Brad Pitt in The Assassination of Jesse James... courtesy Warner Bros.
Question: There's a new movie with Brad Pitt as Jesse James - can you tell me who else has played him and who was the best in the part? - Sean
The role of the legendary bad man, most recently undertaken by Brad Pitt in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, has traditionally been a favorite of handsome leading men, including Colin Farrell in American Outlaws (2001), Rob Lowe in the made-for-cable Frank and Jesse (1994), Tyrone Power in 1939's Jesse James (he appears briefly in 1940's highly historically inaccurate sequel The Return of Frank James, but Jesse's older brother, Frank, was played by Henry Fonda), future TV Superman George Reeves in The Kansan (1943) and Robert Wagner in The True Story of Jesse James (1957). Even James Dean gave it a whirl in the second episode of popular historical reenactment series You Are There (1953-56), hosted by Walter Cronkite.

But pretty boys don't have a lock on the role. Witness Kris Kristofferson in the 1986 made-for-TV movie The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James ( Johnny Cash was Frank), Robert Duvall in The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972), acclaimed stage actor Harris Yulin in the made-for-TV Last Ride of the Dalton Gang (1979) and James Keach in The Long Riders (1980). Walter Hill's Long Riders was built around what could have been a mere PR stunt: The James gang was full of brothers, so Hill assembled a cast of real-life brothers - James and Stacy Keach as Jesse and Frank; David, Keith and Robert Carradine as Cole, Jim and Bob Younger; Dennis and Randy Quaid as Ed and Clell Miller; and Christopher and Nicholas Guest as Charlie and Bob Ford. But since they're all terrific actors, the ploy worked beautifully.

Legendary film-noir tough guy Lawrence Tierney (whose dormant career got a late-life shot in the arm via Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs), was as truculent and troublesome off screen as he was on; he played James in Badman's Territory (1946) and Best of the Badmen (1951). So did Clayton Moore, right before he shot to early TV fame as the squeaky-clean star of The Lone Ranger (1949-57), in Jesse James Rides Again (1947) and The Adventures of Frank and Jesse James (1948). "King of the Cowboys" Roy Rogers played both a virtuous James and the look-alike baddie out to ruin the outlaw's good name in the novelty Jesse James at Bay (1941).

Silent-Western star Fred Thomson played him in Jesse James (1927). Although he's forgotten today by all but hardcore old-movie/Western buffs, in his day Thomson was as popular as Tom Mix. And in one of the odder intersections of fact and fiction, Jesse James' son, a lawyer, played his father in two silent films: The Outlaw and Jesse James Under the Black Flag (both 1921). He was billed as Jesse James Jr., though his name was actually Jesse Edward James (his father was Jesse Woodson James) and for a while he called himself Tim Edwards to escape his notorious heritage. James' sister, Mary, appeared with him in Jesse James Under the Black Flag.

Other movie Jesse Jameses include:

Low-budget Western regular Donald Barry, in Days of Jesse James (1939) and Jesse James' Women (1954); Alan Baxter, in Bad Men of Missouri (1941); Keith Richards, in The James Brothers of Missouri (1949); Reed Hadley, in I Shot Jesse James (1949); Dale Robertson, later star of the TV Westerns Tales of Wells Fargo (1957) and The Iron Horse (1966), in Fighting Man of the Plains (1949); war hero turned actor Audie Murphy, as a young and impressionable Jesse in Kansas Raiders (1950) and the aging outlaw in A Time for Dying (1969); Macdonald Carey, who went on to a three-decade run in the popular soap Days of our Lives, in The Great Missouri Raid (1951); Willard Parker, in The Great Jesse James Raid (1953); Harry Lauter, in Outlaw Treasure (1955); Henry Brandon, in Hell's Crossroads (1957); Wendell Corey, in Alias Jesse James (1959); Ray Stricklyn, in Young Jesse James (1960); TV sportscaster Wayne Mack, in the Three Stooges feature The Outlaws Is Coming (1965); John Lupton, in the ludicrous Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966); and Stuart Margolin, in the made-for-TV The Intruders (1970).

As to who was the best Jesse James, I suppose that depends on how you define best. And I must confess that I don't much care for Westerns, so I haven't seen most of these films. I love both The Long Riders and The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, and Keach and Duvall - both thoughtful, subtle actors - are excellent in them. But for a Jesse James fan, there might not be enough James, since both are ensemble pieces.

The consensus is that Tyrone Power - then 24 and at the height of his youthful handsomeness - gives a hugely charismatic performance as the Jesse James of legend: dashing, honorable and oh-so-sexy. And a lot of people think highly of Nicholas Ray's The True Story of Jesse James (1957), which layers a heavy '50s psychoanalytic spin (à la Rebel Without a Cause) onto the same basic story as the Power version. That said, there's a widespread feeling that Robert Wagner - the quintessential pretty boy - wasn't up to Ray's ideas, and that had James Dean not died two years earlier, Ray would certainly have given the part to him.

Question: I seem to remember an Inspector Clouseau movie that did not star Peter Sellers and wasn't directed by Blake Edwards. What's the story? - Stephen
That would be Inspector Clouseau (1968), the third film in the Pink Panther series.

The Pink Panther (1963), written by Blake Edwards and Maurice Richlin and directed by Edwards, was a flukey success for the Mirisch Corporation and United Artists. A light crime comedy, it revolved around an aristocratic jewel thief, Sir Charles Lytton ( David Niven), and his plan to steal a fabulous pink diamond - the titular Pink Panther. Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau was a secondary character, but audiences loved him and the Mirisch Corporation immediately put into production a sequel built around Clouseau.

Edwards and his cowriter, William Peter Blatty (yes, the author of The Exorcist), took a Broadway play called L'Idiot, originally penned by French screenwriter Marcel Achard and then rewritten for the American stage by playwright Harry Kurnitz, and turned it into a Clouseau story. That was A Shot in the Dark (1964). It, too, was a success - many people consider it the best film in the series - and the Mirisch Corporation, naturally enough, wanted another Clouseau picture.

But Edwards and Sellers wanted to move on and were developing a satirical project called The Party. Writers Tom and Frank Waldman, who had collaborated with Edwards in the past and later worked on The Return of the Pink Panther (1975) and The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), concocted a script, and Bud Yorkin, who later cocreated TV's All in the Family with Norman Lear, signed on as director. Alan Arkin was tapped to step in for Sellers. That was Inspector Clouseau (1968), and it was not a hit. So there were no more Pink Panther films until Edwards and Sellers were willing to come back, which wasn't until 1975's The Return of the Pink Panther.

Question: What's the name of the toy store in Home Alone 2, and is it the real name of the store? If not, what is the real name? - Lynn
It's Duncan's Toy Store, and was obviously meant to evoke the legendary FAO Schwarz. Duncan's is a set.

Question: I'm trying to remember a movie from the early 1990s, I think. I thought the name of the movie was "Median," but I can't find it on IMDb. I know it was a horror/suspense/murder movie about a psychiatrist who wore a leather mask to brutally kill people, while another man was blamed for the murders. Somehow he winds up in a town called Median. Can you help? - Teresa
You're looking for English horror writer Clive Barker's Nightbreed (1990), his follow-up to Hellraiser (1987). Median is where the monsters go, and it's where a troubled young man (the reliably wooden Craig Sheffer) winds up after being killed by the police, who have been convinced by his psychiatrist that he's a serial murderer. The psychiatrist is played by none other than Canadian director David Cronenbeg, whose credits range from They Came from Within (1975) to the new Eastern Promises (2007), and who's not a bad actor - a damn sight better than Sheffer, that's for sure.

Despite the fact that Hellraiser became an instant genre hit and spawned both the cult of Pinhead and a slew of sequels, Nightbreed was dumped into a handful of theaters with no ad campaign. It's a deeply flawed film, but it deserved better and has found an appreciative audience on video and DVD.

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