Now that it’s 2019, let’s start off the 80th anniversary of many movies from 1939 with the movie Jesse James, starring Tyrone Power in the title role and Henry Fonda as his brother Frank James.
The railroad is going around buying up people’s land (and not exactly honestly, either). When they come to the home of the James family, they find they are not able to make them sell the land. They try to get the James brothers arrested, but when they run, the house gets destroyed while their mother is in it. This sets Jesse and his brother off on a crusade to rob the railroad. Jesse’s girlfriend, Zerelda “Zee” Cobb convinces him to marry her and turn himself in in exchange for a light sentence. However, once he is in jail, the railroad president tries to change things around so that he would be hanged. Frank helps him escape from jail, and Zee joins them as they go on the run. However, when she gives birth to Jesse’s son, she decides to come home. Jesse lets her, but then starts taking more chances, and makes enemies even of friends that had supported him previously.
I enjoyed this movie very much. To me, it seems like it starts out as a “Robin Hood”-type story, with the railroad people taking the land from the farmers, and Jesse James and his brother start to fight back, with the support of the people. Then the movie diverges, warning about Jesse getting so used to robbing that that might be all he can do. Zee realizes this, and tries to get him to turn himself in. After some thought, he is willing to do so. However, when he does turn himself in, the president of the railroad decides to break his own promise and try to hang him. In the process, he just makes the situation worse, not just for himself, but everybody (of course, this shouldn’t be a surprise, considering what the men he sent to buy the land from the farmers were doing under his leadership). One can only imagine how much better the situation would have been (in the movie) if the bank president had only been a better leader overall, not just in his dealings with the James brothers, but with all the other landowners as well.
Now, I don’t know enough about Jesse James to know how historically accurate this movie is. I know one of Jesse’s real-life granddaughters was hired as a technical advisor for the movie, but I have otherwise heard that the movie is still inaccurate. Personally, I don’t really care, as I enjoy this movie very much. I mainly watched it for Tyrone Power in the title role, as I have seen a few of his other movies, and enjoyed them (and this movie being from 1939, long considered to be one of the best years in Hollywood, certainly helps). I do know that this movie had a sequel, The Return Of Frank James, with Henry Fonda reprising his role as Frank James, but I have yet to see this movie. But I do recommend Jesse James to anybody curious enough to try it!
The movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Twentieth Century Fox.
Film Length: 1 hour, 46 minutes
My Rating: 9/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Tyrone Power – The Mark Of Zorro (1940)
Brian Donlevy – The Great McGinty (1940)
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