Actually, Jesse meets Frankenstein's granddaughter, but why quibble with an immortal schlock classic? The last film directed by William “One Shot” Beaudine, “Jesse James” was originally double-billed with “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula” (which starred John Carradine as a southern blood-sucker).
Beaudine directed 250 movies, plus episodes of “Naked City” and “The Green Hornet,” in a career that began with silent films. By 1958, Beaudine had cut back on his output, and his double-bill for Embassy Pictures – makers of the “Hercules” franchise for theatres, and later TV- marked the end of a long career.
You have to respect the man's fortitude and stamina in dealing with so much mediocrity, but the sudden 90 degree turn from el cheapo western (with “Dallas” patriarch Jim Davis as the sheriff) to Universal horror knockoff doesn't feel so radical after Quentin Tarantino's own genre-twister, “From Dusk Till Dawn;” where a gangster story takes a radical turn into a gory vampire terrain.
Filmmakers have increasingly taken olde horror genres and attempted to reinvent them by playing the ‘ol switcheroo (a faithful literary adaptation is the rare thing, now), so the ineptitude of “Jesse” lies in the director's lazy, literal one-take technique, continuity flaws and all, rather than the oddball narrative twists that feel rather contemporary.
During the 1980s, Joe Bob Briggs hosted a series of VHS schlock releases, but he's really found a home for his nutty persona on DVD. Though he contributed a commentary track for Elite's “I Spit On Your Grave,” the lighter subject matter of “Jesse” allows Briggs to really let loose, and his blend of film apocrypha with some really funny smart-ass remarks will please fans of his persona, and bad movie lovers. He knows bit actors (many who died soon after making the film), knows about the film's locations – an old time film ranch that was subsequently developed for urban sprawl – and shares an obvious affection for Beaudine himself (especially when the performances become as loony as the dialogue, conceived by the film's conspiracy theorist screenwriter who made a small career obsessing over the real Jesse James with remarkably flawed accuracy, according to Briggs).
The 1.85:1 transfer was made from an okay print – there's a lot of grain, and the variable colours are likely the product of the print's economical print stock – but it's an improvement over the old full frame video and ugly TV prints that entangled many kids before they realized what they were watching.
Like Embassy's “Hercules” films of the period, “Jesse” is tame in terms of violence, with virtually no gore to offend the kiddies when parents were dragged to theatres, or when the double-bill slid into perpetual TV airings. (The included, shopworn trailer plays like an old Universal ad, no doubt aiming the film at kids who grew up watching that studio's horror classics on TV.)
It's a shame “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula” was added on a B-side, but hopefully that gem will also enjoy a DVD release with Briggs' pointy observations.
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan