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Jesse James (1939)

Approved | | Biography, Crime, Drama | 27 January 1939 (USA)
After railroad agents forcibly evict the James family from their family farm, Jesse and Frank turn to banditry for revenge.

Directors:

Henry King, Irving Cummings (uncredited)

Writer:

Nunnally Johnson (original screen play)
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Tyrone Power ... Jesse James
Henry Fonda ... Frank James
Nancy Kelly ... Zerelda - aka Zee
Randolph Scott ... Will Wright
Henry Hull ... Maj. Rufus Cobb
Slim Summerville ... Jailer
J. Edward Bromberg ... Mr. Runyan
Brian Donlevy ... Barshee
John Carradine ... Bob Ford
Donald Meek ... Mc Coy
Johnny Russell ... Jesse James Jr. (as John Russell)
Jane Darwell ... Mrs. Samuels
Charles Tannen ... Charles Ford
Claire Du Brey ... Mrs. Bob Ford
Willard Robertson ... Clarke
Learn more

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Storyline

The railroads are squeezing farmers off their land. When a railroad agent kills their mother, Frank and Jesse James take up robbing banks and trains. The public regard them as heroes. When Jesse retires his erstwhile friend Robert Ford shoots him in the back to get the reward. Written by Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

The Tremendous Dramatic Thrills Of the Midwest's Lawless Era will burst from our screen... See more »


Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The first of four films where Henry Fonda would work with Jane Darwell. They would appear together the following year as mother and son in The Grapes Of Wrath, for which she would win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Two years later they would both appear in The Ox-Bow Incident, and one final time together in 1946 in My Darling Clementine. See more »

Goofs

After they get Jesse out of jail, in the head-on shot of Frank and Jesse riding while being chased by the posse, road dust from the camera truck is visible ahead of them. See more »

Quotes

[last lines]
[about Jesse James]
Major Rufus Cobb: He was one of the doggonedest, gawl-dingedest, dad-blamedest buckaroos that ever rode across these United States of America!
See more »

Crazy Credits

Opening credits prologue: After the tragic war between the states, America turned to the winning of the West. The symbol of this era was the building of the trans-continental railroads.

The advance of the railroads was, in some cases, predatory and unscrupulous. Whole communities found themselves victimized by an ever-growing ogre - the Iron Horse.

It was this uncertain and lawless age that gave to the world, for good or ill, its most famous outlaws, the brothers Frank and Jesse James. See more »

Alternate Versions

All UK versions were cut by 13 secs by the BBFC to remove footage of horse-falls including the controversial scene of a horse fatally falling from a cliff. See more »

Connections

Spun-off from Jesse James Under the Black Flag (1921) See more »

Soundtracks

Oh Susanna
(1846) (uncredited)
Written by Stephen Foster
Played on harmonica offscreen by prisoner Jesse James in jail
Sung a cappella by Nancy Kelly and Tyrone Power with modified lyrics
See more »

User Reviews

Robbing Hoods Get the Technicolor Treatment
29 September 2006 | by OctSee all my reviews

With Ty Power and Hank Fonda in the saddle, there was no way this version of the James Brothers legend was going to paint them as bad guys.

Less so since the courtly southerner Nunnally Johnson wrote and produced the yarn. In reality the James boys took to knocking off banks and trains after being at a loose end following Missouri's joining the losing side in the War Between the States. This was too painful a scab to pick in the Thirties, so Johnson gives the Jameses a more palatable enemy than Abe Lincoln: big bad railroad barons upsetting their ma. And he paints his outlaws with a populist tint, to please New Deal Democrats as well as Dixiecrats who knew the real backstory.

However, the broad outlines of their rise and fall are intact. We see a gradual slide into semi-chivalrous villainy (they didn't rob train passengers, only mails), a 'Liberty Valance'-like exploitation of their coups by political orators and editors, Jesse's becoming consumed by his own legend, and the final botched bank job at Northfield, Minnesota. That leads to a panicky flight and an attempt to live semi-respectably under pseudonyms, followed by Bob Ford's betrayal as Jesse turns art curator.

The film is pleasingly quiet between action set pieces, free of the obtrusive music that was often the curse of Hollywood soundtracks and laced with good lines from Johnson's florid pen. And above all, surrounded by good character actors, we have two rising Zanuck stars tussling enjoyably for mastery, both in the plot and career-wise.

Henry King had become Power's preferred handler ('In Old Chicago' the previous year had been a wow) and both men evidently relish the challenge of tweaking his 'nice bank teller' image a little. Swarthy and bearded betimes, barking out orders to older subordinates, Power does fine. Fonda's grand remonstrance, when he tells Junior that he's turning into a suicidal psycho, is ably played and paced. The soft early tripack Technicolor looks sweet both outdoors-- Ford was getting similar results in 'Drums Along the Mohawk'-- and in candle-lit interiors.

Also noteworthy is Jesse's respectful, confiding relationship with his black ex-slave Pinky (Ernest Whitman) when he decides not to pursue Frank. Black maids could sass their mistresses in crazy comedies, but this quality of understanding between men of different colours was unusual in early-talkie Hollywood.

'Jesse James' was released in Hollywood's peak year, 1939. It's understandable that it was overlooked. But when we've done finger-wagging at the cruelty to horses which led the American Humane Association to demand supervisory privileges over stampedes-- and the cruelty to female Central Casting members which allowed Power to father a child on one-- we can still appreciate a good, workmanlike travesty of outlaw history. As a distortion of the James-Younger saga it has not been surpassed.


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Frequently Asked Questions

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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

27 January 1939 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Darryl F. Zanuck's Production of Jesse James See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$1,600,000 (estimated)

Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

$3,444
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Twentieth Century Fox See more »
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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

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