story of Jesse James Blu-ray screen caps!

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