Friday, May 24, 2013

Jesse James (1939)


“I ain't aimin' to do nuthin'. I'm doin' it. I'm holdin' up this train.”
 “The whole train?”

            Jesse James is a character from American history that has turned into a myth. I have not ever really researched the man but just from the films that have been made over the decades about him it is obvious that America has mythologized this Midwestern outlaw hero. Twentieth Century Fox took a turn at portraying the outlaw starring Tyrone Power as the titular character, Henry Fonda as his brother, and Randolph Scott as the friendly US Marshal.
            A railroad company has sent men out to buy land from families so they can build their new rail line through them. The men that have been sent out are bullies they tell the people they want land from that if they do not buy the land from them they will get the sheriff to settle the matter and just take the land away without payment. They get to the home of Jesse and Frank James. The one man Marsh begins to bully the mother. Her sons are not taking any of his bullying especially against their mother. Frank starts to fight Marsh, Marsh goes to grab a scythe. Jesse shoots Marsh in the hand before he can hurt Frank. Marsh is furious and rides away into town with his posse. He has the sheriff of the town swear him in as a deputy so he can go and arrest the brothers. Frank and Jesse have fled leaving their mother alone in the house. Marsh comes back looking to bomb the brothers to come out of their home. He sees the mother moving around inside. Thinking the movement is coming from Jesse and Frank he throws the bomb. The poor mother dies.
            Jesse and Frank hear of their mother’s death. They find Marsh in a saloon and Jesse shoots him dead. No one is upset with the shooting except for the rail line. To get back at the rail company even more the brothers and a posse begin robbing trains on the line. US Marshal Will Wright has been assigned to find the James brothers. Jesse likes a woman named Zee. Her uncle is the town’s newspaper editor and one of his supporters. He goes to see Zee one night. Will comes over. They pretend not to realize who the other is. When Will leaves he waits outside to see if Jesse will do something. When he does not Will leaves him and Zee alone.
            Jesse and Zee eventually get married. She begs Jesse to turn himself in since Will has gained a pardon from the governor. He does turn himself in but the head of the railroad wants a full trial and Jesse hanged and gets his way when he has Jesse arrested. Frank has a letter sent to the jail that if his brother is not released by midnight he is coming to get him. An old man in the jail tells the head of the railroad that he has known Frank since he was young and that Frank means what he says. Frank gets himself caught. The two men that bring him in are friends of his that were sworn in as deputies that day by Will. The brothers pretty much walk out of the prison.
            Jesse and Zee live out in a cabin in the woods. He is barely home anymore he is always out robbing trains and banks. She gets very upset at her husband when he is not there for the birth of their son. Zee realizes that Jesse will always be an outlaw they will always be on the run and afraid. She does not want to live like that anymore she wants her uncle to take her back to town. When Jesse comes home his wife and child are gone. His servant Pinky tells him that it is better that he does not come back Zee could be happy. Jesse does not want his son to know about him.
            Years later Jesse is a wreck. He is making his men take riskier chances they do not want to take. He plans on robbing a bank in a small town during the day. The men have talked and they do not want to do the job. Jesse is furious with them. Frank has a talk with his brother about what he is doing to his men making them chances that could get them killed. The job winds up going wrong and some of the men are caught.
            Jesse somehow returns to his old home. He crawls up to his bedroom. Zee comes in to take care of him. She brings their son upstairs. Jesse swears he is done with what he is doing. He does not want to be on the run anymore. The Ford brothers from the posse have become double crossers. They go to see Jesse saying that Frank wants to see him in the hills for one more job. Jesse is tempted but he has promised Zee they would go to California to start a new life. The brothers leave but Bob Ford sneaks back into the house and shoots Jesse in the back killing him.

            I am not a huge fan of Tyrone Power but he was excellent in this film. I am so used to seeing him as sweet romantic good guy characters. It was nice to see him roughed up a bit and being bad guy. Henry Fonda was not in the film very much. I think out the entire 106 minute run he was in it for probably a combined twenty minutes if that. He was good though Fonda was just good in anything he was cast in. Randolph Scott I love more and more with each film I see him in. He always played a nice gentleman with this perfect tough side that was totally believable. The actress who played Zee was horrible. I hated seeing her in scenes and could not stand when she opened her mouth. The studio could have gotten someone ten times better for the role.
            Jesse James was a good film. There were some scenes that dragged but for the most part the story moved along nicely.