Kansas Raiders is directed by Ray Enright and written by Robert Richards. It stars Audie Murphy, Brian Donlevy, Marguerite Chapman, James Best, Scott Brady and Tony Curtis. A Technicolor production, music is by Milton Rosen and cinematography by Irving Glassberg. Plot has it that the James and Younger Brothers along with Kit Dalton, join Quantrill's Raiders after witnessing at first hand some Redleg atrocities. However, after believing they would be fighting soldiers for the war effort, the men find themselves participating in equally worse war crimes - something that deeply affects the young Jesse James.
OK, it's very fanciful in the telling of a bitter and sad period of American history. Facts of the period and the characters are jettisoned in favour of making an exciting 1950s Oater. Any hope of a depth strewn historical take on William Quantrill's Raiders will only lead to disappointment - something that is all too evident with many of the venomous reviews of the film out in internet world. Yet judged on its own unfussy entertainment terms, then the film scores high for the casual Western fan as shoot-outs, knife fights and stand-offs ensure things always stay perky.
The ominous black flag of Quantrill.
On narrative terms pic provides enough of an edge to make its point, for we are left in no doubt about the "atrocity exhibition" dealt out by Quantrill's Raiders, there's also a neat thread within about the corruption of youth. Yes, for sure this be a picture low on accuracy, but crucially it doesn't soft soap the subject to hand. This is a 1950s production after all and the makers at least manage to leave us in no doubt about the nature of the crimes committed by certain factions in the Civil War. In fact, a couple of scenes really leave indelible images, and from an action viewpoint the "sacking of Lawrence" is excellent in construction and the impact that it garners.
Production wise there's good value on show, Glassberg's Technicolor photography is gorgeous, and not just for the Garner Valley and Kanab locations, but also for bringing out the quality of the set decoration (Russell A. Gausman/Ruby R. Levitt) and Bill Thomas' costuming. Cast are fine without pulling up any trees, where Donlevy is clearly the class act on show, but here as Quantrill he gets by on presence alone, the absence of outright character nastiness is sorely felt. The latter of which, however, is provided by the solid Brady as Bill Anderson. Murphy as young Jesse James has youthful exuberance and bravado down pat, while Curtis as Kit Dalton is enjoyable in amongst the five group dynamic.
Marguerite Chapman (Coroner Creek) as Kate Clarke (Quantrill's girl) has the tough task of playing the sole female in the film, and although she's well older than the character in real life (and coming off as a right cradle snatcher due to the writer's artistic licence), she does do a nice line as a sexy and wise older woman for the scenes she shares with Murphy's baby faced Jesse James. All told, historical fudging aside, this is a fine Oater that began the decade on a high for Audie's rewarding assault on the Western genre. 7/10
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