Jesse James and the Movies (McFarland & Company, $38 from Store.TWMag.com) The legend of Jesse James defines the history of the Western.
How this Missouri guerrilla-turned-bank and train robber became America’s number-one outlaw could serve as course material for any sociological, cultural or historical overview of the second half of the 19th century and more than a century of motion picture making.
In Johnny D. Boggs’s exhaustively researched new book, Jesse James and the Movies, we start with The James Boys in Missouri, a picture made in 1908, and move up to American Bandits: Frank and Jesse James, a 2010 picture Boggs suggests may be the “most boring Jesse James movie ever made.” In between are literally hundreds of features, B-movies, serials, cameos, comedies and made-for-TV movies, from the ridiculous (Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter) to the sublime (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford).
Boggs, a regular contributor to this magazine, understands perfectly that historical accuracy and entertainment value often have nothing whatsoever in common, but he’s thankfully determined to test the facts in every movie he discusses, which is a history lesson in itself. He provides a synopsis, historical overview, a look at the cast and an analysis of the project, followed by a press quote, which is all anyone could want in a filmography.
Boggs sets his guidelines precisely, so while he says in his introduction that he feels that the 1999 picture Ride With the Devil is the “best movie about Jesse James [that] really isn’t about Jesse James,” he leaves the picture out of his book for the good reason that no one named “Jesse James” is in the movie. He’s right, both in his assessment of the picture and in his reasoning.
In fact, I can’t argue with Boggs on any of his evaluations, which makes the heavily-illustrated book a pleasure to read, as well as a great source of information. This book is indispensable for any fan who loves Western movies or the hugely entertaining history of the James boys of Missouri.