2 June 2003 | IlyaMauter
"Jesse James was a man who lived outside the law and nobody knew his face"
The True Story of Jesse James was the third Western directed by Nicholas Ray after fabulous Johnny Guitar and rather average Run for Cover. At the time director took the project he was at the peak of his prestige mainly due to an enormous success of the film he made prior to The True Story, which is Rebel Without a Cause. He was one of the highest paid directors in Hollywood at the time and the most beloved one by James Dean. Also he was one of the few directors who managed to get a certain independence from the Studio's control, an independence that was proven in making of Bigger Than Life, when his opinion won over the one by film's main star and producer James Mason.
But with the True Story of Jesse James, those glorious days where over. It was the first Nick Ray's film where his artistic freedom was completely taken away by the producer and the studio, the first film where he didn't have the final word in making of it, and also the most hated one by the director himself, who later referenced to it in `F**g awful' terms, as being the film completely different from the one he was intending to do when took the project.
One of the main points he mentioned later was the construction of the story in ill-achieved and ridiculous flashbacks, instead of which Ray wanted to move the story back and front several times without any explanation to the viewer, avoiding using the cliché flashback sequences with the narration by Jesse's mother and Zee, which were used in final version of the film, regardless of his opinion re-edited by the order of then Fox producer Buddy Adler, who found it difficult to understand the development of the story while seeing it in the director's cut. Also with The True Story that Ray obtained the reputation of the rebel, of a difficult person to work with and realized that his artistic freedom was quite limited.
In the film we follow the true-life story of legendary James brothers, Jesse and Frank, played by Robert Wagner and Jeffrey Hunter, which starts with the ill-fated bank robbery that goes wrong and while the brothers are on the run from the authorities, the story moves back and tells as the 18 years of their lives prior to that, the circumstances which lead them to become the most famous outlaws in the history of the West, their successes and final separation which resulted in tragic end for Jesse and helped in moulding of Jesse James' figure as a legend of the West, the beginning of which is shown in the film's marvellous ending with the blind man singing the Jesse James song predicting so the future immortality destined to the hero.
The True Story of Jesse James continues with the chain of rebel personalities so characteristic of the Nicholas Ray films with Robert Wagner as Jesse James following James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and John Derek in Run For Cover where the role of the characters' past in forming of their without a cause future is quite obvious.
Ultimately it's one of those numerous films in Hollywood history, which probably could have been great, provided the director was given the opportunity to make it the way he wanted. 7/10