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The Remarkable Andrew

Ghost of Andrew Jackson in 1842 film/ Dingus ProjectTHE DINGUS PROJECT
Jesse James in Film #17

Jesse James makes a brief and strange appearance in this patriotic comedy teamed with the fathers of the American Revolution. The odd gathering of ghosts plot to get a small-town bookkeeper out of jail. His crime? He is an honest man working for a crooked government.




The Remarkable Andrew (1942)
William Holden, Brian Donlevy, Ellen Drew
81 minutes, B&W

Imagine a flag-waving version of Topper, in which historic figures come to life to help a 20th century man. Energetic and precise, Andew Long (played by a very young William Holden) is the fastest bookkeeper in Shale City, Colorado. But this year there is $1, 240 missing from the city accounts. Andrew refuses to cover up the error, not knowing the mayor, city attorney and local judge are corrupt. They conspire to make Andrew the scapegoat in a courtroom trial.

Dingus Project , Remarkable AndrewBut Andrew has friends in high places. His great grandfather apparently saved the life of Andrew Jackson (Brian Donlevy) back in New Orleans, and Old Hickory has returned from the dead to repay the favor. Only Andrew Long, however, can see the invisible seventh American president, who has a penchant for hard liquor that the sober young Andrew must purchase. Townspeople see Andrew buying booze and talking to himself and assume he has lost his mind.

"One man with courage makes a majority," Jackson tells him, and that is how it plays out. With the whole town, even his fiancée (Ellen Drew) doubting his character, Andrew is a man alone. Or, at least, he is a man alone with a lot of spiritual support. When he ends up in jail, Andrew is joined by a ghostly George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Chief Justice John Marshal, Benjamin Franklin and – you guessed it -- Jesse James.

There are plenty of platitudes in this pro-democracy forum. It plays a bit like a reversal of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. But here, Washington comes to Andrew.

"Dishonesty in government is the business of every citizen, " Judge John Marshal announces. "It is not enough to do your own job… Democracy isn’t a gift, it’s a responsibility." During his trial, Andrew is accused of being shifty and a radical because he is prone to "furtive reading." What he is reading, it turns out, is American history texts. His radical ideas include equal rights, free education for all and affordable healthcare.

Despite its fantastical plot and didactic content, the film is heart-warming and upbeat. Andrew beats the entire crooked political machine when (shades of Watergate) the snooping Revolutionaries discover a tape recorder hidden in the mayor’s desk. Actually it is a 78-rpm disk recorder, but their criminal actions are all recorded. Andrew is vindicated and married, and the drunken Gen. Jackson marches off into the moonlght.

Jesse James in Film

Like many tales of this era "The Remarkable Andrew" is the story of a "common" man who is uncorruptable. Andrew makes only $22.50 a week and refuses to get married until he can reach $25 a week, just enough to support a wife, he says. The film screenplay and its accompanying novel version were written by veteran author Dalton Trumbo (Papillon, Exodus, Spartacus, The Sandpiper). Trumbo is a good storyteller and, if the film seems quickly pieced together, it apparently was. Andrew notes in the movie that America is not yet involved in the Great War, but by the time the film was released, it was.

The biggest puzzle in the script is the inclusion of Jesse James (played by Rod Cameron). What was Trumbo thinking? The outlaw is totally out of place with the other ghosts. He barely gets a line, and seems to play no role whatsoever in the plot. The strange juxtaposition does show that James was extremely popular in the early 1940s when his fictionalized semi-heroic namesake appeared in a number of B-westerns, including the 1939 classic with Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda. The answer to James appearance here likely fell on the cutting room floor, or perhaps James had a more coherent role in the novel version. The unifying factor appears to be that Jesse James, like Washington, Jackson, and the others, might have been simple ordinary men, except that they were required to take action during extraordinary times.

Copyright © J. Dennis Robinson on All rights reserved. 


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