William Graham's stolid, made-for-TV Western gets mired in historical detritus, but the cast including Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash as the aging outlaw brothers makes it worth taking a look.
In 1882, the legend of Jesse James (Kristofferson) comes to a demeaning end: Bob Ford (Darrell Wilks), who was welcomed into the family's criminal fold, shoots him in the back. Flashbacks flesh out the story of Jesse and Frank's (Cash) twilight years. Frank has settled down and carved out a niche as a pillar of the
Community, but Jesse is plagued by cash-flow problems and his own hot temper. Because the James Gang has been inactive for awhile, the government considers giving them amnesty in order to avoid the embarrassment of chasing them down. But Jesse can’t resist the lure of one more job and inveigles Frank into saddling up. The James brothers, who never much cared for law enforcement officials in general and Pinkerton men in particular, not only rob a train but also execute Mr. Westfall (Dan Hoffman), the conductor who gunned down their brother Archie. Frank and Jesse realize the offer of an official pardon is off the table, and devote themselves to visiting relatives like Uncle George Hite (Jack Barlow) and family friends like Martha Bolton (Cherie Elledge Grapes). But Martha isn't as good a friend as they think: When she gets wind of a $20,000 reward, Martha persuades Bob Ford and his brother to offer themselves as replacements for the gang’s jailed and deceased members. The rest is history, and Ford profits from his cowardly ambush with lucrative stage appearances. Frank bides his time, but eventually makes sure retribution catches up with the man who shot Jesse James.
Director William Graham tries for an elegiac tone, but the result is merely enervating, in part because William Stratton's screenplay is so encrusted with historical trivia that the story suffers. Writer-director Philip Kaufman's underrated THE GREAT NORTHFIELD, MINNESOTA RAID (1972) deals with the same material, but in a far more dynamic way.
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- Released: 1986
- Rating: NR
- Review: William Graham's stolid, made-for-TV Western gets mired in historical detritus, but the cast including Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash as the aging outlaw brothers makes it worth taking a look. In 1882, the legend of Jesse James (Kristo… (more)