Jesse James (1939)

29 03 2009

Fairly enjoyable intentionally light Hollywood mush. Great performances all around, including a nice supporting role from Randolph Scott, who is nothing at all like the man he would be in Boetticher’s pictures, let alone the man in Allan Dwan’s wonderful Frontier Marshal. Henry Fonda gives a pretty atypical performance as well; The only case I can think of in which his presence doesn’t demand the complete attention of the audience. This is mostly because he’s playing alongside the film’s “real star” Tyrone Power who seems somewhat lost amidst the rest of talent on display here.

Power’s performance isn’t given any help from the rather predictable script. Here, Jesse James is a innocent Robin Hood-esque hero to the local farmers. He only begins robbing trains once railroad agents inadvertently kill his mother. Eventually, he descends into the madness that I’m sure more people are familiar with. Towards the end, he receives a chance at redemption and a promising small town family life, but he loses it in the final act when he is assassinated. It’s a pretty unremarkable and straight-forward narrative, but I’d argue that it shouldn’t be anything else. It’s well-executed escapist entertainment, nothing more and certainly nothing less.

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