Sunday, Dec 2023
Director: Henry King
Screenwriters: Nunnally Johnson
Released: 1939

jesse jamesThe first of two Technicolor Westerns made by David O. Selznick that tell the tale of the James Gang. Jesse (Tyrone Power) and Frank James (Henry Fonda) are simple folk, minding their our business until unscrupulous railroad businessmen come through Missouri, swindling The People along the way. This Jesse James is the Western equivalent of Robin Hood. A gentleman robber , "no jewelry please". A life on the run does not stop Jesse from getting married, fathering a child, and conducting himself in a proper and dignified way (excepting the thievery).

The movie is not bound by the facts of the James Gang so it can get as sappy and romantic as it pleases. After Jesse is shot in the Northfield robbery his wife (Nancy Kelly) goops; "my poor poor darling, my poor hurt darling" while cradling Jesse head.

The story is well balanced and features a cast of excellent characters. Randolph Scott, Henry Hull, John Carradine (Grasshoppers' father), and Donald Meek are the most notable among the supporting cast. Hull, as Major Rufus Cobb is the pickled town newspaper man who launches into an editorial tirade at the slightest whim. The first of which is notable because it may be the first rant against lawyers in an American film. Cobb begins his dictation; "Lawyers are messing up the whole world. Ten years ago we had no lawyers in Liberty. We got along fine. Man kills somebody, and somebody kills him, then the marshal shoots 'em all, and that was the end of it. But look at it today. here in Liberty we gots hundreds of lawyers, thousands of 'em, lawyers as far as the eye can see... nothing but lawyers" To which Cobb's daughter replies; "There are only two lawyers in Liberty" Cobb retorts: "then they run around too much" The bit becomes a routine as Cobb begins each dictation with; "Paragraph: The problem with this country is there are too many ___ (occupation). The first thing we need to do is take out all the ____ (occupation) and shoot 'em down like dogs" . Cobb's performances continue into the sequel to this movie, Return of Frank James (1940).

The only thing making this movie anything less than a Must See is its sappiness. Also worth noting is that Jesse James (1939) is said to be the first of the "outlaw biographies". Many "outlaw" films, including many Jesse James movies (list), followed. Jesse James is certainly a Good Viewer.


  • Tyrone Power....Jesse James
  • Henry Fonda....Frank James
  • Nancy Kelly ....Zerelda (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....McCoy
  • Johnny Russell .... Jesse James Jr.
  • Jane Darwell....Mrs. Samuels
  • Charles Tannen....Charles Ford
  • Claire Du Brey....Mrs. Bob Ford
  • Willard Robertson....Clarke
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