I Shot Jesse James (Fuller, 1949)

Fuller’s directing debut is a hodgepodge of revisionist history and tepid drama, slowly grazing over the events surrounding the shooting of Jesse James and the guilt-ridden demise of his assassin Robert Ford. It might be unfair to judge this so harshly being somewhat biased after recently watching Andrew Dominik’s masterpiece The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but Fuller’s film never really gains a rhythm and becomes more sporadic as it progresses. As the likable but obtuse Bob Ford, John Ireland seems lost in a daze and Fuller’s direction can’t quite pin down what’s most interesting about the actor or the character. Still, I Shot Jesse James has a polish and admiration for the Western that shows up later and with greater impact in the director’s film Forty Guns, making this opening salvo quality viewing for Fuller enthusiasts in spite of the extensive faults.

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