Screening #4: Jesse James (1939)


The ordinary farmer boys Jesse and Frank James turn into the country’s most notorious outlaws when ruthless railroad agents try to take away their property.

Based on real life characters, the James brothers became one of Hollywood’s idealized and  glorified symbols for righteous people that were forced to get on the wrong side of the law.

Jesse James was directed by Henry King (“David and Batsheba”, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” a.o.). A very handsome Tyrone Power can be seen in the role of  the main character. He is supported by legendary character actor Henry Fonda as the older brother Frank, western star Randolph Scott as Marshall Will Wright, and horror legend John Carradine as Bob Ford.  Over the years this story was adapted many times for the big screen, and although recent portrayals have become more and more realistic, from this film on it stayed to be a Hollywood tradition to use some of their coolest and best looking guys for this part:

Roy Rogers (“Jesse James at Bay”, 1941), Audie Murphy (who actually played Jesse twice in “Kansas Riders”, 1950, and  “A Time For Dying”, 1969!), Robert Wagner (“The True Story of Jesse James”, 1957), Ray Stricklyn (“Young Jesse James”, 1960), James Keach (“The Long Riders“, 1980), Kris Kristofferson (“The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James”, 1986), Rob Lowe (“Frank and Jesse”, 1994), Colin Farrell (“American Outlaws“, 2001), and eventually Brad Pitt (“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford“, 2007).

However, despite these idealizations of the American outlaw in film, Jesse and Frank James were tough gangsters who were merely caring for themselves and their families than others who were in need. So, what do you think was the reason for such a positive portrayal?



28 thoughts on “Screening #4: Jesse James (1939)

  1. So, I think Jesse James shares a similar theme with Angels With Dirty Faces- that of the questionable line between what is good and what is evil, and that people are inherently neither completely bad nor completely good. This film portrays Jesse James as a Robin Hood type of character. He turned to bad deeds to protect the community from injustice, in this case, a predatory railroad company that seized land from people in a very dishonest way (thus, the term “railroaded.”) Thus began Jesse James’ life of murder and burglary. Yet, as with the tendency of Westerns, the outlaw is seen as someone who is heroic, who will fight against an oppressive and unfair authority that takes advantage of people. But, he did it for the community, right? Whereas I can sympathize with Rocky from “Angels,” who had been entrapped into the criminal system as a child because he did what many children in the Depression Era were forced to do (stealing to eat, etc), I cannot find any sympathy for Jesse James. It may have to do with my historical knowledge of the real Jesse James and that era.

    There actually were a lot of people who saw the real Jesse James as a hero. These people were called Confederates.

    I’m surprised that the film makes no reference to the Civil War at all. The Civil War was the root of all the conflict in Missouri during that time. He was not a hero of injustice as portrayed in this film.

    Jesse James’ gang were actually a bunch of Confederate guerrillas that took advantage of the fact that Missouri was a chaotic mess at the time. His gang was fervently pro slavery and anti-union. They killed abolitionists and massacred Unionists, both civilian and military alike.

    So that is my gripe about the film. Oh, and let us not forget that horses were harmed in this film. And some guy was trampled. He was okay, though. The horse, however, was not. As a result, the movie industry made changes in its handling of animals.

    The shoot out scenes were fun to watch, and there were some interesting shots, from a cinematic point of view.

    Would I watch this film again? Meh, probably not.


    1. I feel kinda bad… I might have been too harsh. I hope what I said doesn’t ruin it for people who enjoyed it. The thing about Westerns is that there is an American mythology around them. Umm, to say some good things, the acting was good! And yay, Technicolor!

      Also, I loved the train scene.


  2. Can none of these movies end on a good note? Out of four movies we’ve watched so far only one provided that escapist ending that Golden Era movies were known for. I understand ‘Gold Diggers’ ending as commentary on post-war America and Rocky died in ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’ because he never stopped doing wrong, but after Jessie made what the movie told us was the right choice he still got shot down. It seemed unnecessary. It could be argued that past wrongs came back to haunt him, but it really just seemed like a sad ending for the sake of a sad ending.
    I liked the first half of the film, but then it kept going. After his brother broke Jessie out of prison I was ready for one final showdown of the town vs. the railroad company and have it end there. It was cleaver and entertaining to watch the town’s closeness and hatred of the railroad that had built up over the movie turn the tables on the company, but a story of Jessie turning bad, his wife leaving him, and getting betrayal by one of his men was incredibly dull and over dramatic.


  3. Hmm, for some reason, this film is the one we’ve watched so far that has left the least impression on me. But hey, first color film. But anyways, hmm, Jesse James. A story of a normal farm boy who becomes a badass bandit. (His brother too. When they say they’re going to do something, they mean it.) This film is probably the most “believable/realistic” feeling film we’ve seen so far in my opinion (yeah, I know it was based off real events and people but still.) Comparing Jesse James to Rocky from our previously viewed film, they both do bad however Jesse seems to be doing it for the people while Rocky does it for personal gain. As usual with bad guy characters during this period of time’s films, they die in the end. However, Jesse James is different compared to Rocky. Jesse died a hero to many. While the true events it was based off are reflected in the film when Jesse is betrayed and killed, I feel bad about it. He changed his ways and was off to start over again with his family who he never really spends time with, his son mostly. Greed is a strong force.
    Here’s some random points I want to say for no particular reason:
    – American logic: Government can do whatever, including blowing up your mom because you don’t agree with them
    – Newspaper editorial guy is funny. Those repetitive lines, mm.
    – His wife’s weird logic: let’s name our kid after a famous bandit so he can get picked on
    – Let’s shoot the air while we escape to let everyone know we’re here
    – Horses
    – Pinkie is best character. Seriously, I mean it.


  4. This film had a lot of relatable and charming characters, such as the newspaper editor, who added a light-hearted touch to a rather solemn storyline. As was with Angels with Dirty Faces, the overall message of Jesse James seems to be that villains have their own beliefs and causes for action, and should therefore not be judged superficially. In this movie, however, the villains Jesse and Frank seemed more romanticized than the characters of previous movies – perhaps a common practice in western movies.

    Some of the acting was, well, old fashioned, such as the quirky fight scene between the James brothers and the Unionists in the beginning that began the whole feud. Also, it was impressive that there were so many horses following the two escaping brothers considering there was no CGI back then – that must have been difficult to manage and film. I am not a huge fan of animals, but nonetheless I was taken aback and admit that I was slightly worried when I saw the scene with the horses diving? falling off the cliff and into the scene. There is no way that could be done in a film today, which gives this and other older films a refreshing touch.

    All in all, it was a lot smoother story wise compared to the previous gangster film.


  5. For all of these films/blogs I always want to start out with “This film is a classic”. Of course they are, that’s why we’re watching them. But really, “Jesse James” is a classic. It is also pretty hardcore and refreshing. Hardcore because the action shots are really extreme, and apparently the horses actually died. Refreshing because the James brothers are the opitome of the “bad boys”, the robbers, and their devices and techniques are neat. Although this could largely be attributed to the year and time in film history that it was made, the plot does not have unneccessary twists or over-complicated explanations. Jesse is in jail and Frank simply gets his buds to pull out guns on the other men. It takes about 2 minutes and then they are free. I think that’s awesome and bold for a director to understand when to please the viewer with what they probably want for the characters, and when to have their characters fall against all hopes of them getting away (i.e. Jesse’s death). Henry King is poignant and his characters are too, I believe that is the reason this film succeeds the most.

    While I was watching this film I was thinking of another, “Drive” directed by Nicolas Winding Refn with Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan. It made me think right away that without “Jesse James” there would be no “Drive” or other really important films throughout history. In a sense, King established the hero who is ruined by his own hubris (and of course he wasn’t the only/first one). Basically, there are many aspects that you could pick at in this film. Yes, Pinky’s character is problematic, Zee and Mrs. James often embodied the “damsel in distress”, but without these characters and their exxaggerations, Jesse and Frank would not stand out like they are meant to. I think it’s important to understand when you should critique a film concerning gender, race, etc., and when you should accept the constructs and take it for what it is. “Jesse James” provokes you, makes you want to throw caution to the wind and do whatever the hell you want.


  6. The first time I heard about Jesse James was in 2007 when “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” with Brad Pitt came out to big screens. That film provoked curiosity in me, so I checked the Internet, and read the story of an outlaw Jesse James who was betrayed by his fellow gang-member.

    I have never seen Jesse James of 1939 before out class, because interested more in Spaghetti-Westerns due to their realistic/dirty atmosphere. However, as a folk-tale about America’s famous outlaw – the picture looks very good and full of great scenes. Jesse’s character is evolving from the beginning to the end, and it is very interesting to see the conflict within him (family life/wife tears him apart), and to see how relatively good intentions (revenge for his mother’s death) become habits or inertia.

    The picture contained some great suspenseful scenes – like awaiting of Jesse’s brother to get him out of jail – and some shockingly “risky” scenes – like with falling from the cliff horses. Besides that, the poeticizing degree of criminals in this film is very high, but was not banned by censorship, and approved by the audience.

    The reason for that may be found in social/economical/historical context of America during the 30’s, as film is a reflection of a time it was made in. Industrialization, moral changes, and echo of Civil War made this movie to be as it is – for me, it is a rebel against Gilded Age (as Mark Twain called it), where people’s morality is faded away with money, greed, and new technologies.


  7. I personally like to watch western films because I can learn american cultural background from those films. When I watched this film, it actually reminds me a film called “There will be blood” directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (2007).
    The theme of film was very simple and easy to understand, but the plot was unexpected, especially the ending. I have never thought Jesse would die in the end, I wished it ended happily. Anyways, from cinematographic point of view, this film was very sophisticated and developed for this era. First of all, the film has color!! In order to depict the magnificent landscape of western field and desert beautifully, the color was very important. Additionally, the director uses the black and white as motif in this film. To represent the good and evil, he uses this contrast. So, Jesse tends to be seen as black, while Zee is seen as white.
    Secondly, I felt there were lots of elements of realism. For instance, in the opening scene, where Jesse and his brother, Frank fights with the railroad representatives, the director showed their fighting in detail. By using close-ups of the actors face, the audience would know their reaction, and also they would feel like seeing actual fighting. On top of that, the use of natural light for the key lights definitely gives more realistic atmosphere to the film. Also, the long shot well matched with the nature of the wide screen.
    Lastly, I strongly felt that this film well reflected the social and cultural situation of 30’s america. For instance, the conversation with Pinky, and going to church and having wedding at church would really tells us what was their culture like at the moment. I think the director wanted to tell their life struggle such as power, money, and fear of modernization through the film. One thing made me kind of surprised was there were some kiss scenes in it, although there were production code. I assumed King still tried to put some element of love into the film to make it natural and real as possible.


  8. Although I haven’t seen many Western films, I’m not interested in Wester films. “Jesse James” also was not my favorite. The reasons why I could not enjoy it so well were too many lines in each conversation and less music through the film. The long conversations made me feel tired even if it is Japanese language. I think music was unnecessary for “Jesse James” because this film was kind of historical drama film, however, if there were more BGM in the film, it would be more enjoyable fo me. 
    What I liked in the film was scenes of robbery in the trains. The action scene was well done for this time period. Stunts and shooting scenes were powerful. And not only action scenes, there were also romance and history of capitalism. All these scenes were covered well. 
    However, the last scene was really shocking for me. Even though the life of Jesse James and how he was died were known, the ending from his assassination was a little bit short.  


  9. I really like this film. Actually I have seen some western movies before, but I think “Jesse James” is a representative work of American western movie in a real sense. The reason is because we would see a lot of scenes that represent “Western” in this film.
    For instance, in the beginning of this film, we see the scene where Jesse fights a gun battle with other guys in front of his house. Also, there are more scenes of gunfight in this film. I like the scene where characters engage in a gun battle as they are riding a horse because I think that is what western movie is. A combination of gunfight and a cowboy truly represents “Western.”
    We also see gangster rob train in this film. I think that is also symbolizing western film.
    Another example that symbolizes “Western” is shooting location itself. A huge farm, a vast empty desert, and a small town simply represent western film.
    I also like the music in this film. The music is very different from the films I have seen in the class. The music in this film is obviously like “Western.” I think the background music is really matching with each scene.
    Also, since the movie industry has been developed, this film is in a color, and the plot is a more modern example of film. Therefore, it is very easy to see and understand the story.
    I really like every scene, the music, and the plot of this film.


  10. Jesse James (1939) was an interesting look into west film. This was the first color movie we watched in the class which I enjoyed. I have only seen a few western films and was never into them as a child but after watching this film I might give the western genre a chance again. It was interesting watching this film after watching____ because both of the main characters are anti-heroes however, Jesse James is supposed to be liked by the audience while____ should not.

    Another thing that caught my attention about this film is the character “Pinky”. Pinky was a black helper or slave that was portrayed as dumb and rode a mule named “Stinky” without a saddle. Even the name “Pinky” means dumb which dehumanizes the character. I find it very interesting how both film and animation at that time added in the dumb black character just because. Today, its really funny to watch both the edited/unedited versions of many shows and see how they try to edit out racial stereotypes of minorities.

    The scenes with the horses were also insane as well. The fact that they killed horses to get the shot they wanted is so wrong in today’s standards. However, back then it was a different time so I cant blame them (its not like they had CGI back then). Also, the movie the Hobbit, had a lot of horses die as well so I guess the practice still goes on.

    All in all I liked this film and liked how Jesse Jame’s wife was a strong female lead for that time. I think we can all agree that the actor for Jesse James was some nice eye candy as well. I am however looking forward to seeing more manly dirty cowboys!


  11. As the first color movie in this class screening, I really enjoyed this film. It might be because this is the first color movie we have watched, the color looks very beautiful and nuanced? (maybe Im using different word) for me, and I thought the color tone from Jesse James is kinda difficult to imitate now even we can use a lot of effects, technology, and technology. The unusual and nuanced color images are only from the era, I think. I am not sure if there was a colorist for movie in this era though.

    I like the story as well, but as someone mentioned I was wondering why it does not connect with some issues from the civil war. I was expected this film would be related to the civil war.
    Also, Jesse looks like exactly like Robin Foot and 五右衛門 (Goemon) too. Goemon is a master thief in japan around 16 centuries. He always tried to steal money from only rich guys who have power so Goemon was like a hero of people. This film evoked me the image of Goemon so much.

    Plus, this is not only as a enjoyable film but also a film that can tell people what is actually like in 1930’s america through this film. There were many cultural and more realistic scenes that tells well about their actual life-style. It might include some designs that shows the director’s idea like people’s conflicts toward their life and future. maybe?


  12. I haven’t ever watched many Western Films, and also I did not enjoy this movie. I actually enjoyed the beginning of the movie a little bit, but I did not like the ending. I think that theme of this movie is a same as Angeles With Dirty Faces since both movies try to represent what is a good or a bad. However, the ending was different, and to me, the ending of Angeles With Dirty Faces was much more clear and understandable. What I felt seeing this movie is that “Oh, this is really American movie.” To me every components of this film is really AMERICA! Like what we discussed in the class, this movie helps me to know how Jesse James was outlaw. In the beginning, the story passes really quickly, so I really enjoyed watching. In contrast, the ending was not clear, and I was surprised that Jesse James died. One more thing I realized was action scenes of Western Film were surprising. I thought that these scene were incredible, but I did not like the scene that the horses are died…


  13. I have to say that I personally did not really enjoy watching this film, “Jesse James.” I think it was because I am not a big fan of western movie, and did not like some scenes especially the ending scene and also the scene that horses fell off from the cliff. The first part of it had good plot and the tempo was enjoyable; however, as the movie went to the end, I got a bit bored. Since I did not know who “Jesse James” was until I watched this movie, I did not get his character so well at the beginning.
    However, I found the improvement in many points compared to the other films we have watched in this class. The first big difference was the color. Since it was the first color movie we had in this class, I enjoyed the color and it was pretty good at the time. Also the acting became a lot better and similar to the modern actors. In the previous movies we watched, they overacted and it was unnatural. The action/ stunts scenes were described in some scenes and it made the scenes had the reality. The surprising scene was the scene that a horse jumped into the sea from the cliff. When I was watching the movie, I really curious how they filmed it, but did not think that the horses actually died. This can not happen in modern movie, and I was a bit upset and did not like this fact.


  14. The most memorable scene in this film is that Jesse James rides on a horse and fell into the sea. I did not expect that they fell into the sea, and it was so beautiful and astonishing scene. I thought that they did not actually dived into the sea and used CG techniques. However, they really dived into the sea, and the horse died after shooting it. It is arguable that the horse has died for shooting film. However, I think that it was the most memorable scene in this film.
    One of the prominent points of the film named “Jesse James” is color. It is the first colored film even though all films which we ever watched in this class before were black and white. The color indicates the important progress in the film industry, and I felt modernization. One more element which indicates the modernization is the content of this film. This story begins with the problem about an unfair contract of railroad, and it becomes the main element of this story. In this story, the representatives of Railroad Company visit citizens to buy land for extremely cheap price, and they visit James’ farm as well. The development of railroad is the symbol for the modernization at that time, so it is one of the important points for this film.


  15. Jesses James is the main character in this film. When I see the beginning part of this film, I see federal government treats those illiterate farmers unfairly. They use their power forcing those farmers to sign up the contracts that they can’t even read it and don’t agree with it. This is how federal government treats their farmers back in that period. So when I see Jesse James stands up and against Barshee, a railroad representative, I am totally on Jesse James’s side. I am just feeling that Mrs Samuels has such two great sons who will protect their mother from Barshee’s force. However, due to rude and arbitrary railroad representative, Jesse and Frank lose their mother forever. This is the turning point of why he becomes an outlaw.
    This movie is similar as Angle with Dirty Face. People who practices anti-social part will be killed eventually. Even though Jesses James is done with robbing and decides to have a peaceful live with his wife, he doesn’t deserve it. Although I am hoping he can have a brand new life with his wife and his son at the end of the movie, the thing just doesn’t turn out right.
    Compare American film’s gangster with Japanese film’s gangster, most gangsters in American film will died due to different unexpected reasons. On the other hand, Japanese gangsters will left their be-love behind and drift from one place to another.


  16. In all honesty, I have put off writing a response to this movie screening because it was my least favorite in this class to date. I was never into Westerns, and this film seemed to further justify my distaste for them.
    Technically speaking, the film is pretty impressive for its time. Effects are good, camera work is also very well done. The composition of the shots are strong. The beginning fight scene is a bit weak, but it has come far from earlier decades’ fight scenes, and will progress rapidly with stunt doubles, CGI, and so forth.
    The characters, however, were quite unimpressive. The female character was so unrealistic and weak, I am shocked to hear that she was considered a ‘strong’ female for Westerns at the time. Her character was flat and her world revolved around Jesse James to the point she hoped her baby would die. She also married a man who she knew to be a criminal without a second thought. Overall, the film portrayed women as weak, dependent creatures who waited for their husbands and reared their children. The only black man was then portrayed as a servant. On top of that, he seemed to be happy-even indebted- to those he served. The film portrayed him as an uneducated person with significantly lower status. Minorities, whether by gender or by ethnicity, were poorly represented in this film.
    I realise films reflect the time in which they are produced, but it does not change my disappointment.


  17. The film “Jesse James” was the first colored film in the class, and personally, I enjoyed the film. I don’t usually have the opportunity to watch a western film, so it was quite enjoyable including the story. But, I always don’t like how people like Jesse who fought for justice and killed and committed crimes, ended up dying at the end. This is how people who committed crimes should be end though. Usually, this kind of film like main character commit a crime is easy to understand the ending, but this film was difficult to expect. I believe most people couldn’t expect that Jesse fall off from the cliff and die.

    There was a one thing that I was sad about this film was how the filmmaker used horses in the film. In the film, horses had important role for action scenes, and the scene that running horses were quite impressive. But they were really shot and fell off from the high cliff. The scene was tough to watch, but I understand that in order to make the film realistic, and make the great impact to the audience, a sacrifice is needed.

    Overall, I enjoyed the film a lot as the western film genre.


  18. “Jesse James” is one of the western films that use Technicolor. Even though the film used the Technicolor, we can figure out that the film is classic. Technicolor seems great as development of film technology; however, the variety of color were not many as nowadays’, so we can figure out the differential. Frank, as known as Jesse James, is the hero of Western and he always goes right and justice. This film is also known as the early action movie, and there are many actions and gun shooting scenes. I was really surprised when I watched the scene of the explosion of Jesse’s house. The technique of shooting was great.
    I focus on the character, Zee. Zee, who is the wife of Jesse, kept waiting for Jesse though Jesse comes back randomly or never be able to come back home. During Jesse went away, Zee gave birth. She got son and named him Jesse. This emphasizes that Zee actually cannot stand for keeping waiting for Jesse. She, of course, misses Jesse, so she always felt fear of losing Jesse and nurturing their son by herself. Fortunately, Jesse came back home but got injured. When Jesse finally met his son, Jesse, he seems to be touched. This makes the ending more sorrowful. When Jesse decides to live his life with Zee and Jesse (son), he was shot by Bob and died. Zee cried out, and Jesse (son) seemed confused because he could not really understand the death of his father. This story line makes the audiences impressed, so this is good to see. I feel sorry for Zee who lost her lover even though she was waiting for him for a long time.
    I saw the western movie for the first time, but I personally dislike western movie because sometimes, it seems different from the truth.


  19. This movie is the first color movie which we’ve watched in the class. However, I did not feel this is very colorful film because the saturation is very neutral and little bit close to black and white, which works in this western story.
    Although Jesse, first, was a normal farmer boy; however, because of his mother’s death, his desire of revenge was stimulated and he turned into a violent person. This movie and “Angels with Dirty Faces” has a similar theme what is evil, what is good from different and ended up in kinda same direction. Both films ended up very simply, people who do bad use be punished, no matter why they did it. Jesse seems to murder and robber just for his revenge, more personal reasons; on the other hand, Rocky seems to do bad for supporting people who are in the same situation with him, such as young boy. Comparing to Rocky, Jesse is always upset and can not control himself and when he decided to carry on the bank robber, he seems to be in the sate of desperation. After all, he tried to cut all ties from criminal things, but unfortunately it was too late for him to be forgiven by the society, and even by himself. Therefore, movie decided the end that he is betrayed and murdered by a member in his own gang.
    There is one part which I can never like. The film portrayed African American slave, Piggy as a idiot, and “white people” can forgive him and be nice to him even though he is “stupid”; additionally Piggy seems happy to be slaved by them. I don’t like how the film tried to justify slavery at this time. I feel very uncomfortable and sad about the fact which the society tolerated slavery.


  20. Like Angels With Dirty Faces, Jesse James features a bad guy as the protagonist. Being outside of the law is sexy and stylish, so it’s the type of thing that people want to see out of a main character.

    What I think is interesting is that this movie works much harder to justify what Jesse does. The owner of the railroad is shown as being objectively evil, so it is very easy for the audience to hate him and want Jesse to steal from him. Even earlier, we see how awful the man coming around and strong-arming farmers into selling their land his. The audience wants Jesse to fight him and refuse to give up their land.

    I found this to be true to a disturbing degree with Jesse’s mother. Right from the beginning she was whiny and irritating, making her an unlikable character. More importantly, she was the only person holding back Jesse from becoming an outlaw.

    This created a twisted, perverse moment for the plot. Jesse’s mother dying would both unleash Jesse to do whatever he wants, and would also make him justified in whatever revenge he took. So, the film makers made her a totally insufferable character, so that no one batted an eye when she died. In fact, it made me feel happy, because I wouldn’t have to listen to her hold back the hero anymore. The mother was reduced to a plot device justifying Jesse’s violence, which is an interesting direction to take an outlaw movie.


  21. The story of the real Jesse James is one shrouded in mystery. It’s said that his wife Zee had spread false stories about him to make him sound more heroic. The film we watched focuses on this side of the story, as it makes Jesse James and his brother look like Robin Hoods of the Wild West.

    The story revolves around Jesse, who became an outlaw due to his life being ruined by a railroad company. Although he starts out as an ally of justice, he soon gains a taste for crime, and spirals downward. He meets an unfortunate end at the hand of one of his gang members.

    My favorite part of the movie was the relationship between Zee and Jesse. Their relationship starts out sweet and everlasting, but is strained, finally leading to a cruel departure. Although the acting of the main actress was fairly poor, the two characters obviously had love between them. Although they finally reunited, everything comes crumbling down. It pulled on my heartstrings.

    I think this film was vital to modern cinema due to a negative portion of it:The animal abuse. Due to one of the scenes, the American Humane Society was forced to put a closer eye on film production, as well as implement new regulations. Although it’s very sad that a horse had to die for this movie, it brought awareness to people, and lead to better treatment for animals.


  22. Jesse James was all-together a great film in my opinion.

    One relationship I found very interesting was that of Jesse and society. The cult of personality that we as Americans have built around Jesse James is so far removed from that of the actual person, but for some reason that doesn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. In my mind, Jesse James the fictional character is separated from Jesse James the racist, hedonistic outlaw.

    I found this Jesse’s relationship with the society of the film very interesting. Specifically, the fact that never did the public opinion cast him into the shadows the way they did the railroad. Despite being an outlaw, he perfectly embodied the sort of cowboy-esque ideal that Americans of the time held to be the most righteous station a man could attain. In a very Machiavellian way, Jesse James decides that whatever he does is righteous insofar as he is working to dismantle the railway industry and those who stand alongside it.

    The unwavering support of Jesse wanes slightly in that Zee ultimately decides to leave him. This choice, in my opinion was the best option on her part. However, I thought it was morally reprehensible for her not to tell her child about his father. I think that developing a relationship with your child with the foundations of a lie is a really unhealthy way to go about raising him.

    One thing that made me uncomfortable was the treatment of the character “pinky”. I though Pinky was portrayed in a very infantilizing way, and come on, he rode a MULE, not even a horse, and he didn’t even get a saddle, and his mule’s name was “Stinky”. I thought his portrayal was symbolic of the media portraying black men as ultimately inferior mentally, even if they are stronger physically, as a way to differentiate them from white men and perpetuate a power structure where white people justify their prejudicial treatment of black people.

    Also, the horse stunts made me really uncomfortable, as I’m sure everyone else has said.


  23. I did not like this movie. I thought the acting was bad and over the top. When the movie first began I did not feel this way but as the story went on and on my feelings changed. The more I saw, the more I did not like. To me, the reason he became an outlaw was kind of stupid. He got his revenge but after that I think greed took over. The woman that played the part of Jesse’s wife overacted the most in my opinion. In the scene when she had just given birth that was the most apparent. I also did not like the character Pinky. He was given a pet name and not a real name. Also, throughout the film they kept saying ‘pinky will get it’ ‘pinky will do it’ In the beginning I guess that was okay but as he got older it did not look good to have an old man do all of those things when they were much younger than him. It looked like some form of abuse. The ending of the movie seemed predictable to me because at first everything seemed to end to happily so I thought, “Ah, something bad is about to happen” and sure enough it did. The way everything was playing out I knew that he was about to die and that he would never make it to California.


  24. I just love the movie! It was the most fun among the ones whe watche sin this class so far. The story is envolving and all the characters have their roles in place. The camera work is also good and the dialect is quite clear and funny at the same time!


  25. I like westerns, and while this one might not be top of my list, I found myself enjoying it for some of its classic western tropes. For instance, the train hold-up was hands down (or should I say… hands ~up~?? Yeaaaaaaaaa!) my favorite scene of the film. The shot of Jesse making his way over the roof of the moving train was not only visually stunning (with him in center screen in silhouette, the sky purple behind him), it was also was just such a classic shot of the genre and impressive when you grasp that a stunt man really did have to perform the feat. Moving beyond this moment, the scene where Jesse’s gang casually and politely collects the cash from the train passengers, passing on jewelry and lightheartedly announcing “don’t forget to sue the railroads for everything you lost” was funny and kind of charming. It’s at a point in the film where Jesse and Frank seem more like vigilantes than actual outlaws- both of them having been totally screwed over by the railroad, with the Batman-like background of “the railroad killed my parents, and now we dole out justice” kind of thing.

    Speaking of the “the railroad killed my parents”, that mother death scene was hilariously ridiculous. I understand that the film needed to give these guys a push in the right (or legally “wrong”) direction here and killing their beloved mother was a classic way to do it, but…bomb through the window? Really? The railroad guy was that trigger happy when it came to chasing Jesse and Frank out that a flickering light was enough to tip him to murder? It was a bit of an extreme scenario. But then again, it’s an old action western so I should be okay with the extreme action scenes and just accept the flawed logic for part of the experience.

    One of the things that I never did get around to accepting though, was Zee’s relationship with Jesse. A little too much drama there to stuff into one film. One moment she’s making him swear to turn straight and marrying him if he will, the next he gets screwed over by the railroad owner (which sidenote, I love how “classic little bad guy” he was. Short and old and with a rather high voice and quick temper, I feel like this type of rich/power-wielding bad guy is a trope you can see often, and I smiled to see it in him. Another of my favorite scenes was the elaborate “escape from jail” scene where the railroad owner was adamant that Frank wouldn’t be able to get Jesse out and then proceeded to have to eat his words. Literally.) But yes, as I was saying, the railroad owner reneges on his promise to Jesse and tries to hang him and so Zee agrees that she’s on Jesse’s side no matter what from this point out. Her uncle (the comic relief “IF WE ARE EVER TO HAVE LAW AND ORDER IN THE WEST, WE ARE TO TAKE OUT EVERY ____ IN EXISTENCE AND SHOOT THEM DOWN LIKE DOGS” character) even told her that she’s all Jesse has left now, the only good thing he has and that she needs to stick to him. And she was like, I’ll stick to him alright! Very passionately, with great love and feeling. Aaaaand then in the next scene it was like “ugh Jesse why are you so paranoid, why are you making us move homes when I only just made curtains!” and then the scene after that it was all “ I HAD HIS BABY BUT I HATE THIS LIFE AND I WISH THAT MY BABY AND ME HAD DIED.” and I’m like…… ugh. Zee, please. Again, I know that extreme drama is just part of the package with these kind of films but with all the back and forth between her emotions for Jesse in this film, I basically got whiplash. And then five years later she flips her feels again and we’re left with the “happy” ending of them being a big happy reunited family, with Jesse ready to retire to California …right before he gets shot in the back. The bad good guys can’t win. (Flashback to Angels with Dirty Faces)

    On a final note, the action scenes in this were pretty good, but I would have enjoyed them more if they didn’t keep ripping me out of moment by blatantly injuring horses. The whole film was peppered with scenes involving tripping horses into bad falls or flinging them off of cliffs or jumping them through plate glass windows. Even in the aforementioned train-robbery scene when Jesse was galloping to catch up with the train, I remember thinking “he really shouldn’t be running that horse on the tracks” right before the horse tripped and nearly fell. This scene didn’t involve a trip wire though, it was just a real instance of the horse catching a hoof on one of the tracks while he ran. It was lucky for both the horse and the stuntman riding him that he caught himself. But yeah basically, little did I know that it’d just be a downward spiral from here as far as animal safety goes. At least this movie helped spark a response that put regulations against animal cruelty into place.

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  26. This was the first western that I actually watched from beginning to end. When I finished watching it I thought that it didn’t match my “idea” with all the cowboys in the far-west dueling other cowboys for no reason. Then later I learned that those were actually spaghetti western which makes sense because I’m from Italy and those were the steretypes I had in mind. I think the western genre is interesting because it has a good format that allows movie makers to critique the society indirectly. This movie exposes the injustice done by the railway businessman to common farmers by ripping off their homes. So we automatically feel compassion for the victims and want them to win the situation. Jesse and James were seen as heroes for defending his neighbourhood by robbing the rich businessmen. However, as the movie moves forward, I lost to sympathy and connection with Jesse and James because I felt their robbery wasn’t for a good couse anymore but just for self-interest. But in the end I don’t blame him for his actions because he didn’t had a choice but become an outlaw. So I think the message of the story is that some criminals become criminals because they are tricked into by the society.


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