That something has gone wrong from the point of view of the production is hardly in doubt; but the direction, in which each shot carries the indelible mark of the most peculiarly modern of film-makers. What does one mean by this? How does one recognize Nicholas Ray's signature? Firstly, by the compositions, which can enclose an actor without stifling him. . . . Finally, by a sensitivity to décor, which no other American director since Griffith has been able to use so vividly and powerfully.
A minor Ray on a major theme. Falling men become a visual motif early on (there are four in the first ten minutes: two plunging off a cliff, one rolling down a hillside, and another shot out of a tree), but the flashback'd narrative threads don't cohere enough for the imagery to register as something more than, well, imagery. Ray's conception of Jesse James is far richer and more nuanced than Robert Wagner's bland lead performance.