Jesse James Blu-ray Review

Living as I do outside of Kansas City it was a thrill to get this disc to review.  Jesse James is still alive and well in these parts.  And, if family history is to be believed, my son is a distant relative of Jesse’s thanks to his great-grandmother Howard on his mother’s side.  So I was more than ready to take in the story of Jesse James.

Henry Fonda in Jesse James

The film begins after the civil war, where both Jesse (Power) and his brother, Frank (Fonda) fought for the Confederacy.  Now living with their mother on the farm, things are going quietly until it’s announced that the railroad will soon be heading their way.  A group of railroad representatives work their way across the farms, strong-arming the owners into taking pennies on the dollar to sell their land.  They try this with Jesse and Frank’s mother, but Frank intervenes and gives the head man a beating.  When the man attempts to kill Frank with a farming tool Jesse shows up in time to shoot the man and wound him.  Backed by the power of the railroad, the man and his gang get the sheriff to sign a warrant for Jesse’s arrest.  They return to the farm and are told the James boys are gone.  Not believing what he’s been told, the gang leader throws an explosive into the home, killing Mother.  Suffice it to say that revenge is extracted and the James boys begin their rise to infamy.

Henry Fonda in Jesse James

A well told, well acted story, JESSE JAMES is a fun story to get lost in.  Is it historically accurate?  Probably not.  But neither is TITANIC.  It’s a film that tells the story most people are familiar with anyway…that of a charismatic outlaw and his gang, robbing banks and trains and earning the public’s love for what they perceive as taking money from the big, bad money barons.  Power gives Jesse a sense of justice in his portrayal.  Everything he does, from avenging his mother’s death to robbing the railroads, is noble in his eyes.  During robberies he makes it a point to only steal money, not jewelry or other valuables, telling his victims to sue the banks and railroads to recover their losses.  Fonda makes Frank James a truly menacing figure, a role which became almost scarce once he became the face of “everyman” in the 1940s.  In fact, I would guess that it would be three decades later, in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, that Fonda would again play a truly bad guy.

Henry Fonda in Jesse James

Technically, the film makes great use of the Missouri locations filmed in.  The action is intense, especially scenes of the James gang running down speeding locomotives.  The stunt work is equally impressive.  One scene has the James boys sending their horses over a cliff.  This scene was cited as the reason the Humane Society got involved in films, leading to the now familiar “no animals were harmed….” disclaimer you see in today’s films.

Taken as a whole, the film is an enjoyable way to spend two hours of your time.


Video:  Presented in its original 1:33.1 aspect ratio, the film does a nice job or preserving and presenting the early Technicolor process.

Audio:  The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is a bit on the quiet side.  I found myself adjusting my volume several times (turning it down during scenes backed with music and up during major dialogue scenes).

Movietone News: “Jesse James” at the Roxy (:33):  a very short clip featuring a man on horseback with a bandana over his face looking down on theatre owners from New York and Connecticut discussing the success of the picture at the Roxy Theatre.

Movietone News: Hollywood Spotlight (1:27):  A short clip featuring an incredibly young Ed Sullivan presenting Tyrone Power and Jeanette McDonald ceremonial crowns for being named the King and Queen of Hollywood for 1939.

Theatrical trailer.


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