Kansas Raiders (1950)

33% – Critics
33% – Audience

Kansas Raiders Storyline

Audie Murphy plays a young Jesse James falling under the Svengali-like spell of the outlaw William Quantrill, played by Brian Donlevy. Jesse and his youthful gang join the rebels to avenge the death of his parents only to become disillusioned with the senseless violence and looting of innocent civilians. Goaded by Quantrill’s girl to leave, Jesse vacillates until the Yankees close in. Quantrill forces Jesse to leave and faces the Yankees gunfire alone. Jesse rides off with his gang and the rest is history.—Rita Richardson

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Kansas Raiders Movie Reviews

Fast Moving Western!

“Kansas Raiders” was another of those fast moving little 80 minute westerns turned out by Universal. As was their custom, they liked to cast many of their up and coming young actors in various roles. This one is no exception.

The story takes place during the Civil War where five young riders, Jesse James (Audie Murphy), Frank James (Richard Long), Kit Dalton (Tony Curtis), Cole Younger (James Best) and James Younger (Dewey Martin), are looking to join up with Quantrill’s Raiders.

They ride into Quanrill’s camp and enlist in his service. Quantrill (Brian Donlevy) takes a shine to young Jesse, who in turn has an eye for Quantrill’s woman, Kate Clarke (Margeurite Chapman). After Jesse kills Tate (David Wolfe), one of Quantrill’s lieutenants in a knife fight, he is elevated to Tate’s position. Jesse learns that Quantrill’s other lieutenant, the brutal “Bloody Bill” Anderson (Scott Brady) kills without provocation.

The boys go on raids with the Raiders and Jesse sees the senseless brutality and killing of innocent people. He begins to have second thoughts. After the pillaging of Lawrence Kansas, the gang is pursued relentlessly and they decide to desert Quantrill. However Jesse and the boys remain loyal until…………………………………..

Murphy, Curtis, Brady, Long, Best and Martin all went on to varying degrees of success in the coming years. Donlevy had a long and successful career playing classy villains. Chapman here, looks too old for the boyish looking Murphy. This was Murphy’s second film and he carries most of the picture. Richard Arlen and a young Richard Egan also appear as Union cavalry officers.

Director Ray Enright keeps the story moving and the raid sequences are particularly well done. The “glorious” Technicolor photography is equally stunning.

Audie Murphy, the most decorated US soldier in WWII, would make a career out of these fast paced little oaters over the next 15 years.

More recruits for the butcher brigade.

Kansas Raiders is directed by Ray Enright and written by Robert Richards. It stars Audie Murphy, Brian Donlevy, Marguerite Chapman, James Best, Scott Brady and Tony Curtis. A Technicolor production, music is by Milton Rosen and cinematography by Irving Glassberg. Plot has it that the James and Younger Brothers along with Kit Dalton, join Quantrill’s Raiders after witnessing at first hand some Redleg atrocities. However, after believing they would be fighting soldiers for the war effort, the men find themselves participating in equally worse war crimes – something that deeply affects the young Jesse James.

OK, it’s very fanciful in the telling of a bitter and sad period of American history. Facts of the period and the characters are jettisoned in favour of making an exciting 1950s Oater. Any hope of a depth strewn historical take on William Quantrill’s Raiders will only lead to disappointment – something that is all too evident with many of the venomous reviews of the film out in internet world. Yet judged on its own unfussy entertainment terms, then the film scores high for the casual Western fan as shoot-outs, knife fights and stand-offs ensure things always stay perky.

The ominous black flag of Quantrill.

On narrative terms pic provides enough of an edge to make its point, for we are left in no doubt about the “atrocity exhibition” dealt out by Quantrill’s Raiders, there’s also a neat thread within about the corruption of youth. Yes, for sure this be a picture low on accuracy, but crucially it doesn’t soft soap the subject to hand. This is a 1950s production after all and the makers at least manage to leave us in no doubt about the nature of the crimes committed by certain factions in the Civil War. In fact, a couple of scenes really leave indelible images, and from an action viewpoint the “sacking of Lawrence” is excellent in construction and the impact that it garners.

Production wise there’s good value on show, Glassberg’s Technicolor photography is gorgeous, and not just for the Garner Valley and Kanab locations, but also for bringing out the quality of the set decoration (Russell A. Gausman/Ruby R. Levitt) and Bill Thomas’ costuming. Cast are fine without pulling up any trees, where Donlevy is clearly the class act on show, but here as Quantrill he gets by on presence alone, the absence of outright character nastiness is sorely felt. The latter of which, however, is provided by the solid Brady as Bill Anderson. Murphy as young Jesse James has youthful exuberance and bravado down pat, while Curtis as Kit Dalton is enjoyable in amongst the five group dynamic.

Marguerite Chapman (Coroner Creek) as Kate Clarke (Quantrill’s girl) has the tough task of playing the sole female in the film, and although she’s well older than the character in real life (and coming off as a right cradle snatcher due to the writer’s artistic licence), she does do a nice line as a sexy and wise older woman for the scenes she shares with Murphy’s baby faced Jesse James. All told, historical fudging aside, this is a fine Oater that began the decade on a high for Audie’s rewarding assault on the Western genre. 7/10

The Young Guns Of Universal In Outlaw School

Kansas Raiders was an opportunity for Universal-International to display some of its young contract players of the time to see who might have some career potential. In terms of career longevity all of them had varying degrees of success.

With Audie Murphy as young Jesse James and Richard Long as brother Frank with Tony Curtis as Kit Dalton and James Best and Dewey Martin as the Younger Brothers we see them all as young guns during the Civil War from Missouri all joining up with William Quantrill to raid, plunder, and pillage the west.

Quantrill has never really gotten a revisionist view from either history or Hollywood. He’s a murdering skunk who’s using the Civil War as cover for what he would be doing in civilian life anyway. But he’s probably seen in the best Hollywood light possible in this film.

Brian Donlevy in this very confused story is as bad as they come, but he does take a kind of fatherly interest in all these young men who’ve come to join up with him. That’s the problem with Kansas Raiders, Quantrill’s character is so badly written you can’t understand why all those young potential outlaws see in him.

Definitely for fans of the above named players only.