Combustible Celluloid
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With: Preston Foster, Barbara Britton, John Ireland, Reed Hadley, J. Edward Bromberg, Victor Kilian, Tom Tyler, Tommy Noonan, Eddie Dunn, Margia Dean
Written by: Samuel Fuller, based on an article by Homer Croy
Directed by: Samuel Fuller
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 81
Date: 02/26/1949

I Shot Jesse James (1949)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Shooting Back

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Like many other writers, Fuller's debut feature I Shot Jesse James (1949) came after he grew disenchanted watching others mangle his work. It was shot on an extremely low budget (about $100,000), with very few exterior shots, and it feels a bit stagebound. John Ireland plays Robert Ford as slightly clueless, as if he doesn't fully comprehend his actions. Nevertheless, Fuller's film has a dynamic psychology at work; the Ford character has a kind of sour presence that follows him around. Characters don't quite know how to deal with him.

Ford's early scenes with Jesse (Reed Hadley) effectively set the tone with their homoerotic touches; a bathing Jesse asks Ford to scrub his back. Some critics called it the "first psychological Western." Barbara Britton plays the girl that Ford wants to marry, but she's almost incidental. Preston Foster is top-billed, but plays a relatively minor character.

Criterion Eclipse continues its series of excellent DVD box sets devoted to "lesser" films by great directors. The idea is that, by packaging these films together for a bargain price with no "extras," they are more easily accessible than they would be individually. The First Films of Samuel Fuller, containing three DVDs, is the fifth in the series.

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