I’ve covered two of comedian Bob Hope’s western comedies previously, and now I’m back for the third one, the 1959 film Alias Jesse James, which also stars Rhonda Fleming and Wendell Corey!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Bargain Day (1931)
(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 2 (1930-1931) from ClassicFlix)
(Length: 19 minutes, 1 second)
Wheezer (Bobby Hutchins) and Stymie (Matthew Beard) take the other kids’ things, and try to sell them door-to-door. When they come to the home of a poor little rich girl (Shirley Jean Rickert), they come in and get into trouble. This was another fun one, particularly following Stymie around the house as he got into various mischief. I particularly got a good laugh out of the three kids doing their little “Watt Street” comedy bit (a strong reminder of “Who’s On First” and similar comedy routines). Again, this one was a lot of fun, and one I certainly would recommend for its charm and humor!
And Now For The Main Feature…
It’s the early 1880s. At the Plymouth Rock Insurance Company in New York City, Titus Queasly (Will Wright) is looking at how his insurance salemen are doing. When he sees that Milford Farnsworth (Bob Hope) hasn’t sold a good policy in quite some time, he decides to fire Milford. At a local bar, Milford tries to get his job back by selling a policy to the bartender when he is overheard by a stranger in town. That stranger likes what he hears, and decides to buy a $100,000 policy and pays it in full. Taking the policy back to his boss (after getting a doctor to sign off on the policy), Milford is welcomed back with open arms. That is, until Mr. Queasly gets a look at a newspaper, and sees that the infamous outlaw Jesse James (Wendell Corey) has been in the city. When he shows the picture to Milford, he realizes that the stranger he had sold the policy to was indeed the famous outlaw. Mr. Queasly orders him to take the train to Angel’s Rest, Missouri to either buy back the policy from Jesse or protect him at all costs. On the train ride there, Jesse James stops the train and robs everybody, including Milford. Once he gets to town (after the robbery), Milford has the telegraph operator send his boss a message to wire him more money to pay Jesse. He tries looking for Jesse in town, but Jesse’s men pick on him and chase him out of town on the train. When Jesse learns from the telegraph operator that Milford had sent for more money, Jesse goes after him on the train, and brings him back to the James ranch as a guest. That night at a party being held at the ranch, Milford formally meets and falls for saloon singer Cora Lee Collins (Rhonda Fleming), who is Jesse’s “girlfriend” (as in, she doesn’t like him, but he likes her and he always gets what he wants). Afterwards, Milford finds out that a gunslinger has come calling for Jesse, planning to shoot him in the morning in the town. To prevent that, Milford dresses himself in Jesse’s clothes and rides into town. When facing the gunslinger, Milford pretends to surrender, then lifts his hat to fire his two guns (which were wired together), wounding the gunslinger. Impressed, Cora Lee kisses him and asks him to leave town before he gets hurt, although he refuses, still believing he needs to protect Jesse. When Jesse comes riding in, he realizes that, if Milford is killed (while dressed like Jesse), then they can claim that Jesse James is dead, and he can collect the insurance money (that would go to his beneficiary, Cora Lee). With Jesse now planning to kill him, will Milford be able to survive? Or will he need the insurance that he’s been peddling?
With Bob Hope returning to spoof the Western genre again, following his earlier films The Paleface (1948) and Son Of Paleface (1952), it’s a natural that this one is a lot of fun, too! Personally, I feel that Alias Jesse James‘ tone is somewhere in between those two, as it does have some elements that are almost cartoonish in nature, while still not going full-fledged live-action-cartoon (like Son Of Paleface). Regardless of tone, it’s a film that promises a lot of hilarity, and keeps that promise! I know that I get a good kick out of watching Bob Hope’s Milford getting pushed by his horse into the gunfight with Snake Brice (played by Jack Lambert), and then winning by lifting his hat (which, as I said, had strings tied to the triggers of his gun, which wing the gunslinger enough to end the fight). Then, of course, when Wendell Corey’s Jesse James first tries to kill Milford after holding up the train, Milford later arrives at the ranch while riding a cow! Then, of course, there is the slow-motion fight when Jesse and his men are all under the influence of mushrooms! I could also mention the film’s finale (and I will, but I’ll do that to end this post under a spoiler alert). Plain and simple, this is a fun film! Sure, it’s not perfect. The film certainly treats the Native Americans better than the earlier two films (where they were essentially one-dimensional villains), although Milford referring to two Native Americans on the train as “foreigners” hasn’t aged the best (even if it was the character being angry at discovering that they were salesmen for another insurance company after he gave them his sales pitch). To a degree, there’s not a lot of character work here, as far as arcs are concerned. And, for better or worse, Bob Hope’s age was showing, particularly off-camera, as he passed out (when trying to film what I can only assume was the final chase sequence, which was done on a treadmill in front of a rear projection screen) and had to be taken to the emergency room. Still, for a film made when it seems like Bob Hope’s movie career was already going downhill, I feel like it’s his last really great comedy (with the rest after it ranging from decent to awful). I think it’s one that anybody can enjoy (and I certainly like watching it with some frequency!), so I have no problem whatsoever in recommending it!
This movie is available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. This release seems to be using an older HD scan. It’s definitely got some good moments, where the detail looks quite good, as well as the color. That’s not completely true of the whole film, but most of those other issues are still relatively minor, and likely source-related. As good as this film is, I wish it could get a full restoration to improve the detail and color (but it’s owned by the current MGM, which would seem to mean that that is unlikely in the near future). So, for now, this is as good as it gets (and that’s good enough for me)!
Well, now that we’re under the spoiler alert, we can talk about this film’s very memorable finale. The whole thing starts with the aforementioned chase sequence, with Milford (Bob Hope) and Cora Lee (Rhonda Fleming) riding through the countryside on a buckboard (well, she’s riding, as he is forced to run in the hole he created when he tried to jump on the buckboard from a roof). Once they get to town, Milford faces off against the James gang. Like in The Paleface, Hope’s character is a poor shot with a gun. However, he doesn’t know that, as he is being secretly helped in what I can only call “the Western crossover to end all Western crossovers!” On the TV side, we’ve got Roy Rogers (from The Roy Rogers Show, as well as Bob’s Son Of Paleface co-star), Hugh O’Brian (Wyatt Earp, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp), Ward Bond (Major Seth Adams, Wagon Train), James Arness (Sheriff Matt Dillon, Gunsmoke), Fess Parker (Davy Crockett, Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett), Gail Davis (Annie Oakley, Annie Oakley) and Jay Silverheels (Tonto, The Lone Ranger). We also get Western movie star Gary Cooper and the requisite “Bing Crosby cameo in a Bob Hope film” (because, as he says in the movie, “This fella needs all the help he can get.”) Granted, all of these appearances feel like the stars just filmed them whenever their schedule allowed, so nobody interacts with each other (or the film’s main characters). That, and a few of them do something that feels out of character (not only for their characters, but for anybody in a Western): they put their guns back in their holster even before the gunfight is finished! Still, this scene is a lot of fun, and the movie is worth seeing just for this sequence alone!
End Spoiler Alert
Film Length: 1 hour, 33 minutes
My Rating: 9/10
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