Occasionally, I find myself walking around the "used movie" stores perusing through the older movies as you never know what you may find. I especially like to find a good Western movie that I hadn't seen in a long time or, even better, a Western I have never seen. Luckily, I came across one that I had never seen simply titled: "Jesse James". Have you ever stumbled across a movie and you could just tell by the cover art that you were probably going to enjoy it? That is what happened to me when I saw the cover for "Jesse James".
There are several movies made about this famous outlaw (or infamous, depending upon your point of view). Some claim to be the REAL story of Jesse James and boast blockbuster actors. They try to weave in psychobabble stuff to convince you of what they believe will make him fit nicely into some profile... like : Oh, he wore his hat crooked and crossed his eyes, so that fits the typical behavior pattern associated with a maniac such and such, etc...
Well... while some of the profile stuff may be more truthful, this version of the Jesse James story, which was made in 1939, and stars Tyrone Powers and Henry Fonda as Jesse and Frank James doesn't do any of that! This movie is lightly sprinkled with some factual elements, such as names and certain events, but this is to be watched just for the pleasure of watching a good old movie. There are no hidden agendas and you don't have to sit around after the movie with high falootin, black beret, wearing friends asking each other questions like, "What do you think the director was REALLY trying to say...?"
Some of the factual elements you will see include the fact that they did
have allies in the press as the Newspaper printed favorable articles
which perpetuated the Robin Hoodish element surrounding the brothers.
They did have loyalty among the people as they were southern veterans of
the confederacy which made it much easier to elude justice. The bombing of their house really happened even though it was the Pinkerton Agency and not the railroad.
Here is what you get in this movie: Jesse and Frank are wrongly accused heroes as they refuse to sell the family farm to the evil rail road. The rail road agents are traveling from farm to farm offering next to nothing for the land which each family sees as its life's blood. Any family who refuses, gets beaten into submission by the agents henchmen or worse. The James clan refuses the offer after they defend their mother, they soon find themselves accused of attacking and wounding the agent and his thugs.
My personal favorite scene occurs when the agent approaches Zee, Jesse and Frank's mamma, and tries to pressure her into signing over the land. Jesse is busy working in the fields, but Frank is in the window eating an apple listening to the conversation. Once it becomes clear that "No" is not an option, Frank mozies into the scene and says, " I believe she said no"... and when the Agent tries to sucker punch Frank, he smacks the agent with a quick jab and then with a big grin he says, "Aint you the tricky one"... Then just as the agent and his thugs are going to shoot Frank, Jesse appears, guns drawn and holds them at bay while Frank continues the fist fight and beats the tar out of the agent. It is a great scene and Henry Fonda really steals the show. In this film, they become outlaws out of necessity and to avenge the death of their mother at the hands of the Evil Railroad Agent.
This was an early role for Fonda and he really has some shining moments and in fact reprises his role in a sequel called, "The Return of Frank James".I also have to mention that you see another great Western Movie icon in Randolph Scott as well as John Carradine. Take a look and I think you will enjoy "Jesse James" as well.