I Shot Jesse James (1949)

I respect Sam Fuller, but for all that he brings to I Shot Jesse James I really have to question the heavy handed use of music at key dramatic junctures. Each musical cue pushes the film towards melodrama. Even though it is bundled as part of the First films of Samuel Fuller box set, I find myself asking really how much control Fuller had over the end product. We think of an auteur as leaving their mark on the film, but often that is before the movie enters post-production. Fuller’s finger prints are obvious in both his direction and his writing, but the music sticks out like a sore thumb. I suspect this to be more the workings of executive producer Robert L. Lippert. The swollen music only helps to bolster the underlying love story and attract a female audience accustomed to similar musical cues from soap operas. The over orchestrated prompts detract from the existential journey of a man branded a coward and no place better proves this fault than in a quiet saloon where a traveling musician sings a tale of the coward Robert Ford, right to Ford’s face. It’s not the music that brings the tension, but the silence that comes between the singer’s frightened pauses and Ford’s demands that the man carry on. It’s the difference between getting it right on set and trying to fix it in post.


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