Synopsis by Hal Erickson
The real Frank and Jesse James were murderous thugs, light years away from the Robin Hood image imposed on them by revisionist dime novelists. But in 1939, 20th Century-Fox wasn't about to build an expensive Technicolor feature around the exploits of a couple of low-lives, thus Jesse James upholds the mythos, offering us the standard whitewashed version of the James boys. According to Nunally Johnson's irresistibly entertaining screenplay, Jesse (Tyrone Power) and Frank (Henry Fonda) become train and bank robbers to avenge the death of their mother (Jane Darwell), killed at the behest of greedy railroad interests. Once he feels his work is done, Jesse settles down to a life of marital domesticity--only to be shot in the back by cowardly Bob Ford (John Carradine). Frank James is left alive at film's end, paving the way for the 1941 sequel The Return of Frank James. Director Henry King stages the action sequences in glorious outsized fashion, notably the famous bank-robbery scene in which Jesse rides his horse through a plate glass window. The scenes involving both James brothers are stolen hands-down by Henry Fonda, not so much because he was a better actor than Tyrone Power but because his character had all the best lines. Jesse James was filmed largely on location in Missouri, resulting in crowd-control nightmares for the picture's beleaguered assistant directors.
outlaw [Western], revenge, gunfighter, death-in-family, fame, family, infamy, legend [fable], mother, railroad, reporter, westward-expansion, Wild-West, bank-robbery, loot, gangster