Jesse James' Women

Director: Donald "Red" Barry

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Cole Younger (Sam Keller), Frank & Jesse (Jack Beutel & Don Barry, who also directs the picture) together with the James Gang, rob the bank on a Sunday while the whole town's at church. It was easily done as Jesse had obtained the keys to the bank & the safe from Caprice (Joyce Barrett), the banker's daughter who thinks she's in love with Jesse & has let herself be fooled into believing he's going to marry her. She's only one of several of Jesse James' Women (1954).

Jesse James' WomenWaco Gans (Peggie Castle) is a woman fast & accurate with her derringer. She runs the local saloon with a racket on the side splitting the take with a professional crooked gambler, Cameo Kane (James Clayton, credited as Cully Abrell). Jesse seduces Waco, too, then manages to scam her out of her ill-gotten wealth making it look like her gambling partner did it.

Cattle Kate Kennedy (Betty Brueck) is a gun-totin' cowgirl whom Jesse previously took for a fun ride then robbed her of hard-won cattle monies. She's about to deliver another herd of cattle, & Jesse is eager to rob her again, & tough though she is, she nevertheless falls for Jesse's seduction.

Delta (Lita Baron) is the saloon singer, a Lola Montez-like beauty whom Jesse saves from a fate worse than death. She mistakes Jesse for a potential sugar daddy & tries to scam him. She gets the film's best scene in an eye-blackening bar-fright with Waco Gans, while the saloon's drunken patrons gawp lasciviously.

There's only girl he doesn't screw then screw over, & that's only because she's a pigtailed child, Angel (Laura Lea), the sheriff's daughter who idolizes Jesse James. He has a brotherly affection for her, providing him opportunity to show that he does have a good side.

B western queen Peggy Castle several times played gun toting cowgirls, notably in Two-Gun Lady (1955) & The Oklahoma Woman (1956). Lita Baron had also been in many westerns, also in jungle movies due to her exotic looks. But most of these gals, including Betty Brueck as the impressive Cattle Kate, were amateurs who had won their roles in Mississippi beauty contests, including some non-speaking parts of gals in background scenes. They would never again be seen in films.

"Red" Berry got his funding for the film from Mississipi theater investors. Considering so many participants' amateur status they did an all right job, especially if the previoius decade's worst B westerns are its competition for comparison. A depressive egoist, Berry seems to have believed in the project with blind devotion, mistaking Jesse James Women as a film of high merit. He was a multi-talented guy who was a writer, songwriter, singer, actor, but not tremendously good at any of these things. Having complete control over a project of his own turns out not to have served either the investors or his own career well.

Jesse's gang includes some hard-bitten bad guys, but Jesse himself has a Robin Hood leaning, using his ill-gotten gains to help the needy. So he's a bit of a local hero. Even his own gang is upset by his womanizing, however, which causes unnecessary complications.

Jesse's women fall into patterns of jealousy & possessiveness, culminating near the end in a fast-draw showdown in the street between Cattle Kate & Waco Ganz. This could've been a pretty cool scene as it had the right look about it, but apparenty Red Barry really believed he personally was cooler even than fast-draw women, so his character of Jesse interfers & squelches any promise of an effective campy climax.

By the end just about every gal in town has a reason to be angry at Jesse who has been juggling too many affairs. It's time he, Cole, & Frank got out of town. And they do so, without any actual climax to the story.

The director-writer-leading-man never directed a second film. He smiles so broadly throughout Jesse James' Women that he seems really to be in a manic mood, believing he has starred himself in something that was going to rocket him from character roles into leading man status. You'll recognize his face as a guy who appeared in scores of guest-star stints on episodic television for well over twenty years, but a leading man? Only in a very few forgotten B westerns culminating in this one. He committed suicide in 1980.

The film is awful but amusing lighthearted fun. It could've been a good little cult action film of the "so bad it's good" school if only Jesse's women, after having butched it up throughout the story, had gotten together in the end for a real climax. Maybe they could've bust Jesse out of jail because they all love him so much, then beat the crap out of him for being such a horndog cheat & liar. But apart from a catfight & an aborted duel, the girls do too little; it all it boils down to is Jesse gets laid a lot then leaves town. Kinda disappointing.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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