Jesse James (1939)

Directed by Henry King
After railroad agents forcibly evict the James family from their family farm, Jesse and Frank turn to banditry for revenge.
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yet another Tyrone power winner

25 April 2016 | by rickdumesnil-55203 (Canada) – See all my reviews

simply loved the movie. let me start i absolutely was grateful that the black character PINKY was treated so nice. one of the rare Hollywood movie where the boss didn’t boss around and took time to chat. the scene when Jessie ask pinky if the baby is cute….simply breath taking. the scenery the acting especially by power Fonda Scott darwell and hull you cant ask for more. NANCY KELLY was touching but for me she seemed plain and not so pretty. of course i didn’t want Jessie to die in the end and his reunion with Jessie Jr. was simply well done and tear jerking. i gave it a 9 and took off 1 point because of the handling of the horses. how cruel. i just MR. POWER was against it but had no choice. good movie though glad i got the DVD….POWER FOREVER.

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A highly romanticized account of the infamous desperado…

8/10
Author: Righty-Sock (robertfrangie@hotmail.com) from Mexico
30 November 2007

Splendid in his first Western and his first Technicolor movie, Power portrayed Jesse James as a sympathetic hero and the most charming bank robber of the Old West…

Teamed with Henry Fonda, and stalwart Randolph Scott, Henry King came with a Western classic, considered as one the best Jesse James of the series…

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The film opens in Pineville with hothead Jesse and temperate Frank as a couple of Missouri brothers who, embittered by the ruthless tactics of a railroad agent, got a warrant and had to skip out, hiding out until Major Rufus Cobb (Henry Hull) can get the governor to give them a fair trial … But the railroad’s got too much at stake to let two farmer boys bollix things up…

After they had thrown Barshee (Brian Donlevy), the brutal railroad representative off the farm of their widowed mother (Jane Darwell) when she refused to sign over her property, Jesse and Frank later learn that she had been killed by a bomb tossed into their home by Barshee himself… Jesse returns, shoots Barshee, and vows revenge on the railroad, with the complete sympathy of the Missouri populace…

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Jesse’s sweetheart, Zee and her uncle, publisher Major Rufus, are among the James’ supporters, as is U. S. Marshal Will Wright (Scott), but he has a job to do and is forced to track down the two brothers…

Jesse and Frank have expanded their operation from merely harassing the St. Louis Midland with a series of holdups to robbing banks…

Pursuaded by railroad president McCoy (Donald Meek) to talk Jesse into surrendering, Wright extracts a written promise of a light sentence for the desperado… Zee then urges Jesse to give himself up following their wedding…

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Of course, Henry King tries to show how Jesse hated the railroads and from that hate he presented a charismatic hero… But this hero was not going to last… The more luck he had, the worse he gets… It’ll be his appetite for shooting and robbing until something happens to him…

He also shows a worried fiancée keeping thinking of an outlaw all the time out there in the hills just going on and on to nowhere just trying to keep alive with everybody after him, wanting to kill him to get that money…

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There’s a scene near the end where Zee (Nancy Kelly) after delivering her baby is lying in bed with her creature, with the presence of the Marshal, so to speak, between herself and her uncle that suddenly made clear to me what the entire film was about… Her feelings as a woman: “I’m so tired to care. This is the way it always is. We live like animals, scared animals. We move. We hide. We don’t dare to go out… ”

Obviously she is a sensitive woman who exposes her being on screen without losing sight of reality… That’s quite a great scene from King, and key in this great Western, as it’s really all about her character, Zee Cobb, a struggling woman in love now a mother with a baby to take care of…

So please don’t miss it!

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The Jesse We Somehow Have Gotten to Want to Remember

10/10
Author: theowinthrop from United States
21 April 2007
*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It was the luck of Tyrone Power that he became the pet male star of Producer Genius Daryl Zanuck of 20th Century Fox. He was constantly finding decent adventure film properties for Power to use, resulting in a huge public following for the star.

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Unfortunately in 1938 Power was lent to MGM to appear in the extravaganza historical film MARIE ANTOINETTE with Norma Shearer. He gave a fine performance as her friend/probable lover Count Axel Fersen, but his fans were puzzled, and some critics had a field day. It was like a problem a decade and a half earlier suffered by silent idol Rudolf Valentino, when he made some costume films like MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE. Then Valentino suggested the choice of these rolls proved Valentino was a “powder puff” (i.e. homosexual). Now they suggested the same (after one film only!) for Power.

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To recoup meant taking Power into a particular historical film – a western. Long before the idea of a homosexual cowboy found any open acceptance on the screen, most actors found that the most masculine American role was as a cowboy. And if Power was going to play a westerner, he should play one who did not take nonsense – indeed was downright dangerous to people he disliked. Such a person was Jesse Woodson James (1848 – 1882). Zanuck’s genius at picking the right properties showed up here to such great affect, that a year later MGM copied the idea for their resident star with a huge female following, Robert Taylor, with the film BILLY THE KID.

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In first rate Technicolor, we watch a screen-writer’s version of Jesse’s complicated and violent life, in the last days of the Civil War (for the South), fighting carpetbaggers, banks, and railroads from the North, turning bandit against these aggressors, and then controlling the best bank and train robbing gang from 1868 – 1876 in the Mississippi/Missouri Valley. It also follows the love and marriage and tribulations of Jesse and his wife Zee Cobb (Nancy Kelly), and the events leading to his assassination (which more of below) by Robert Ford (John Carridine) a member of his gang. His brother and gang partner Frank is played by Henry Fonda. His love rival but occasional ally, the Marshall is Randolph Scott. Besides Carridine, the villains are a half-way comic banker/railroad owner played by Donald Meek, and his agent played by J. Edward Bromberg (possibly his best known role). And as for that “great” editor, Col. Rufus Cobb (Henry Hull) anyone who does not think him a great character should be taken outside and hanged like a dog!

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Henry King, a good journeyman director used by Power and Zanauck in several films, turned in a first rate job, even as the screenplay really improves Jesse’s record. It is questionable if he was in the Confederate army or even served with Quantrill (as Frank and the missing Cole Younger, his cousin, did). But he was thoroughly tied to the lost cause, and the post war poverty that hit his part of Missouri did not endear the victors to him. Given the way money ruled the Gilded Age millionaires, one can see that the avariciousness’s of the banks and railroads would have worsened the situation. But did that give Jesse and Frank and their gang the right to kill any former Union foe they encountered in what was technically peacetime?

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The Northfield Bank Raid is rightly seen as the destruction of the James – Younger Gang, and as a model of overreaching. Unlike the fictional version in the story (the plan is betrayed, so the bank becomes a trap), Jesse and the gang tried to rob two banks in Northfield, Minnesota, and thought the locals there would be as indifferent as Missourians or Kansas on-lookers (they weren’t). Many were shot and killed on both sides, but worse Cole and his brothers were captured and sent to prison. Jesse and Frank and several others escaped – but regrouped in Missouri. It lasted for six more years with bank and railroad robberies before Jesse was killed by Ford.

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There is no denying (as Hull says at the end) that James was a criminal. But to be fair, the Federal Government and the Pinkertons did not behave well either. Keep in mind, in 1870 Federal intervention in the states was limited to the Reconstruction policies, not to policing action. But Ulysses Grant, although from Ohio, had lived in Missouri for years, and took a personal interest in the James Gang. He was willing to use the Pinkertons as his agents, including one incident where a bomb-like device was used against Jesse’s mother’s family, injuring several (his mother lost her arm), and killing his half-brother. So furious was Jesse about this, for a couple of months he was in Chicago seeking a chance to attack and kill Allan Pinkerton!

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And then there is that final killing – Governor Crittenden of Missouri, from a distinguished Kentucky family, smashed his career in setting up a “hit” by Ford, in which Jesse was shot in the back in his parlor! I don’t think any other criminal of the top rank in American History (maybe Dillinger in his demise at the Biograph Theater in Chicago) ever came across as having had his bad list of actions cleaned by the manner his death was caused. In 1881 Crittenden was considered a possible future Democratic Presidential candidate. After 1882 his career was finished. As for Ford, he was shot down years later – his killer given a judicial slap on the hand.

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JESSE JAMES cuts down the negative issues a bit too much, and builds up his good characteristics too much. Yet it works splendidly as film. Other “James” films like I SHOT JESSE JAMES or THE GREAT NORTHFIELD RAID may be truer somehow, but this is the JAMES we like to recall – and the JAMES that will live.

Power Brings Jesse James To Life
8/10
Author: jhclues from Salem, Oregon
8 December 2001

A real life legend of the Old West comes to life in this 1939 film, which may not be historically accurate or honest enough for purists, but nevertheless tells a good story while leaving any moral judgments up to the audience.

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`Jesse James,’ directed by Henry King, stars Tyrone Power as the man heralded by some as the Robin Hood of cowboys. Whether or not he was actually a hero is debatable, and what this movie does is supply the motivation for the wrong-doing on Jesse’s part– at least up to a point. At the time this film was made, it was necessary for the filmmaker to present a story like this in a way that reflected a reckoning of sorts for a character engaged in any form of moral turpitude; and this film is no exception. But in this case, it’s done with subtlety, and in a way that still allows the viewer’s sympathies to be with the protagonist, regardless of his crimes.

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At the heart of the matter is basically another version of the oft-told David and Goliath tale. In this story, Goliath is the railroad, expanding ever-westward and growing bigger and stronger by the day. When they encounter the farm on which Jesse, his brother, Frank (Henry Fonda) and their mother (Jane Darwell) reside and make their living, the railroad does what any self-respecting conglomerate would do– they take it, pay the owners a pittance and lay their rail without giving it another thought. Only this time, the railroad messed with the wrong people. Not one to take it lying down, Jesse forms a gang– which includes Frank– and strikes back in the only way he knows how: By robbing the trains. And, just as Bonnie and Clyde would become, in a sense, local heroes a few years later, many began looking up to James as something of a redeemer; the man who stood up for all the others who were either unwilling or unable to do it for themselves after being wronged, as well, by the ruthless machinery of progress.

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Power gives an outstanding performance as Jesse James, to whom he brings an intensity that seethes beneath his rugged good looks and determined attitude. Like Beatty did with Clyde, Power makes Jesse an outlaw you can’t help but like, and actually admire. Because the James Power presents is nothing more nor less than a good man seeking reparation for the injury visited not only upon himself, but upon his family, to whom he feels justice is now due. It’s a very credible and believable portrayal, though under close scrutiny his Jesse may come across as somewhat idealistically unflawed. Then again, within the time frame of this story, we are seeing a man adamant and single-minded of purpose, and the depth Power brings to the character more than accounts for what may be construed as a flawless nature.

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As Frank James, Henry Fonda presents a man perhaps more laid-back than his brother, but every bit as volatile and adamant in his quest for justice. There’s a coolness in his eyes and in his manner that belies the tenacity of his character. Fonda conveys the sense that Frank is a lion; he’s no trouble without provocation, but once aroused he will demand satisfaction and stay with the scent until he has it. And it’s that sense of dogged determination that Fonda and Power bring to their respective characters that makes them so engaging and accessible. Goliath is the real bad guy here, and you want to see him fall; and these are the guys you want to see bring him down.

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In a supporting role, John Carradine gives a noteworthy performance as Jesse’s own personal Judas, Bob Ford, a man who made history by demonstrating that there is, indeed, no honor among thieves. Carradine brings Ford to life in a sly and sinister way that leaves no doubt as to who the real villain of the story is.

The supporting cast includes Nancy Kelly (Zee), Randolph Scott (Will), Slim Summerville (Jailer), Brian Donlevy (Barshee), Donald Meek (McCoy), Charles Tannen (Charlie Ford), Claire Du Brey (Mrs. Ford) and Henry Hull, in an energetic and memorable performance as Major Rufus Cobb. Compared to many of the westerns made in the past couple of decades or so, this film is rather antiseptic in it’s presentation; that is to say it lacks the graphic visuals of say, `The Wild Bunch’ or Eastwood’s `Unforgiven.’ But `Jesse James’ is satisfying entertainment that doesn’t require or rely upon shocking realism to tell the story, but rather the talent and finesse of a great cast and a savvy director. It’s a movie that will keep you involved, and Power and Fonda make it an especially enriching cinematic experience. In a very classic sense, this is the magic of the movies. I rate this one 8/10.

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Special cast, special movie, just don’t expect a history lesson.

8/10
Author: Spikeopath from United Kingdom
20 January 2009

We are at the time of the Iron Horse birth, the railroads are buying out the farm land at ridiculously low prices, even resorting to bully tactics to get the signature rights. When one particularly nasty railroad agent tries his strong arm tactics on the mother of the James brothers, he gets more than he bargained for. In an act of almost vengeful negligence, the agent causes the death of Mrs James and thus sets the wheels in motion for what was to become folklore notoriety, Jesse James, his brother Frank, and a gang of seemingly loyal thieves, went on to etch their names in outlaw history.

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There is no getting away from the fact that history tells us that this is a highly fictionalised account of Jesse James and his exploits. What we are given here by director Henry King and his screenwriter Nunally Johnson, is a more romanticised look at the legend of the man himself; which sure as heck fire makes for one dandy and enjoyable watch. The cast is one to savour, Tyrone Power (Jesse James), Henry Fonda (Frank James), Randolph Scott (Will Wright), Brian Donlevy (Barshee) and John Carradine (Bob Ford) all line up to entertain the masses with fine results, with Fonda possibly owing his subsequent career to his appearance here. He would return a year later in the successful sequel The Return Of Frank James and subsequently go on to greater and more rewarding projects. Power of course would go on and pick up the trusty blade and start swishing away, a career beckoned for this matinée idol for sure, but it’s nice to revisit this particular picture to see that Power could indeed be an actor of note, capable of some emotional depth instead of making Jesse just another outlawish thug. If the makers have made the character too “heroic” then that’s for debate, it’s one of the many historical “itches” that have irked historians over the years. But Power plays it as such and it works very well.

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One of the film’s main strengths is the pairing of Power and Fonda, very believable as a kinship united in ideals, with both men expertly handled by the reliable Henry King. The Technicolor from Howard Greene and George Barnes is wonderfully put to good use here, splendidly capturing the essence of the time with eye catching results. While the film itself has a fine action quota, gun play and galloping horses all feature throughout, and the characterisations of the main players lend themselves to pulse raising sequences. To leave us with what? A highly accomplished Western picture that ends in the way that history has showed it should-whilst the rest of the film is flimsy history at best? Yes. But ultimately it really doesn’t matter if one is after some Western entertainment, because for sure this picture scores high in that regard. 8/10

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