I Shot Jesse James
(1949)★ ★ ½
I've seen 4 different versions of the story of the coward Robert Ford. The most well known (with the long title) has Casey Affleck as Ford, though he's upstaged by Sam Rockwell getting to do all the haunted, hollowed out emotions as Robert's brother Charley. In the epic Jesse James/The Return of Frank James
, John Carradine etches the most memorable portrayal of Robert Ford. Here Fuller makes Jesse a cameo for his Bob Ford. John Ireland has the most screen time with Bob, but is more of a character actor than a leading man. He lets Fuller and the legend carry him while he constantly looks scared and tense.
I'm not a big fan of Fuller, whose scripts often have the thud of a blunt instrument. I have a couple of Noir favorites, which I plan to re-watch before posting a ranked list, but this is more in line with his typical work. Jesse makes himself such an inviting target it's more comical than tense, and often the dialogue tells you the precise psychological intent of each scene. It's a tabloid journalism version of an elegant fable, but that also makes it unique enough on its own to be worth a look, even if you've seen the other films. There is one terrific scene
where a musician enters a bar and sings a popular favorite about "the dirty little coward" unaware that Ford is in the bar.
I mentioned a 4th version. That would be The Long Riders, which features some of the same characters but ends right about where I Shot Jesse James begins.