IMDb > Jesse James (1939)
Jesse James
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Jesse James (1939) More at IMDbPro »

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Down 11% in popularity this week. See why on IMDbPro.
Nunnally Johnson (original screen play)
View company contact information for Jesse James on IMDbPro.
Release Date:
27 January 1939 (USA) See more »
The Epic Story of the most Colourful Outlaw who ever lived See more »
After railroad agents forcibly evict the James family from their family farm, Jesse and Frank turn to banditry for revenge. Full summary » | Add synopsis »
Plot Keywords:
User Reviews:
Jesse James, not as he was, but as people preferred to remember him See more (42 total) »


  (in credits order) (verified as complete)

Tyrone Power ... Jesse James

Henry Fonda ... Frank James

Nancy Kelly ... Zerelda 'Zee'

Randolph Scott ... Will Wright

Henry Hull ... Major 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
Harold Goodwin ... Bill
Ernest Whitman ... Pinkie
Eddy Waller ... Deputy
Paul E. Burns ... Hank (as Paul Burns)
Spencer Charters ... Minister
Arthur Aylesworth ... Tom Colson

Charles Middleton ... Doctor
Charles Halton ... Heywood
George Chandler ... Roy
Harry Tyler ... Farmer
Virginia Brissac ... Boy's Mother
Edward LeSaint ... Judge Rankin (as Ed Le Saint)
John Elliott ... Judge Mathews
Erville Alderson ... Old Marshall
George P. Breakston ... Farmer Boy (as George Breakston)

Lon Chaney Jr. ... One of James Gang
rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Carol Adams ... Minor Role (uncredited)
Donald Douglas ... Infantry Captain (uncredited)
James Flavin ... Cavalry Captain (uncredited)
Sam Garrett ... Rider / Roper (uncredited)
Wylie Grant ... Barshee's Henchman (uncredited)
Harry Holman ... Engineer (uncredited)
Kenner G. Kemp ... Union Soldier (uncredited)
Leonard Kibrick ... Boy (uncredited)
Sidney Kibrick ... Boy (uncredited)
Ethan Laidlaw ... Barshee's Henchman (uncredited)
Tom London ... Soldier (uncredited)
George O'Hara ... Teller (uncredited)
Paul Sutton ... Lynch - Barshee's Henchman (uncredited)
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Directed by
Henry King 
Irving Cummings (uncredited)
Writing credits
Nunnally Johnson (original screen play)

Gene Fowler  contributing writer (uncredited)
Curtis Kenyon  contributing writer (uncredited)
Hal Long  story contributor (uncredited)

Produced by
Nunnally Johnson .... associate producer
Darryl F. Zanuck .... producer
Ben Silvey .... associate producer (uncredited)
Cinematography by
George Barnes (photography)
W. Howard Greene (photography) (as W.H. Greene)
Film Editing by
Barbara McLean (film editor)
Art Direction by
William S. Darling  (as William Darling)
George Dudley 
Set Decoration by
Thomas Little (set decorations)
Costume Design by
Royer (costumes)
Makeup Department
Robert Cowan .... makeup artist (uncredited)
Buddy King .... hair stylist (uncredited)
Ray Lopez .... makeup artist (uncredited)
Ben Nye .... makeup artist (uncredited)
Webster C. Phillips .... makeup artist (uncredited)
Doris Rowland .... hair stylist (uncredited)
Dot Snyder .... body makeup artist (uncredited)
Production Management
Sid Bowen .... unit manager (uncredited)
William Koenig .... production manager (uncredited)
V.L. McFadden .... production manager (uncredited)
Second Unit Director or Assistant Director
Otto Brower .... second unit director (uncredited)
Hal Herman .... assistant director (uncredited)
Robert D. Webb .... assistant director (uncredited)
Henry Weinberger .... assistant director (uncredited)
Art Department
Joe Behm .... props (uncredited)
G.L. Cooper .... painter (uncredited)
Charles Fremdling .... props (uncredited)
Tom Gillette .... carpenter (uncredited)
L. Paul Haines .... carpenter (uncredited)
Frank E. Hughes .... set dresser (uncredited)
Frank Patterson .... carpenter (uncredited)
Jack Stubbs .... props (uncredited)
Al Withers .... carpenter (uncredited)
Sound Department
Roger Heman Sr. .... sound (as Roger Heman)
Arthur von Kirbach .... sound
Hal Lombard .... boom operator (uncredited)
Jack Miller .... cable person (uncredited)
Roy Potts .... boom operator (uncredited)
W.R. Snyder .... assistant sound (uncredited)
Visual Effects by
William F. Mittlestedt .... photographic effects (uncredited)
Ben Southland .... photographic effects (uncredited)
Cliff Lyons .... stunt double: Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda (uncredited)
Camera and Electrical Department
Charles Bohny .... assistant camera (uncredited)
A.C. Bumpus .... additional grip (uncredited)
James Cairns .... electrician (uncredited)
Robert Campbell .... electrician (uncredited)
R.M. Harmon .... additional grip (uncredited)
J. James .... electrician (uncredited)
W. Harry Jones .... additional grip (uncredited)
Wendell Jones .... additional grip (uncredited)
Phil Mandella .... additional grip (uncredited)
W. Nugent .... electrician (uncredited)
Hugh C. Peck .... additional grip (uncredited)
Jack Percy .... head grip (uncredited)
Bobby Petzoldt .... best boy electric (uncredited)
Edward Petzoldt .... gaffer (uncredited)
R. Pipes .... generator operator (uncredited)
Frank Powolny .... still photographer (uncredited)
C.E. Richardson .... second grip (uncredited)
Irving Rosenberg .... camera operator (uncredited)
William Russell .... generator operator (uncredited)
Gordon Sandsberry .... electrician (uncredited)
Sheridan Smith .... generator operator (uncredited)
W. Stewart .... electrician (uncredited)
Paul Uhl .... film loader: Technicolor (uncredited)
S. Warn .... electrician (uncredited)
Paul Woods .... electrician (uncredited)
Costume and Wardrobe Department
Eddie Armand .... wardrobe (uncredited)
Sam Benson .... wardrobe (uncredited)
Steve Brandt .... wardrobe (uncredited)
Ollie Hughes .... wardrobe (uncredited)
Josephine Perrin .... wardrobe (uncredited)
Editorial Department
Richard Billings .... assistant cutter (uncredited)
Robert Fritch .... assistant cutter (uncredited)
Music Department
Louis Silvers .... musical director
Cyril J. Mockridge .... composer: stock music (uncredited)
Alfred Newman .... composer: stock music (uncredited)
Louis Silvers .... composer: stock music (uncredited)
Other crew
Jo Frances James .... historical data assembler
Natalie Kalmus .... technicolor color director
Rosalind Schaeffer .... historical data assembler
Teresa Brachetto .... script clerk (uncredited)
Duke Callaghan .... assistant: Technicolor (uncredited)
Edwin H. Curtis .... dialogue director (uncredited)
Paul Hill .... assistant: Technicolor (uncredited)
Henri Jaffa .... associate technicolor color director (uncredited)
Max Larey .... script clerk (uncredited)
R.C. Moore .... location manager (uncredited)
Joe Noecker .... technician: Technicolor (uncredited)
Cliff Shirpser .... assistant: Technicolor (uncredited)
Crew verified as complete

Production CompaniesDistributors
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Additional Details

Also Known As:
"Darryl F. Zanuck's Production of Jesse James" - UK (complete title), USA (complete title)
See more »
106 min
Color (Technicolor)
Aspect Ratio:
1.37 : 1 See more »
Sound Mix:
Mono (Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)
Argentina:13 | Australia:G | Finland:K-16 | Norway:16 | Spain:13 | UK:U (passed with cuts) | USA:Approved (certificate #4590) | West Germany:12 (f)
Filming Locations:

Did You Know?

A scene in which a horse falls to its death from a cliff, and the subsequent public outcry, led to the American Humane Association (AHA) overseeing filmmaking through its new Film and TV Unit. Eventually they introduced the now-familiar AHA certification, "No animals were harmed in the making of this motion picture."See more »
Continuity: 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 »
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 »
Movie Connections:
Featured in Fonda on Fonda (1992) (TV)See more »
The Battle Cry of FreedomSee more »


This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.
Jesse James, not as he was, but as people preferred to remember him, 15 August 2013
Author: James Hitchcock from Tunbridge Wells, England

There are certain similarities between "Jesse James" and "They Died with Their Boots On", another Western from two years later. Both films are loosely based on the life of a legendary hero of the Old West, James here and General Custer in the supporting film. (At least, the films treat their subjects as heroes; whether either man really deserves that title is another matter). Both feature a famously handsome and dashing star in the leading role. Both are notorious for their historical inaccuracy and gloss over many aspects of their subjects' lives, especially their character flaws. And in both films the main villains are the representatives of a corrupt railroad company; during the era of the "New Deal" Hollywood seems to have been more critical of Big Business than it was to become after the war.

The film's departures from historical fact are many and varied; some are major, others minor. Among the minor discrepancies; James's killer Robert Ford was much younger than the character played here by John Carradine. The maiden name of James's wife Zerelda (known as Zee) was Mimms, not Cobb. James and Zee were first cousins, but this fact is omitted from the script, possibly because cousin marriage, quite common in the America of James's day, had been banned in many states by 1939.

More seriously, James's mother (also named Zerelda- her niece was named after her) was not killed by agents of the railroad as shown here. In fact, she outlived her son by many years, dying in 1911 at the age of 86. In the film it is this incident which forces Jesse and his brother Frank, previously honest, law-abiding young men, into a life of crime as they can see no other way of getting justice for their mother's death. In reality, the brothers began their life of crime as "bushwhackers", pro-Confederate irregulars during the Civil War, but the political aspects of their career are totally ignored by the film.

The standard of acting tends to vary. Nancy Kelly makes a rather weak, simpering Zee, but the most annoying actor in the film must be Henry Hull as Zee's uncle Rufus, an elderly and comically eccentric newspaper editor. (The Annoying Old Man became a stock comic figure in Westerns; "They Died with Their Boots On" has another example in the figure of California). There is a running joke about how Rufus is always running the same editorial in his paper insisting that the only solution to the problems of the West is to take some group of people and "shoot them down like dogs", the only difference being the identity of the group which Rufus wants shot. (Politicians, lawyers, dentists, railroad executives). This sort of comic relief does not sit well with the generally serious, at times tragic, tone of the film, and seems particularly inappropriate in a film made in 1939, a year in which the leaders of Germany and Russia were, in all seriousness, advocating collective murder as the solution to all the world's problems.

The two male leads, however, are splendid, their different styles of acting complementing each other well. Tyrone Power plays Jesse as the more dashing, hot-headed and impetuous of the two brothers, while Henry Fonda's Frank is the calmer and more level-headed. There is also a good contribution from Randolph Scott as Marshal Will Wright, the lawman investigating the crimes of the James gang. Marshal Wright is something of a morally ambiguous character; on the one hand he is a liberal who sees the James brothers as being as much sinned against as sinning and who is concerned that they receive a fair trial, unlike the railroad company who would prefer to see them lynched. On the other hand, there is an implication that he may be motivated as much by a romantic interest in Zee as by any abstract concern for justice.

"Jesse James" was made in Technicolor at a time when black-and-white was very much the rule rather than the exception. This suggests that the studio intended it to be a grand, spectacular movie, and to some extent they succeeded in this. It's not quite "Gone with the Wind", but it contains a lot more in the way of action sequences than do most films from the thirties, and some of them stand out, particularly the train robbery and the raid on the bank at Northfield.

Nobody would go to a film like this for a history lesson, at least not if you wanted a lesson about the life of Jesse James himself, although today films like this do, if only inadvertently, perhaps offer us a lesson about the period during which they were made. "Jesse James" today can be seen as a highly entertaining example of the way in which Hollywood sought to mythologise America's past and to provide folk- heroes for what was still a relatively young nation. This film might not show Jesse James as he was in real life, but it certainly shows him as people preferred to remember him. 7/10

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