Young Jesse James (1960) / William F. Claxton. Young, naÃ¯ve Jess is ranching with his family and fiancÃ© during the Civil War when some Yanks come around, hang his Pa, and beat Jesse up. Looking for revenge, he leaves home to join older brother Frank who is working with Quantrill's Raiders. At first, Jesse is mocked for his youth by members Zack and Pitts, then Col. Quantrill refuses to take him on. Refusing to leave and then fighting with Zack convinces Quantrill to give him a chance. He goes on a raiding party with his older kinsman, Cole Younger. His youth and impetuousness cause a breech between the two men. As Jesse gets more experience in war, he turns into a person who loves the killing. There was no reason on Earth why this movie should not have been a typical western programmer of the time, but it turns out to be more than that because of a literate script (by Orville H. Hampton and Jerry Sackheim, a couple of otherwise journeyman writers) and some committed acting by a cast of know-their-faces but not-their-names western regulars. Ray Stricklyn as Jesse James gives an earnest Method performance. Stricklyn, who was once tagged as a possible ânext Montgomery Cliftâ (the kind of hyperbole that seems to kill careers), shows us why some may have been thinking that way. (Stricklyn had an interesting life with some downs and ups. His bio at this database is a good read.) Willard Parker as Cole Younger matches him all the way. Parker, who worked steadily in B-movies and TV for 30 years, was certainly typecast but shows what he can do in this film. Emile Meyer is the hard-bitten Quantrill, Robert Dix (son of silent star Richard Dix) is brother Frank, Jacklyn O'Donnell (who only appeared in one other feature) is Jesseâs gf, later his wife, and Mary Anders shows up in a lively cameo as a worldly Belle Starr. The film was shot in black-and-white Cinemascope but the program I watched (on the F/X Network) showed it in the 1.33 to 1 formatted-to-fit-your-TV ratio. This film is a surprisingly different experience from what one might suppose it would be.
Badman's Territory (1946) / Tim Whelan. A fun Randolph Scott western romp that has Scott, as a lawman, follow his brotherâs kidnappers to a town that harbors outlaws so we run into the likes of Jesse and Frank James, the Dalton Gang, and Belle Starr. George âGabbyâ Hayes is also along for the ride but out of his sidekick element. He, too, is an outlaw who drives the getaway buckboard for the Daltons. Lawrence Tierney, usually a modern urban gangster, cameos as Jesse James while â40s superhero star Tom Tyler (Captain Marvel, The Phantom) is brother Frank. Steve Brodie, a familiar face usually cast as a tough guy, is Bob Dalton. Stealing every scene she is in (which were not enough) is Isabel Jewell as Belle Starr. Even though the story turns more serious toward the end (which has a very abrupt and unsatisfying wrap-up), the doings are pretty light-hearted. This goes down easily.