Cast & Crew
Alan Hale [jr.]
After a disastrous raid on the Northfield, Minnesota bank, Jesse James and his gang are hotly pursued by lawmen throughout the territory. Led by Remington, the head of the detective agency hired to apprehend the gang, and spurred on by a thirty-thousand-dollar reward, the posse tracks down and captures gang members Sam Wells and the Younger brothers. Back at the James family home in Missouri, meanwhile, the boys's ailing mother, Mrs. Samuels, blames the Yankees for turning her sons into renegades. She recalls a time, years earlier, during the Civil War when Missouri sided with the North: Frank, feeling an allegiance to the Confederacy, enlists in the guerrilla band known as Quantrill's Raiders. One day, the Jayhawkers, a militia of Northern sympathizers, come to the farm in search of Frank, and when they try to whip the young Jesse into disclosing his brother's whereabouts, Jesse defiantly rides off to join Frank. At the war's end, Jesse proposes to Zee, the pretty niece of Maj. Cobb, with whom the boys served in battle, and envisions leading the life of a peaceful farmer. On the night that Zee and Jesse are baptized by Rev. Jethro Bailey, Jesse's visions of peace are shattered when Northern sympathizers raid the family farm and hang Hughie, their friend and hired hand, for riding with Quantrill's Raiders, warning that the James brothers will be next. Outraged, Frank and James assemble the Younger brothers, along with other Confederate compatriots and propose robbing a Yankee bank to earn a grubstake for a new farm. After their plans of robbing one bank turns into a life of crime, Zee returns home to live with her sister, Rowena Cobb. Time passes, and one day Jesse reappears to claim Zee's hand in marriage. Assuming the identity of Tom Howard, a respectable businessman whose affairs require him to travel, Jesse rents a house for himself and Zee. Zee's happiness is cut short, however, when Jesse soon leaves for another job. In the present, Jesse, Frank and Tucker, one of the last members of the gang, take refuge in the hills. Jesse, who blames Tucker for failing to cut the telegraph wires in time, thus allowing the news of the robbery to be transmitted throughout the territory, determines to kill him. When Frank objects, Jesse accuses him of betrayal and Frank responds that their luck turned bad when the overly ambitious Jesse insisted on targeting railroads. His thoughts returning to the past, Frank recalls what happened after one robbery: Bill Ryan is arrested and becomes the first member of the gang to be convicted and sentenced to prison. After Ryan's trial, Jesse, Zee, Frank and his wife Anne board a train to visit the boys's mother. At the station, Attorney Walker, who knows Jesse only as Howard, introduces them to Remington. When Frank defends the actions of the James brothers, Walker explains that the brothers have given voice to the quiet desperation of the downtrodden populace of Missouri. After the train stops en route, the brothers see Remington and Walker ride in the direction of their mother's house and realize that they intend to raid the farm. Hurrying to the farm, the boys watch in horror as the forces of the law, abetted by a neighboring farmer, toss a bomb into the house, injuring their mother and killing little Archie, their half-brother. Appalled, the Jameses' neighbors lobby to grant the brothers amnesty, but when Jesse, seething with anger, shoots down Askew, a neighbor who participated in the assault, the campaign is defeated. The gang then reassembles for one last raid at Northfield, four hundred miles from home, in unfamiliar territory. As they approach Northfield, Frank senses that something is amiss and asks Jesse to call off the raid, but Jesse arrogantly refuses to do so. Outside of town, Jesse hands Tucker his watch and instructs him to cut the telegraph wire at exactly 2:30. Once inside the bank, Jesse orders the teller to open the vault, while on the street, a tense Cole Younger shoots an unruly bystander, thus sounding the alarm. In the ensuing shootout, much of the gang is slaughtered, but Tucker, Frank and Jesse escape. Back in the present, Frank declares that Northfield is the end of the road while Jesse blames Tucker for their predicament. After the brothers argue, Frank announces that he is going his separate way and rides off. As Tucker aims his rifle at Jesse, Jesse fires and then flees. Alerted by the sound of gunshots, the posse hurries to the area and, finding Jesse's watch on Tucker's body, assume that he is Jesse and spread the news of the notorious outlaw's death. Back at their rented house, Zee steels herself to claim her husband's body just as Jesse stumbles in the door and collapses from exhaustion. After Frank and Jesse reconcile, Jesse finally admits that Northfield was a mistake. Zee still clings to the dream of being a simple farmer's wife, and Frank offers to lend them the money to buy a small farm. After Frank rides off to retrieve their mother, Zee and Jesse pack their belongings, eager for a new life. In a gesture of peace, Jesse hands his pistols to gang members Charley and Robby Ford. When Jesse turns his back, Robby shoots him with his own gun and then runs out into the street, boasting that he has just killed Jesse James. As the town flocks to the James house, Frank and his mother arrive, and Frank consoles Zee while a wandering minstrel sings of the death of Jesse James.
Alan Hale [jr.]
Joseph Di Reda
J. Frederik Albeck
Kellogg Junge Jr.
James F. Stone
George Comfort Sr.
Harry M. Leonard
Edward B. Powell
Stuart A. Reiss
Joseph E. Rickards
Walter M. Scott
Herbert B. Swope Jr.
Lyle R. Wheeler
The True Story of Jesse James (1956) - The True Story of Jesse James
The idea, or so it seems, was that in Ray was a director with a feel for the young rebel who courts trouble (They Live by Night, Rebel Without a Cause) and, indeed, after initially rejecting it, became excited to do it because he had Elvis Presley in mind for the lead. Instead, Fox went with two of their contract players, Robert Wagner and Jeffrey Hunter as Jesse and Frank James, respectively.
Robert Wagner and Jeffrey Hunter both do capable jobs in their roles (although Hunter comes off best) but Wagner gives off little charisma and the shirtless scenes and ever-present pompadour, despite taking place in the 19th century, signal the studio is just trying to sell a contract player as the next big sex symbol. Presley would have had the same shirtless scenes and an even more impressive pompadour but, according to Bernard Eisenschitz in his biography, Nicholas Ray: An American Journey, Ray knew Presley really was a "farmer's son, a country boy swept by circumstance into the limelight" and felt he could have brought a more personal touch to the role than Wagner who, according to Eisenschitz, was "expressive of nothing more than California physical culture."
Nonetheless, Wagner succeeds in creating in Jesse James a self-centered, glamour boy outlaw, in love with his own press and fully in belief of it. Presley probably wouldn't have had the nerve to make the character come off as so egotistical and smug and thus, in a roundabout way, Wagner turned out to be better for the role than anyone previously expected. And any lack of star charisma worked for him too! It made the character of James appear even more undeserving of his vanity and smug demeanor. Nicholas Ray accepted Wagner in the role and plowed ahead.
Robert Wagner, however, wasn't nearly as pleased with Ray as Ray was with him. Wagner writes in his autobiography (Pieces of My Heart: A Life, by Robert J. Wagner with Scott Eyman) that although he liked working with Ray he found him unfocused and confusing. He says the "problem was that Nick was always anesthetized; he'd stare off into space and then he'd say, 'Try this. No. Wait. Don't'"
This kind of direction may have been difficult for an actor to work with but doesn't show through in the final cut. The True Story of Jesse James itself starts off with the failed Northern Minnesota bank robbery that sent Jesse and Frank James on the run after most of their gang had either been caught or killed. While Jesse and Frank hide out, their story is told in flashback, complete with the clichéd twirling lens signaling the beginning of a new flashback each time, added by the studio against Ray's adamant wishes. As told, Jesse was essentially a fiery boy with a penchant for fighting for justice or, at least, his definition of it. His mother, played by the great Agnes Moorehead, defends and lies for him as best she can but never stops worrying. Jesse and Frank team up with Cole Younger (a very good Alan Hale, Jr.) and his gang and start robbing banks, with Jesse as the leader since he's the one that comes up with all the plans and organizes the getaways. Along the way, Jesse takes an interest in Zee, a surprisingly lackluster Hope Lange, and the two get married. It's suggested in Eisenschitz's book that the studio wanted Joanne Woodward but Ray chose Lange because with her inexperience he wouldn't have two great stage actors, the other being Moorehead, telling him what to do. Considering the studio didn't think twice about pushing Robert Wagner in the role over Ray's fervent choice of Elvis Presley, the veracity of this story is questionable. Whatever the case, Lange simply doesn't pull it off. Her role is underwritten, to be sure, but little effort is made on her part to flesh it out and convince the viewer that a relationship actually exists between Jesse and Zee.
In the end, after the Ford brothers are introduced, played well by Carl Thayler (Robert) and Frank Gorshin (Charley), the biggest opportunity missed is one that would be picked up years later by another writer, Ron Hansen, in his novel, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, later adapted to a film of the same name by writer-director Andrew Dominik in 2007. That opportunity was one in which the studio wanted no part, the idea that Jesse James had a death wish and courted his assassination, perhaps even setting it up. Ray had even gone so far as to film a scene, later cut, in which Frank directly accuses Jesse of wanting to die and trying to make it happen. After all, historically, the real Jesse James did indeed give the gun that would eventually kill him to Robert Ford as a gift and, shortly after discussing the reward on his head, deliberately turned his back on Ford to straighten a frame on the wall. This is all shown in the final film but without the references to Jesse's death wish it has little impact. Indeed, it plays as disjointed and jarring.
The True Story of Jesse James looks gorgeous, shot in Cinemascope with a few action scenes from the 1939 version expanded to Cinemascope and inserted at key points, but plays as a mixed variety of Jesse James vignettes rather than a cohesive whole. Still, as with any Ray film, there is plenty to recommend and the story of Jesse James alone is enough to keep the viewer's interest for the duration, a short one at that: Only 92 minutes. The studio, unhappy with Ray's psychological study over raw western ode, ended up hobbling the film they had so wanted to be a hit. As Nicolas Ray said himself, "I think some of the best scenes I ever directed were in that film but they were cut out." Left on the cutting room floor, along with a motivation for Jesse James' death that could've made the film the great one Nicolas Ray wanted to direct from the start.
Producer: Herbert B. Swope, Jr.
Director: Nicholas Ray
Screenplay: Walter Newman
Cinematography: Joseph MacDonald
Art Direction: Addison Hehr and Lyle R. Wheeler
Music: Leigh Harline
Film Editor: Robert L. Simpson
Cast: Robert Wagner (Jesse James), Jeffrey Hunter (Frank James), Agnes Moorehead (Mrs. Samuel), Hope Lange (Zee James), Alan Hale, Jr. (Cole Younger), Alan Baxter (Barney Remington), John Carradine (Reverend Jethro Bailey).
by Greg Ferrara
SOURCES: Bernard Eisenschitz, Nicholas Ray: An American Journey
Robert J. Wagner with Tony Eyman, Pieces of My Heart: A Life
The True Story of Jesse James (1956) - The True Story of Jesse James
Frank Gorshin (1933-2005)
He was born on April 5, 1933, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania into a family of modest means, his father was a railroad worker and mother a homemaker. His childhood impressions of Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney paid off when he won a local talent contest at 17, and that led to his first gig at 17 at a the prize was a one week engagement at Jackie Heller's Carousel night club, Pittsburgh's hottest downtown spot in the day. The taste was there, and after high school Frank enrolled in the Carnegie-Mellon Tech School of Drama did hone his craft.
His career was interrupted briefly when he entered the US Army in 1953. He spent two years in Special Services as an entertainer. Once he got out, Frank tried his luck in Hollywood. He made his film debut in a forgettable William Holden vehicle The Proud and Profane, but his fortunes picked up soon when he and when he hooked up with American Internation Pictures (AIP). With his charasmatic sneer and cocky bravado that belied his slender, 5' 7" frame, Frank made a great punk villian in a series of entertaining "drive-in" fare: Hot Rod Girl (1956), Dragstrip Girl, Invasion of the Saucer Men, and of course the classic Portland Expose (all 1957).
By the '60s, he graduated to supporting roles in bigger Hollywood fare: Where the Boys Are, Bells Are Ringing (both 1960), Ring of Fire, and his biggest tole to date, that of Iggy the bank robber in Disney's hugely popular That Darn Cat (1965). Better still, Frank found some parts on television: Naked City, Combat!, The Untouchables, and this would be the medium where he found his greatest success. Little did he realize that when his skeletal physique donned those green nylon tights and cackled his high pitch laugh that Frank Gorshin would be forever identified as "the Riddler," one of Batman's main nemisis. For two years (1966-68), he was a semi-regular on the show and it brought him deserved national attention.
By the '70s, Frank made his Broadway debut, as the star of Jimmy, a musical based on the life of former New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker. He spent the next two decades alternating between the stage, where he appeared regularly in national touring productions of such popular shows as: Promises, Promises, Prisoner of Second Street, and Guys and Dolls; and nightclub work in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
He recently found himself in demand for character roles on televison: Murder, She Wrote, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and film: Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys (1995), and the quirky comedy Man of the Century (1999). Yet his biggest triumph was his two year stint (2002-2004) as George Burns in the Broadway smash, Say Goodnight Gracie. It ran for 364 performances and he received critical raves from even the toughest New York theater critics, proving undoubtly that he was a performer for all mediums. He is survived by his wife Christina; a son, Mitchell; grandson Brandon and sister Dottie.
by Michael T. Toole
Frank Gorshin (1933-2005)
The working titles of this film were Jesse James and The James Brothers. The onscreen credits read "Based on the screenplay by Nunnally Johnson." Rosalind Shaffer and Jo Francis James are credited onscreen with historical data. Shaffer and James also supplied the historical data for the 1939 film Jesse James, for which Johnson wrote the screenplay. John Carradine, who appeared as "Rev. Jethro Bailey" in The True Story of Jesse James, played the role of "Bob Ford" in the 1939 film.
The film opens with the following written prologue: "The tragic War Between the States spawned much that was good, much that was evil. No person better symbolized that curious mixture than a quiet Missouri farm boy named Jesse James who became America's most notorious outlaw. Much that you see here is fact and much is as close to what actually happened as any man can testify." Jesse James was born in Missouri in 1847, and at the age of fifteen, joined a group of vicious, pro-Confederate querrillas led by William C. Quantrill. As depicted in the film, in 1876, the gang was almost wiped out during a bank holdup in Northfield, MN. On April 3, 1882, Jesse was shot and killed by fellow gang member Bob Ford for a reward. Six months after Jesse's death, Frank surrendered and was tried and acquitted twice.
Although a July 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item places Patricia Owens in the cast and a September 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item states that Stuart Whitman was cast, neither appeared in the released film. A September 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item places David Palmer in the cast, but his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Modern sources note that director Nicholas Ray was working on a rough cut of the film when he tore some ligaments and had to undergo an operation. In Ray's absence, producer Herbert Swope added the swirling mist shots that signal the start of the flashbacks in the film. Studio head Buddy Adler cut several scenes from the revivalist meeting sequence, according to another modern source. In Ray's original version, Jesse railed against the Union soldiers at the meeting. Modern sources also add that Arthur Kramer worked with Walter Newman to tighten the screenplay. For additional information about films based on the life of Jesse James, please see the entry for the 1939 film Jesse James in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40.
Released in United States Winter December 1956
Remake of "Jesse James" (1939) directed by Henry King.
Released in USA on video.
Released in United States Winter December 1956