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Jesse James (1939)

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After railroad agents forcibly evict the James family from their family farm, Jesse and Frank turn to banditry for revenge.

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, (uncredited)

Writer:

(original screen play)
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
...
...
Will Wright
...
...
Jailer
J. Edward Bromberg ...
...
Barshee
...
...
Johnny Russell ...
Jesse James Jr. (as John Russell)
...
Charles Tannen ...
Claire Du Brey ...
Mrs. Bob Ford
Willard Robertson ...
Clarke
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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

Plot Keywords:

railroad | train | bank | farmer | reward | See All (92) »

Taglines:

The world branded him . . . an OUTLAW . . . a KILLER . . . a WOLF . . . but to the simple folk who knew him he was a victim of injustice - and to the girl who loved him he was brave and a gentle lover ! ! See more »


Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

27 January 1939 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Darryl F. Zanuck's Production of Jesse James  »

Filming Locations:

 »

Box Office

Budget:

$1,600,000 (estimated)
 »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)

Color:

(Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

After the two horses that were blindfolded and forced to go over a cliff were killed, a new rule was enforced and later endorsed by The Humane Society of America in which strict standards were created to protect Animal Actors in which at the end of the movie and added to the credits listed as "No Animals Were Harmed or Injured in the Production of this Film...". Now all films involving any Animal Actors must have present a member representing The Humane Society of America to insure that all animals are treated humanly and given a safe environment in which to work. See more »

Goofs

On the river bank, when Jesse James bids farewell to Pinkie, the latter changes place, from beside the mule, with his hand on its back, to the front of the mule, holding the rein, between shots. See more »

Quotes

Engineer: What you aimin' to do, pardner?
Jesse Woodson James: I ain't aimin' to do nuthin'. I'm doin' it. I'm holdin' up this train.
Engineer: The whole train?
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 »

Connections

Featured in Henry Fonda: The Man and His Movies (1982) See more »

Soundtracks

The Battle Cry of Freedom
(1862) (uncredited)
Written by George Frederick Root
Played by the band at the railroad station
See more »

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User Reviews

 
"The prodigal son came home"
18 July 2011 | by (Ruritania) – See all my reviews

The strict enforcement of the production code from 1934 onwards put the kibosh on that popular series of heroic gangster movies which dealt with charismatic lawbreakers in the modern era. However, the code was far more lenient when it came to outlaws from days gone by. This is perhaps one of the reasons why the Western made such a popular comeback, and why crime and vengeance became such common themes in it. This, the earliest entry in the 1939 Western revival (it even predates Stagecoach, the movie often touted as the revival's flagship) tells a vaguely accurate history of the Robin Hood of the Old West, a man to justify criminal activity if ever there was one.

Fox Studios judged this an ideal vehicle for their top swashbuckling star and Errol Flynn rival, Tyrone Power Jr. Power was never a great actor but he was slowly shaping up into a decent and charismatic leading man. This is perhaps his most serious role to date, shedding his boyish cheerfulness for a more authoritative demeanour. Henry Fonda, playing brother Frank, was already the better actor, possessing a mean, brooding presence that Power could never quite grasp. The finest performance here though is that of leading lady Nancy Kelly. She is powerfully dramatic yet believable, really bringing out Zee James as the marginalized wife and adding a layer of poignancy to the movie. On a lighter note, Henry Hull plays a lovable comic relief part that is effectively funny but is separate enough from the narrative that he doesn't detract from what is essentially a Western drama.

Jesse James has the hallmarks of its writer-producer Nunally Johnson and its director Henry King, who collaborated on a number of tight and atmospheric productions. At a time when background scores were becoming ever more elaborate and intrusive, Johnson oversaw productions that sometimes contained no music at all between the opening titles and the end credits. Here we have stirring dialogue scenes in which we don't have to have our emotions patronised by sweeping strings. Chase scenes are accompanied only by the thunder of hoof beats and the eerie twitter of birdsong. In complement to this muted styling, Henry King encourages slow, thoughtful performances from his cast, often holding players in long take, such as that powerful scene of Nancy Kelly lying on the bed clutching her baby and telling of her fears. Under King's guidance, the acting is understated and naturalistic. Even that unashamed ham John Carradine is at his most restrained, and Henry Hull though a comedy character does show dramatic presence when required.

But what is perhaps most striking about Jesse James, is that it doesn't actually look like a Western. Rather than opening with a shot of the wide open plain or some dusty cow town, we begin on a resolutely small-scale, in mid-shot with a farmhouse filling the background. Throughout the movie the saloon halls are dark and oppressive, and even the outdoor scenes are a maze of fences and overhanging trees. This is typical Henry King, whose emphasis on stark, tight shot framing gave an ominous and highly individual look on the movie's world. When he does widen the shot, it is for startling effect, such as the angle change in the opening sequence where the young boy is roughed up by the railroad men. This isn't to say King doesn't understand the outdoors. It's just that whereas, say, John Ford gives the broad landscape a character, King gives every tree, rock and fence post a character. His is a Wild West as gritty and claustrophobic as the mean streets of New York, making Jesse James in more ways than one an heir to those classic gangster movies. This is a world away from the light, cheery cowboy flick, a picture of great dramatic intensity, that just as much as Stagecoach announced that the Western had arrived as a serious genre.


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