Tyrone Power was the second-ranked box-office star in America in 1939, and Henry King’s Jesse James was one of the smash hits that put him there. A fictionalized biography of the famous outlaw, the movie nevertheless provides plentiful entertainment value with the expected holdups and chases but also providing romance and even comedy. It might not be true to the real story, but it’s a bracing entertainment just the same.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 1.0 DTS-HDMA (Mono), English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 1.0 DD (Mono), French 5.1 DTS
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Dutch
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 46 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 12/03/2013
Jesse (Tyrone Power) and Frank (Henry Fonda) James go after the St. Louis Midland Raildraod after their unscrupulous agents led by Barshee (Brian Donlevy) are inadvertently responsible for the death of their mother (Jane Darwell). The boys and their gang begin a series of train robberies to weaken the railroad to make people think twice about using their service and to sue the company for lost valuables. McCoy (Donald Meek), the president of the company, tries a ruse to capture Jesse by offering the deal of a minimal sentence through district marshal Will Wright (Randolph Scott), but when his treachery is unmasked, Frank rescues Jesse and all out war is declared. Jesse’s wife Zee (Nancy Kelly) tries to struggle along with his lawless ways, but when she has a baby, she realizes the nomadic existence is not right for their child, and she goes back to her original home as Jesse and his gang become more and more ruthless.
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
Nunnally Johnson’s screenplay whitewashes Jesse’s notorious reputation for brutality (there is one scene where Jesse is shown callous and brutal, but he quickly apologizes after some words from Frank), and he gains audience sympathy for the James boys from the start with the cold-hearted, unfair treatment handed to the homesteaders by the railroads. Henry King directs the picture with a wonderful pace, but only two actual jobs are shown: Jesse’s first and last raids. The first, a train heist captured at dusk with Jesse running along the tops of railroad cars before stopping the train, is beautifully staged and shot. Equally good is the notorious Northfield, Minnesota, bank job mounted as a trap for the gang as they’re ambushed by the entire town. The love story between Jesse and Zee with Will Wright on the sidelines pining for Zee allows breathing room between the various raids and traps, and the chic use of wanted posters with ever-increasing amounts of reward money offered for Jesse’s capture allow us to follow his growing notoriety. Jesse James’ story has been told in quite a few films, many of them more accurate than this one, but the star power and great supporting cast make this one among the most entertaining.
Tyrone Power’s screen charisma is in full blaze in this role even if he’s more matinee idol (with mustaches he keeps growing and shaving off) than bank bandit. Henry Fonda’s low key approach to older brother Frank James is a nice counterpoint to Power’s more effusive emoting. Nancy Kelly makes a lovely Zee and has some excellent dramatic moments as she realizes the dead end existence she’s living. Randolph Scott is simple and sturdy as the faithful Will Wright. Henry Hull has a hilarious running gag as Horace Greeley-like newspaper editor Rufus Cobb barking out editorials at the drop of a hat while Brian Donlevy and Donald Meek earn audience scorn as the antagonists for the brothers. John Carradine enters screen history as Robert Ford, Jesse’s cowardly attacker, and J. Edward Bromberg as the detective who sets up the Northfield ambush is likewise effective in his role.
The film is presented at 1.33:1 with a transfer boasting 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Once again, the lack of true three-strip Technicolor elements leaves the viewer with but a pale, ineffectual shadow of what was once a striking color work, and color values are all over the place with some shots nicely hued and strong but most seeming washed out and lacking texture. Sharpness is all one could want, but black levels are once again seriously compromised. The image is thankfully free of any age-related artifacts. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
Video Rating: 3/5 3D Rating: NA
The disc offers both 1.0 and 5.1 sound mixes in DTS-HD Master Audio. The surround mix offers a nice spread to Louis Silvers’ rather minimal music score but otherwise is basically a mono mix. The 1.0 mix offers what moviegoers heard during the era with clear dialogue never compromised by the music or sound effects. Hiss and other artifacts have been removed and pose no distraction to the aural experience.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Movietone News: Jesse James at the Roxy (0:33, SD): a very brief publicity moment at a premiere of the film at another theater stressing how crowds were lining up at the Roxy in New York.
Special Features Rating: 2/5
Movietone News: Hollywood Spotlight (1:26, HD): Ed Sullivan presents the crowns to 1939’s King and Queen of the Movies: Tyrone Power and Jeanette MacDonald.
Theatrical Trailer (2:14, SD)
Jesse James offers topnotch entertainment, but don’t expect any accurate biography of the outlaw’s life. This shows the Hollywood movie machine working at full tilt in an action-packed, audience-satisfying way. Too bad the remaining film elements at Fox’s disposal can’t truly represent what audiences in 1939 were able to see and enjoy.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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