Jesse James - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Jesse James Reviews

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dietmountaindew
Super Reviewer
February 28, 2008
the first flick done upon the notorious legend of jesse james, and colors are saturated pleasantly in technicolor which really emphasizes on tyrone power's gorgeous face as well as the young henry fonda.

but power's jesse james is never convincingly masculine as a ruthless crime boss who is fueled intensely by the avengeful drive. his jesse james is more like a suavely polished gentleman who is compelled to revolutionalize against the unjust capitalist of railroad. perhaps henry fonda would be more appropriate as jesse james with his southerner idiosyncracy.

the later half of jesse james growing susceptibly cranky with appetite for violence particularly flops. there's no robbery scene actually shot but a remorseful james mourns for the lost trace of his newborn son. there's no rawness or urgent desperation in power as an outlaw. the film only shows the first crime the gang does by politely asking purses from the train passengers and their disastrous last bank-robbery which is not ballistically depicted. also the romance of jesse james takes the majority of the whole movie as the central wheel that is not well-strategied. it's strongly romanticized but does the audience feel moved by this affair? certainly not, it's more like trivial event of a genteel commoner who still deems conventional virtues. as a matter of fact, tyrone power impersonates his jesse james in the exact manners as he does in his constumed swashbuckler flicks.

audience who goes for jesse james are men with penchant for the outrage of crude manhood, a sort of populist idolization in the field of male icon, and they certainly feel enviously reluctant to watch an aristocratic tyrone power de-masculinizes jesse james with his distinguisged male beauty which outshines them. maybe the sequel "the revenge of frank james" directed by fritz lang has more prospect to look forward. and the only stirring sensation "jesse james" could have caused would probably be the pioneering alert of animal protection in cinema history since the production of this flick accidentally costed a life of one horse which seems even more consequential than "jesse james" itself.
Super Reviewer
December 2, 2007
A hugely entertaining version of the story, nicely shot in early Technicolor. Considering the size and weight of the cameras in those days, the use of real backgrounds in the posse chases is commendable and impressive. The second half, where the story takes a more serious turn, is less fun, but the film stands up very well.
Super Reviewer
May 29, 2008
Henry Fonda is great as Frank James, and Tyrone Power is at his peak.
September 1, 2009
I enjoyed Andrew Dominik?s portrayal of Jesses James in ?The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford? so much, I DVR?d the first Jesse James film (1939) when I stumbled upon it some time ago. I knew nothing of this film except the title and the 4-stars per the guide.

This Jesse James is depicted so differently than Dominik?s version, that if not for the title, I wouldn?t know they to be the same character. To say that James is portrayed in a positive tone here, would be like calling the sun important. James is represented nothing short of a saint and the flattering characterization strips the film of any excitement, suspense, or character development (much less historical accuracy).

Add that key ingredient to an already ?aw shucks? story with ?gee willikers? dialogue and this film is a complete waste of time.
February 29, 2008
Historical accuracy aside, this is a terrific film from Hollywood's greatest year, 1939. Tyrone Power, Randolph Scott, and especially a young Henry Fonda were all at their very best in this film that holds up remarkably well even after seventy years.
May 21, 2014
If you like westerns and if you like oldies and of you like Fonda, you'll like this one!
June 20, 2013
Splendid in his first Western and his first Technicolor movie, Power portrayed Jesse James as a sympathetic hero and the most charming bank robber of the Old West...

Teamed with Henry Fonda, and stalwart Randolph Scott, Henry King came with a Western classic, considered as one the best Jesse James of the series...

The film opens in Pineville with hothead Jesse and temperate Frank as a couple of Missouri brothers who, embittered by the ruthless tactics of a railroad agent, got a warrant and had to skip out, hiding out until Major Rufus Cobb (Henry Hull) can get the governor to give them a fair trial ... But the railroad's got too much at stake to let two farmer boys bollix things up...

After they had thrown Barshee (Brian Donlevy), the brutal railroad representative off the farm of their widowed mother (Jane Darwell) when she refused to sign over her property, Jesse and Frank later learn that she had been killed by a bomb tossed into their home by Barshee himself... Jesse returns, shoots Barshee, and vows revenge on the railroad, with the complete sympathy of the Missouri populace...

Jesse's sweetheart, Zee and her uncle, publisher Major Rufus, are among the James' supporters, as is U. S. Marshal Will Wright (Scott), but he has a job to do and is forced to track down the two brothers...

Jesse and Frank have expanded their operation from merely harassing the St. Louis Midland with a series of holdups to robbing banks...

Pursuaded by railroad president McCoy (Donald Meek) to talk Jesse into surrendering, Wright extracts a written promise of a light sentence for the desperado... Zee then urges Jesse to give himself up following their wedding...

Of course, Henry King tries to show how Jesse hated the railroads and from that hate he presented a charismatic hero... But this hero was not going to last... The more luck he had, the worse he gets... It'll be his appetite for shooting and robbing until something happens to him...

He also shows a worried fiancťe keeping thinking of an outlaw all the time out there in the hills just going on and on to nowhere just trying to keep alive with everybody after him, wanting to kill him to get that money...

There's a scene near the end where Zee (Nancy Kelly) after delivering her baby is lying in bed with her creature, with the presence of the Marshal, so to speak, between herself and her uncle that suddenly made clear to me what the entire film was about... Her feelings as a woman: "I'm so tired to care. This is the way it always is. We live like animals, scared animals. We move. We hide. We don't dare to go out... "

Obviously she is a sensitive woman who exposes her being on screen without losing sight of reality... That's quite a great scene from King, and key in this great Western, as it's really all about her character, Zee Cobb, a struggling woman in love now a mother with a baby to take care of...

So please don't miss it!
½ June 10, 2013
He Was the goldingest, dadblastedest, dadgummest buckaroo there ever was--Robbing Hoods Get the Technicolor Treatment!!
April 14, 2013
Rousing rendition of the Jesse and Frank James legend, with Power and Fonda both strong on the leads. Entertaining flick renown for its dangerous stunts (one of which killed a horse - leading to stricter regulations on-set). The first of many to follow about the James boys, this one highly sympathetic and romantic. A fun film that later produced a sequel for Fonda.
½ May 18, 2012
This 1939 flick about the out law of the Jesse James of the wild west was great. I enjoy watching it. Tyrone Power was not that bad playing Jesse James role in the movie. Henry Fonda was aw some in the movie he played Frank Jesse. Yes this movie enjoyable but...didn't show more about Jesse James. I know this movie was made in 1939 like........well over 70 years ago. Randolph Scott played peace maker marshal in it. Like wise I enjoy watching this movie!
April 5, 2012
Tyrone Power plays the title character of the film Jesse James, and Henry Fonda plays Frank James (older brother Jesse James). When I started watching this film, I was really enthusiastic about it being color movie (probably 1939 movies were given this grand privilege, like Gone With The Wind and The Wizard Of Oz etc) and moreover Henry Fonda (one of my top favorite actor) playing the minor role. It did entertain me, to enjoy set-design of Old-West of Midland, the locations; yet there is something very important missing. As the movie is based upon real legend of the West, the notorious outlaw Jesse James, but the historical background of the film is set totally opposite the reality, which is distracting.

The opening scene is all that impressed me, including Henry Fonda's take on four of the men, forcing his mother to sell her land for 2 dollars.
½ March 7, 2011
Interesting look at waht the western looked like before John Ford changed everything with Stagecoach.
January 28, 2011
This is a mostly fun western that occasionally tends toward the sanctimonious. The action is brisk and intense, but punctuated a little too often by repetitive moral considerations which could have been presented more cohesively in the threadwork of the narrative.
½ October 27, 2010
This is a great tale of the outlaw, Jesse James. Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda do a great job as the James brother's. Henry Hull was my favorite of them all. He kinda steals the show...If you haven't seen it..You really need too...Njoy!!!!
March 23, 2009
Tyrone Power sports a matched pair of six-shooters in shoulder holsters in Twentieth Century Fox's glamorous but historically challenged biography "Jesse James" (1939) with a lanky, mustached Henry Fonda co-starring as Jesse's older brother Frank. This was the first major Technicolored saga of America's most notorious train robber Jesse James since 1927 when director Lloyd Ingraham helmed the silent, black & white "Jesse James" for Paramount Pictures. In any case, "Lloyd's of London" director Henry King gives this horse opera all the 'pop' it requires in terms of action, while future "Dirty Dozen" scenarist Nunnally Johnson supplies the proper amount of corn.

Twentieth Century Fox studio mogul Darryl F. Zanuck loaded this 106 minute epic with contract talent that graced all the blockbuster Fox films. John Carradine solidified his credentials as an evil incarnate with his portrayal of the treacherous Bob Ford who later shoots Jesse in the back. Carradine later became one of America's foremost horror actors. He resembles Satan. Ironically, Charles Middleton, who played 'Ming the Merciless' in the "Flash Gordon" serials, has a walk-on as a kindly country sawbones. Durable Randolph Scott who plays a sheriff that warns Jesse that when they meet again, they'll be blazing away at each other with their pistols. Ironically, Scott never brandishes his six-gun. "High Sierra" character actor Henry Hull steals every scene that he has as cantankerous old newspaper publisher Major Rufus Cobb. Hull is hilarious when he launches into a tirade against some perceived evil and dictates an editorial to his typesetter. At one point, the Major blames lawyers for corrupting mankind. "If we are ever going to have law and order in the West, the first thing we gotta do is take out all the lawyers and shoot'em down like dogs!" Priceless moments like these relieve "Jesse James" of the oppressive gloom and doom that hovers over the protagonist's head.

"Jesse James" takes place in post-Civil War America during the railroad building boom. Anybody that has seen any of the other movies about Jesse James knows he rode with renegade Confederate Colonel William Quantrill and his raiders. The first time we see Jesse (Tyrone Power of "In Old Chicago"); he is unarmed, clearing underbrush with a scythe. Barshee (Bryan Donlevy of "Destry") and a group of railroad troubleshooters descend on poor, defenseless homeowners and coerce them into selling their acreage for one to two dollars an acre. They warn those refusing to sell that the government will simply condemn their land and then confiscate it for nothing. Barshee's strategy fails him when he ventures onto the homestead of Mrs. Samuels (Jane Darnell of "The Grapes of Wrath"), the mother of Jesse and Frank James. Frank and Barshee brawl. When Frank isn't watching the 'tricky' Barshee, the railroad man seizes a scythe to slash him, but Jesse wounds him in the hand.

Barshee and his bunch skedaddle back to town and convince the sheriff to deputize them. Barshee and company ride out after Jesse. Meanwhile, Jesse lights out after he has called a meeting with his fellow landowners to plot strategy against the railroad. In a sense, Jesse emerges briefly as an agitator against the forces of big business. Things worsen when Barshee returns to the James farm and hurls a bomb into the James house. Mrs. Samuels dies. Jesse and his brother Frank assemble a gang and terrorize the St. Louis Midland Railroad. The president McCoy (tyke-sized Donald Meek) who wants to see Jesse hang for his harassing his railroad and passengers will stop at nothing. Jesse and his gang rob the Midland train and the passengers. At the same, time Zerelda Cobb (Oscar nominated Nancy Kelly of "The Bad Seed") marries Jesse while they are on the lam in a church by a reverend who had to give up working a real job to preach after Barshee's men legally stole his homestead.

This Twentieth Century Fox tent pole epic sanitizes the train robber's image. Matinée idol Tyrone Power was Fox's answer to Warner Brothers' Errol Flynn. Indeed, Power is a far cry from the psychotic Jesse James that Robert Duvall played in "The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid." Nevertheless, by 1939 standards of 1939, "Jesse James" constituted a terrific shoot'em up. King stages a dramatic showdown in a bar between Jesse and Barshee. King handles the complicated Northfield, Minnesota, raid with verve, especially when the James boys crash their horses through a storefront window to escape a withering fusillade from townspeople that had been laying in wait for their arrival. The on-location shooting bolsters authenticity. Watch the scene where Jesse charges hell-bent-for-leather between the railroad tracks and the horse misses a step between the cross-ties but quickly recovers. Our protagonists escape the Northfield posse in classic "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" fashion when they plunge their horses off a cliff into a river and swim to safety. The turning point occurs when Zee has her baby son but Jesse isn't around to watch her give birth. Zee demands that Major Cole take her back to Liberty.

Johnson does a superb job of foreshadowing events in "Jesse James." Zee realizes not long after Jesse turns outlaw that his life will be cursed and their relationship breaks down because Jesse worries so much about the law that he spends more time away from Zee than with her. The greatest example of foreshadowing occurs near the end when Jesse hastens outside to his son's side during a pretend game of outlaws where Jesse, Jr., (John Russell) impersonates his dad‚??unbeknownst to everybody that Mr. Howard is really Jesse‚??and we know that Jesse's death is imminent. The children shoot Jesse, Jr., with their wooden guns and he dies before his stunned father who decides to hang up his gun and take his family to California where they will live as law-abiding citizens. Ultimately, King and Johnson concede in the last scene that Jesse James was an 'outlaw, bandit, and criminal.'
½ May 19, 2010
2.5: Old Hollywood was pretty funny. No historical fact was so sacred that it couldn't be polished into a fine fiction so as to make the protagonist the perfect hero. Murdering outlaws were made into virtuous avengers of the people, gay composers were turned straight, etc, etc. Of course this isn't just a foible of Hollywood, but one of history as well. I doubt Robin Hood was perfect either. The ancient Romans and Greeks seemed to have a more realistic perspective though. I'd never really thought of the James gang as being an offshoot of the Confederacy, but I can sort of see it here. Henry Fonda doesn't have a whole lot to do here, but on can definitely see what's coming down the road. It's an acceptable role for Tyrone Power, but it isn't what he excelled at. Their story is turned into yet another standard genre picture, whereas the more recent incarnation is most anything but. It's mostly entertaining as a historical curiosity, and as yet another one of the film versions of the James story. In other words, it isn't the best western, but it's worth seeing for fans of the genre, if for nothing else but that one can compare to other more worthy pictures. John Carradine is something else though. Unforgettable in everything he's in. Skinny guys are always evil, as are short fat men.
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