Alias Jesse James stars Bob Hope and Rhonda Fleming in a Western spoof that sees an insurance salesman fighting for his life.
The film would also turn out to be the final film for director Norman Z. McLeod after a 31-year career in the industry. It might not be the best film to go out on but it still has plenty of laughs. Only a decade earlier, the filmmaker directed Bob Hope in Road to Rio and The Paleface so he was familiar with the comedian’s strengths. Those strengths are certainly on display in this one.. When you have Bob Hope in a comedy, there’s sure to be solid laughs especially with his stunts playing towards the slapstick end of the spectrum. Only in a Bob Hope comedy would a cowboy chase see him falling through the wagon and then having to run on his own two legs. There’s some terminology in the film that does not age well but again, it was made in the late 1950s, not the 21st century.
Milford Farnsworth (Bob Hope) sales a life insurance policy to Jesse James (Wendell Corey). Next thing you know, he’s on a trip out west in order to protect the outlaw from any trouble. What he doesn’t know is that Jesse has plans of his own: kill Milford while he’s dressed as the outlaw in order to collect on the policy with Cora Lee Collins (Rhonda Fleming). Milford befriending Cora and falling in love with her puts a dent on Jesse’s plans. It certainly makes for great comedy even though you have a good idea of what’s going to happen. I mean, you’re not going to give Fleming second billing and not have her end up with Hope’s Farnsworth.
One of the film’s highlights is the climactic shoot out during the third act when Farnsworth and Collins face off against Jesse and his gang. Farnsworth isn’t the best shooter in the West but a number of Western stars make a cameo appearance:
- Fess Parker as Davy Crockett
- Gary Cooper as Will Kane from High Noon
- Roy Rogers
- Jay Silverheels as Tonto
- Hugh O’Brian as Wyatt Earp
- James Arness as Marshal Matt Dillon
- Ward Bond as Major Seth Adams from Wagon Train
- Gail Davis as Annie Oakley
- Bing Crosby
Even though their cameos are uncredited and the film does not specify who they are, the audience certainly gets it. It’s a wonder that they were able to get everyone especially with copyrights being what they are. I mean, if you do something like this today, legal has to clear every single appearance–see Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers. Regardless, it’s a hoot watching all of them appear in clothing similar to their previous work and then also use their catchphrases from either film or TV.
It’s not an understatement to stress the work that Kino Lorber Studio Classics is doing in getting these classic films on Blu-ray. I have a number of Bob Hope comedies in my physical collection because of them and he will never not be funny in them. Meanwhile, not everything is on streaming these days and we can’t always depend on TCM because of their library size. Thankfully, the film is currently available to rent on Vudu and stream on Tubi but this isn’t always the case.
Alias Jesse James is a top-tier comedy for both filmmaker Norman Z. McLeod and actor-comedian Bob Hope.
DIRECTOR: Norman Z. McLeod
SCREENWRITERS: William Bowers and Daniel B. Beauchamps
CAST: Bob Hope, Rhonda Fleming, Wendell Corey
United Artists released Alias Jesse James in theaters on March 20, 1959. Grade: 4.5/5
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