(director: William F. Claxton; screenwriters: Orville H. Hampton/Jerry Sackhelm; cinematographer: Carl Berger; editor: Richard C. Meyer; cast: Ray Stricklyn (Jesse James), Willard Parker (Cole Younger), Merry Anders (Belle Starr), Robert Dix (Frank James), Emile Meyer (Major Charles Quantrell), Jacklyn O’Donnell (Zorelda), Rex Holman (Zack), Rayford Barnes (Pitts), Johnny O’Neill (Jim Younger), Bob Palmer (Bob Younger); Runtime: 73; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jack Leewood; Twentieth Century-Fox; 1960)

“Unimaginative rendering of the Jesse James legend in the early years.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Unimaginative rendering of the Jesse James legend in the early years, as directed by William F. Claxton (“The Quiet Gun”/”Stagecoach to Fury”/”Night of the Lepus”) and written by Orville H. Hampton and Jerry Sackhelm. It features the usual suspects associated with Jesse, but makes Jesse out to be an unlikable crazed killer.

Missouri farm boy Jesse James (Ray Stricklyn) witnesses the unjust lynching of his father by Union soldiers because he refuses to give up the location of Quantrill’s Raiders. Bent on revenge and justice, the hot-headed young Jesse persuades Major Charles Quantrell (Emile Meyer) to let him join the renegade band of Confederates despite his youth. Also gang members are his older brother Frank (Robert Dix) and cousin Cole Younger (Willard Parker).

After going on a few successful violent missions for Quantrill, Jesse gets his revenge when the Yankee sergeant who hanged his father is captured by Cole and Jesse shoots him in the back. With his goal of revenge accomplished, Jesse returns to the farm to be with his sweetheart Zerelda (Jacklyn O’Donnell). She loves him but won’t marry him until he stops being so bitter. The punky Jesse realizes that he can no longer be a simple farmer and that his fate is to ride with Quantrill. Rejoining Quantrill, Jesse turns into a bloodthirsty killer going on a reign of terror.

When Jesse gets thrown from a horse, Cole gets his girlfriend Belle Starr (Merry Anders) to hide him in her remote cabin. Belle turns down Jesse’s sexual advances to be with Cole. After Jesse recovers, the disillusioned Cole quits Quantrill’s butchers to join the regular Confederate army. Jesse chooses to remain with the brutal Quantrill Raiders. After the war Jesse marries Zerelda, but has no luck securing an amnesty and graduates to bank robbing and killing just like a common criminal without a cause. Cole believes the killing of the bank officer who once turned down a loan for Jesse’s farm was unnecessary and endangered the lives of the other men, thereby Jesse and Cole split to form their own gangs. Frank disapproves of Jesse’s violence, but blames himself for letting his kid brother join Quantrill and decides to stay with Jesse.

Young Jesse James Poster

REVIEWED ON 12/25/2008 GRADE: C+