ALIAS JESSE JAMES
US, 1959, 90 minutes, Colour.
Bob Hope, Rhonda Fleming, Wendell Corey.
Directed by Norman Z. Mc Leod.
Alias Jesse James comes from a very successful period in Bob Hope’s film career. After emerging as a comedian in the 1930s, he made a number of very popular comedies in the 1940s and teamed with Bing Crosby in the Road series. In the 1950s he also made a successful range of comedies. Later, while still in films, he moved to television.
At this stage Bob Hope was fifty-five. However, he appeared younger and stronger. Important for his films were the wisecracks and his timing – and there are plenty of these in this film (although the timing is a bit slow for later tastes).
Usually he is the rather weaker heroic figure – and this time he is an unsuccessful insurance salesman. However, when he sells a policy to Jesse James who has plans to rob the firm, he goes west in order to protect him. Actually, at the end of this film, he wins the girl, played by Rhonda Fleming.
There are the expected comedy pieces, the spoof of the western. This is particularly true at the end when in the shoot-out, he thinks he has killed all Jesse James’s men but we get glimpses of a whole range of television and film stars of the time doing the shooting for him. These include Gary Cooper and Fess Parker as Daniel Boone – culminating in Bing Crosby. An enjoyable example of Bob Hope comedy.
1.The popularity of Bob Hope in the 1950s? His screen persona? The weak hero, making good? Mistakes? Winning the heroine?
2.The prologue, New York City in the 1950s, the insurance firms – and the parody of the travelogue with the reference to the history of insurance firms? Going back to the 1880s?
3.The insurance firm, Plymouth Rock? Mr Queasy and his attitude towards his salesmen, reading the charts, praising them, finding Milford Farnsworth as failing? Sacking him? His later change when Milford signed up Jesse James? The newspaper headlines? Sending Farnsworth to protect Jesse James? On the train being robbed? At the end and Farnsworth’s future?
4.Bob Hope as Milford Farnsworth, failure, resilient? Sacked? Talking in the bar, incessantly? Meeting Jesse James, signing him up, the triumph with Mr Queasy? Being sent west, robbed on the train by Jesse James, his watch? Jesse later giving it to him as a gift? His arrival in the town, the people setting him up, the card game and the goat chewing the cards, taking his clothes, rushing through Cora Lee’s room? Being saved by Jesse? His being the target of Jesse’s scam? Attracted towards Cora Lee, singing with her at the meal? In her room? Jesse’s friendship, the warnings about Cora Lee? The robbing of the train, Milford having to take part, robbing Mr Queasy? Being shot at – and his escaping, riding the cow home, wearing Jesse’s armour? The plan then to ambush him and shoot him, the Indian girl and the rescue? His final confrontation with Jesse and the gang, helped by Cora Lee, the cowboys helping him? The wedding, his abduction of the minister, putting the mushrooms in the punch, the failure of his disguise as the minister? The final happy ending, back in New York, the big family? A genial Bob Hope character?
5.Jesse James and his reputation, in New York, listening to Milford, taking the policy? His plan? On the train, the robbery? Taking Milford in, his mother and her care for her son, over-mothering him? Taking Milford for the robbery, intending to kill him? His turning up at the wedding, the mushrooms in the punch? The shoot-out? The play on the historic character?
6.Cora Lee, singing in the saloon, her room, the encounter with Milford, not wanting to marry Jesse James, helping Milford, warning him about the ambush, the wedding ceremony, helping him with the shooting? The happy ending and the family?
7.The men of the west, in fear of Jesse James, the telegraph operator, the saloon, the gamblers? Jesse’s gang?
8.Mrs James, keeping house, fussing over Jesse, her amoral attitude towards his plans?
9.The popularity of westerns – and spoof on westerns?