The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was almost as long as its title.
Nothing has made me happier than the resurgence of love for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. When I was a young movie theater worker, I lamented spelling that out on the marquee every night, but I'll never forget sitting in The State Theatre and watching the Andrew Dominik masterpiece.
The movie is wonderful to look at thanks to Roger Deakins' cinematography, which makes every frame look like an oil painting. Well, now on the Team Deakins podcast, the DP talked about how there was a much longer cut that never saw the light of day.
In the episode, he talks about the original four-hour cut of Jesse James that got trimmed to the 160-minute theatrical cut because of studio notes. For Deakins, the 240-minute Jesse James was far superior but definitely less commercial for Warner Bros.
“There was a four-hour cut that I actually loved,” Deakins said on the podcast. “I read somewhere that it was shown at the Venice Film Festival in its four-hour version, but it doesn’t exist now, and that’s a shame. The studio’s problem was they thought there’d be more train robberies, and Brad Pitt would be more of a traditional Western outlaw. And when Brad was killed and the film progressed in this way that followed Robert Ford… and the way he wasn’t celebrated like he expected to be later in life… of course nobody wanted that.”
It's hard for studios to combine art and commerce. I can seem them wanting more action, but you have to give yourself over to the story and really steep in the world and legend it creates. This is a movie about America and American exceptionalism.
This cut has to exist somewhere.
“We shot all these scenes,” Deakins said. “I thought it was a wonderful tapestry of all these things that happen to these characters that we set up in the first half of the movie.”
This is not the first time Deakins has brought up the idea of a revival of the cut. In a September 2019 interview, Deakins urged Criterion to release the cut. The cinematographer added, “I would really like to see the long version, the first cut that I saw, released on Criterion. That’s what I’d hope for. It was over three hours. I don’t think it ever will, because last time I talked to Andrew about it he was quite happy with the version that got released. But I still remember that first early cut that I saw and it was pretty stunning.”
No word on where the cut is, and if we will ever find it, but I hope it's out there, wandering in the fields, living out its days like an old cowboy with a family. And I hope it never turns its back on a guest with a gun.
Would you watch a four-hour version of the film? Let me know what you think in the comments.