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YMMV / I Shot Jesse James

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  • Alternative Character Interpretation: Is Kelley the universally good figure everyone considers him, or is he just as selfish as Bob, but better at hiding his self-centeredness through an affable personality? The scene where he reveals the actual ring thief can come off as him being more offended that Bob accused him than actually trying to fulfill the law. Not helped by the real-life O'Kelley, who was known to start fights and most likely killed Bob Ford for a relative slight.
  • Broken Aesop: Fuller made it clear that he wanted to portray Robert Ford in a more sympathetic light and paint Jesse James as the more vicious figure history agrees he was. However, some people find that the film stumbles in this regard, as Jesse James comes off as very loyal and willing to stick by his gang no matter what. Most of the bad things he does are Offscreen Villainy, with the opening robbery being the sole exception (though, since Robert Ford also took part in it, it raises questions over if Bob is really that much better). He’s also respectful to his wife and does his best to please her, whereas Bob gets extremely possessive over Cynthy and can come off as a Crazy Jealous Guy to most modern-day viewers.
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  • Family-Unfriendly Aesop: Even if you stop a definitively bad and dangerous person, people won’t treat you as a hero.
  • Ho Yay: Oh boy, is there ever. The relationship between Jesse James and Bob Ford is so full of subtext that many would probably be shocked that this was made in 1949. In some ways, it’s even more homoerotic than the more recent The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. It’s easier to just break down a few key scenes where the subtext comes through:
    • When fleeing after the botched robbery, Jesse helps Bob with his gunshot wound. He opens his shirt and gently massages Bob's shoulder. Even when Bob admits that he dropped the money from the robbery, Jesse tells him to not worry about it and forgives him as if it were nothing. Coming from a hardened outlaw, whose entire life is based on the take, his forgiveness comes off as something reserved for a very dear friend.
    • Jesse lets Bob stay at his home in Missouri as he recovers from the bullet wound. He spends most of these scenes talking about how much he enjoys Bob’s company and looks forward to doing one more job with him. Meanwhile, Jesse’s wife Zerelda talks about her disapproval of Bob and his brother. The intention seems to make her sound tired of hosting criminals in her house, but the tone could come off as if she’s jealous of Bob and doesn’t want to have competition in her affection for Jesse.
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    • The famous bath scene. Not only is Jesse naked in front of Bob, but he asks for Bob to help him bathe by washing his back. Oh, and said scene involves Jesse giving Bob a gun as a surprise, and Bob spending a good chunk of time lovingly caressing said gun.
    • Bob’s death scene. As he lies dying in the street, his Dying Declaration of Love is not to Cynthy, the woman he’s been pursuing for the whole movie. No, he instead weeps that he loved Jesse and hated killing him.
  • Magnificent Bastard: Frank James becomes this towards the last minutes of the film. When his first plan to kill Bob goes south and he ends up in prison, he uses legal maneuvering to get acquitted and not be transferred to another state where he is wanted. Then, having heard Cynthy’s confession that she chose Kelley, he confronts Bob in the hotel and tells him her confession, knowing that he’ll be driven into a rage and want to confront Kelley. Said rampage ends up killing Bob, allowing Frank to avenge his brother’s death without having to ever to pull the trigger.
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  • Narm Charm: The sheer degree of Character Shilling Jesse does for Bob Ford can be a little silly, but it definitely helps highlight how much of a bond Jesse and Bob have.
  • "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: Most modern viewers probably don’t get why a film would go through such lengths to show Jesse James as a bad guy. Little do most know that it was made at a time when Jesse James was still widely seen and romanticized as a "noble outlaw" that helped the poor, despite historical evidence painting a much different picture.
  • Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: The film makes it abundantly clear how people shouldn’t glorify legitimately terrible individuals, but that makes the story and Ford’s downfall all the more powerful.
  • Tear Jerker: During the stage show recreating his murder of Jesse James, Bob begins to have flashbacks to that day and finds he can’t shoot the actor with the blanks. After staring out at the audience for several seconds, he walks offstage with the crowd booing him.
  • Unintentionally Sympathetic: Jesse James. As mentioned in Broken Aesop, Jesse comes off as more likeable than Robert Ford at many points in the film.
  • The Woobie: Poor Cynthy Waters is stuck in a love triangle with a charming lawman and her lifelong love. Her final decision ends up leading one to kill the other, making her live with her guilt for the rest of her life.
    • Jerkass Woobie: Robert Ford is a brash and sometimes very possessive young man that rubs some people the wrong way. But in the end, all he wants to do is settle down with Cynthy and become a farmer. This is hard to do when he’s so notorious that he can’t walk down the street without being shot at.
  • WTH, Casting Agency?: The real Bob Ford wasn’t nearly as good looking as John Ireland. In fact, Ford looked like a young boy even well into his twenties.

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