Movie Review: Jesse James (1939)

Jesse James (1939)

3 out of 5 stars

One of the few color films I’ve watched since returning to the Turner Classic Movies channel.  This airing happened to be a premeire for the TCM channel, the first time they’d ever shown the film.    Released the same year as The Wizard of Oz, by a still young 20th Century Fox, Jesse James starred then leading man Tyrone Power as Jesse and Henry Fonda as his brother, Frank James.  Jesse’s love interest, played by Nancy Kelly, garnered more screen time than Henry Fonda, though.

Filmed in Missouri, but not in the James boys’ home town of Kearney, which is just on the other side of North Kansas City from where I live on the Kansas side of the metro area.  Even in the 1930s, Kearney proved to be too modern for the production, so they decided to use Pineville, in the southwestern corner of the state, near the Oklahoma and Arkansas borders.  Ah, Missouri, the only state that borders eight other states.

The treatment of the horses during this film appalled me.  I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who became outraged.  Apparently, this film proved the straw that broke the camels back: “The film gained a measure of notoriety, however, for a scene in which a horse falls to its death down a rocky slope toward the end of the film. This scene was one of many cited by the American Humane Association against Hollywood’s abuse of animals, and led to the association’s monitoring of filmmaking.” (Animal Cruelty, Jesse James Wikipedia article)

Not the best western I’ve ever watched, but not the worst either.  Fun to see so many big name actors early in their careers.  I can officially say I’ve seen a movie starring Randolph Scott now.

And that just reminded me of endless hours on summer vacation in an old van driving across the desert southwest.  My mom would pop in an eight track tape of one of her favorite bands, The Statler Brothers, and I’d here songs like this one called “Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott?”