Jesse James

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Overview

The real Frank and Jesse James were murderous thugs, light years away from the Robin Hood image imposed on them by revisionist dime novelists. But in 1939, 20th Century-Fox wasn't about to build an expensive Technicolor feature around the exploits of a couple of low-lives, thus Jesse James upholds the mythos, offering us the standard whitewashed version of the James boys. According to Nunally Johnson's irresistibly entertaining screenplay, Jesse Tyrone Power and Frank Henry Fonda become train and bank robbers to ...
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Overview

The real Frank and Jesse James were murderous thugs, light years away from the Robin Hood image imposed on them by revisionist dime novelists. But in 1939, 20th Century-Fox wasn't about to build an expensive Technicolor feature around the exploits of a couple of low-lives, thus Jesse James upholds the mythos, offering us the standard whitewashed version of the James boys. According to Nunally Johnson's irresistibly entertaining screenplay, Jesse Tyrone Power and Frank Henry Fonda become train and bank robbers to avenge the death of their mother Jane Darwell, killed at the behest of greedy railroad interests. Once he feels his work is done, Jesse settles down to a life of marital domesticity--only to be shot in the back by cowardly Bob Ford John Carradine. Frank James is left alive at film's end, paving the way for the 1941 sequel The Return of Frank James. Director Henry King stages the action sequences in glorious outsized fashion, notably the famous bank-robbery scene in which Jesse rides his horse through a plate glass window. The scenes involving both James brothers are stolen hands-down by Henry Fonda, not so much because he was a better actor than Tyrone Power but because his character had all the best lines. Jesse James was filmed largely on location in Missouri, resulting in crowd-control nightmares for the picture's beleaguered assistant directors.
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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Craig Butler
Historians will shudder at Jesse James, a biopic which is much more interested in the legend of the famous outlaw than in the facts, but viewers looking only for entertainment will be quite happy with this rip-roaring adventure tale. While the story has been whitewashed, credit should be given to the creators of Jesse for at least not making the title character as pure as the driven snow. Though the motivation they have devised for his first forays into crime make him out to be something of an avenging angel, as time goes on they show that greed does enter into his continued career. Still, with matinee idol Tyrone Power playing the part, there's only a certain amount of "sullying" that can come into play. Power does very well with the part, turning in a powerful performance that anchors the film and handling his dramatic scenes with aplomb. As brother Frank, Henry Fonda's role is much smaller, but he makes a terrific impact; granted, the part is written as a bit of a scene stealer, but Fonda really runs with it and his scenes are especially memorable. Nancy Kelly is only so-so, but the rest of the supporting cast is right on target. Henry King's direction is nimble and deft.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 5/4/1999
  • UPC: 086162869334
  • Original Release: 1939
  • Rating:

  • Source: 20th Century Fox
  • Format: VHS

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Tyrone Power Jesse James
Henry Fonda Frank James
Nancy Kelly Zerelda "Zee" Cobb
Randolph Scott Marshall Will Wright
Brian Donlevy Barshee
Henry Hull Major Rufus Cobb
John Carradine Bob Ford
George "Slim" Summerville Jailer
J. Edward Bromberg George Runyon, the Pinkerton Man
Donald Meek McCoy
John Russell Jesse James, Jr.
Jane Darwell Mrs. Samuels
Charles Tannen Charles Ford
Claire Du Brey Mrs. Ford
Willard Robertson Lynch
Harold Goodwin Bill of Jesse's Gang
Ernest Whitman Pinky
Eddy Waller Deputy
Spencer Charters Priest
Tom London Soldier
Wylie Grant
Paul E. Burns Hank
Arthur Aylesworth Tom Colson
Charles B. Middleton Doctor
Charles Halton Heywood, the Banker
George Chandler Roy, the Printer
Harry Tyler Farmer
Virginia Brissac Boy's Mother
Edward J. Le Saint Judge Rankin
Erville Alderson Old Marshal
Lon Chaney Jr. Member of Jesse's Gang
James Flavin Cavalry Captain
Harry Holman Engineer
Paul Sutton Lynch
Granville Bates
Leonard Kibrick Boy
Ethan Laidlaw Barshee's Henchman
George O'Hara Tiller
George Breakston Farmer's Boy
Donald Douglas Infantry Captain
John Elliott Judge Mathews
Technical Credits
Henry King Director
Darryl F. Zanuck Director, Producer
George Barnes Cinematographer
William S. Darling Art Director
George Dudley Art Director
W. Howard Greene Cinematographer
Nunnally Johnson Associate Producer, Screenwriter
Barbara McLean Editor
Louis Silvers Score Composer, Musical Direction/Supervision
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 1 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 14, 2014

    Better Than I Remembered

    While I was not born yet when this title was first released I vividly remember seeing this film in my local theater while I was still a pre teen. During the World War II years studios, to cut costs, re-released a lot of features. This was one of them. Had seen it was available on DVD but waited for the blu ray version due to the improved picture quality.

    This DVD looks better than I remember when I saw it on a theater screen. The colors are vivid, the focus is sharp and the sound crisp. As for the fact the film's storyline turns Jesse James into something close to a folk hero, well that's a plus too.

    I feel it is important to preserve the older titles as they provide a mirror into the culture of an era. Yes it drops a lot of nasty facts and smooths the edges on others but its important to see and understand this was done.

    When by grandchildren are old enough to learn about the real career of Jesse James I plan to show them this film and talk with them about how important it is to cross check the facts on any film being passed off as the "life story" of an historical figure.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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