Jesse James - on the Screen

Jesse and Frank James
Jesse and Frank James
Jesse James Wanted Poster
Jesse James Wanted Poster
Robert Ford
Robert Ford

Jesse James the notorious outlaw as portrayed in the movies.

Quick facts: Jesse James was born in Clay County, Missouri in 1847.

His father was a Baptist minister. He had a younger sister, Susan, and an older brother, Frank.

The family owned 6 slaves and 100 acres of farmland.

Frank and Jesse joined Quantrill's Raiders during the Civil War.

After the war the James Brothers became outlaws joining with Cole, Jim, John and Robert Younger to form the James-Younger gang.

In 1866 the gang became notorious after carrying out the first daylight bank robbery in American history,

Jesse married his cousin Zerelda Mimms in 1874, her mother was his father's sister. They had two children, Jesse Edward James and Mary Susan James.

Brothers Charles and Robert Ford joined the outlaw gang in 1881.

The Ford brothers decided to claim the $25,000 reward for the capture of Jesse James, making a deal with Missouri Governer Thomas T. Crittenden. The Governer also promised them a full pardon if they killed Jesse James.

On 3 April 1882, Jesse was at home and the Ford brothers were visiting, he decided to straighten a picture on the wall. Stepping on a chair to reach for the picture, Robert Ford stood up behind him, hands shaking, he pointed his gun at Jesse's head and fired. The bullet entered the base of his skull and into his brain. Jesse fell to the floor, dead.

Bob Ford was arrested for murder but the Governer kept his word and the Ford brothers were pardoned and freed though they only received a fraction of the reward money.

Jesse James had become a celebrity bandit to many in the USA and people were not happy with the way he died, shot from behind by a coward. Robert Ford's brother Charlie feared for his life and ultimately committed suicide.

On the 8th of June 1892 fate caught up with Robert Ford. A customer, Edward O' Kelly, walked up to him at his saloon in Colorado, he said "Hello Bob" and shot him with a sawn-off shotgun, both barrels. Ford died instantly. Kelly became known as "The man who killed the man who killed Jesse James".

Jesse's brother Frank quit being an outlaw and worked at various jobs in the last 30 years of his life, he died in 1915, aged 72.

Jesse James Under the Black Flag (1921)
Jesse James Under the Black Flag (1921)

Jesse James Under the Black Flag (1921) Directed by Franklin B. Coates and starring Jesse James Jr as Jesse James, Diana Reed, Jack Neil and Harry Hall. 69mins.

The first Jesse James movie is especially noteworthy, his own son Jesse James Jr played the famous outlaw.

Jesse Junior was just 7 years old when he heard the gunshot that killed his father, running into the room he saw his crying mother cradling her dead husband.

IMDB rating 7.6

Jesse James (1939)
Jesse James (1939)
Tyrone Power as Jesse James (1939)
Tyrone Power as Jesse James (1939)

Jesse James (1939) Directed by Henry King and starring Tyrone Power as Jesse James, Henry Fonda as Frank James, Nancy Kelly, Randolph Scott, Henry Hull, Jane Darwell, Brian Donlevy and John Carradine as Bob Ford. 106mins.

An expensive 20th Century Fox production filmed in glowing Technicolor, it was one of the biggest hits of the year and turned Tyrone Power (1914-1958) into a megastar.

Notorious for a scene in which a horse falls down a ravine and is killed, the public outcry resulted in the American Humane Society monitoring every Hollywood movie for animal abuse.

IMDB rating 7.1

The Return of Frank James (1940)
The Return of Frank James (1940)
The Return of Frank James (1940) Italian poster
The Return of Frank James (1940) Italian poster


The Return of Frank James (1940) Directed by Fritz Lang and starring Henry Fonda as Frank James, Gene Tierney, Jackie Cooper, Henry Hull, J. Edward Bromberg and John Carradine as Bob Ford. 92mins

A sequel to Jesse James (1939) Frank James is out to avenge the death of his brother.

In reality Frank James did not kill the man who shot his brother but the scene works very well as an audience pleaser.

IMDB rating 6.7

Badman's Territory (1946)
Badman's Territory (1946)


Badman's Territory (1946) Directed by Tim Whelan and starring Randolph Scott, George 'Gabby' Hayes, Ann Richards, Ray Collins, Tom Tyler as Frank James and Lawrence Tierney as Jesse James. 97mins.

Randolph Scott plays a Sheriff chasing after the James gang which leads him to "Badman's Territory" a haven for famous outlaws of the west.

Tagline - "See them all in action in one picture! The James Boys - The Daltons - Belle Starr."

IMDB rating 6.4

I Shot Jesse James (1949)
I Shot Jesse James (1949)

I Shot Jesse James (1949) Directed by Sam Fuller and starring Preston Foster, Barbara Britton, John Ireland as Bob Ford, Tom Noonan as Charles Ford, Tom Tyler as Frank James and Reed Hadley as Jesse James. 81mins.

Sam Fuller's first film and shot in just 10 days.

The film has Jesse James killer Bob Ford as the central figure, it ends in a fictional shootout between Ford and a man named John Kelley (loosely based on the man who killed Bob Ford).

Tagline - "The Thrilling and Colorful Last Days of America's Most Fabulous Outlaw... Powerfully Written in Gunsmoke!"

IMDB rating 6.9

Kansas Raiders (1950)
Kansas Raiders (1950)

Kansas Raiders (1950) Directed by Ray Enright and starring Audie Murphy as Jesse James, Brian Donlevy as William Quantrill, Scott Brady, Tony Curtis as Kit Dalton, Richard Long as Frank James, James Best as Cole Younger, Dewey Martin as James Younger and Richard Egan. 80mins.

Audie Murphy, the most highly decorated soldier of WWII plays one of the most notorious outlaws of the WW (Wild West).

Jesse and his brother ride with Quantrill's Raiders and are shocked and appalled at the atrocities committed by the raiders during the Civil War.

IMDB rating 6.2

The Great Missouri Raid (1951)
The Great Missouri Raid (1951)
The Great Missouri Raid (1951) Belgian poster
The Great Missouri Raid (1951) Belgian poster


The Great Missouri Raid (1951) Directed by Gordon Douglas and starring Wendell Corey as Frank James, Macdonald Carey as Jesse James, Ellen Drew, Ward Bond, Bruce Bennett, Anne Revere and Whit Bissell as Bob Ford. 84mins.

An action-packed B-Movie, unusual in that it is narrated by the mother of Jesse and Frank James (played by Anne Revere).

IMDB rating 6.0

Best of the Badmen (1950)
Best of the Badmen (1950)


Best of the Badmen (1951) Directed by William D. Russell and starring Robert Ryan, Claire Trevor, Jack Buetel, Robert Preston, Walter Brennan, Bruce Cabot, Tom Tyler as Frank James and Lawrence Tierney as Jesse James. 84mins.

Lawrence Tierney reprises the role of Jesse James he first played in Badman's Territory (1946).

After the Civil War ended a few Confederate rebels are still causing trouble, they are captured by Major Clanton (Robert Ryan) who offers them clemency if they take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States.

IMDB rating 6.0

Robert Wagner and Jeffrey Hunter in The True Story of Jesse James (1957)
Robert Wagner and Jeffrey Hunter in The True Story of Jesse James (1957)
The True Story of Jesse James (1957)
The True Story of Jesse James (1957)

The True Story of Jesse James (1957) Directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Robert Wagner as Jesse James, Jeffrey Hunter as Frank James, Hope Lange, Agnes Moorehead, Alan Hale Jr as Cole Younger, John Carradine, Frank Gorshin as Charlie Ford and Carl Thayler as Robert Ford.. 92mins.

Filmed in Cinemascope.

The film focuses on the relationship between the James Brothers and ends wih Robert Ford killing Jesse.

Despite titled "The True Story" the film has many inaccuracies.

Elvis Presley was considered for the role of Jesse James.

IMDB rating 6.3

Alias Jesse James (1959)
Alias Jesse James (1959)

Alias Jesse James (1959) Directed by Norman Z. McLeod and starring Bob Hope, Rhonda Fleming, Wendell Corey as Jesse James, Gloria Talbott and Jim Davis as Frank James. 92mins.

A comedy western. Bob Hope sells a $100,000 insurance policy to a man who turns out to be the outlaw Jesse James.

Noteworthy for the cameos of many Western Movie and TV stars at the climax of the film including, Gary Cooper, James Garner, Gene Autry, James Arness, Hugh O' Brian, Fess Parker, Roy Rogers, Jay Silverheels, Ward Bond and Bing Crosby!

IMDB rating 6.5

Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1965)
Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1965)

Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966) Directed by William Beaudine and starring John Lupton as Jesse James, Narda Onyx as Dr, Maria Frankenstein, Cal Bolder, Jim Davis and Nestor Paiva. 88mins.

Horror western, shot in 8 days and released on a double bill with Billy the Kid vs Dracula, also directed by William Beaudine.

The film actually features Frankenstein's granddaughter not his daughter.

The laboratory set is the same one used in the Universal Frankenstein films and is seen in colour for the first time.

IMDB rating 2.6

Cliff Robertson and Robert Duvall in The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972)
Cliff Robertson and Robert Duvall in The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972)
The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972)
The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972)

The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972) Directed by Philip Kaufman and starring Cliff Robertson as Cole Younger, Robert Duvall as Jesse James, Luke Askey as Jim Younger, R.G. Armstrong, Donald Moffat, John Pearce as Frank James, Matt Clark as Bob Younger and Elisha Cook Jr. 91mins.

The story of the James-Younger gang's attempted robbery of the Northfield, Minnesota Bank in 1876, a disastrous raid which almost destroyed the gang.

Jesse James's fate is sealed when he allows Bob Ford and his brother to join what's left of the gang after returning from the raid.

IMDB rating 6.3

The Long Riders (1980)
The Long Riders (1980)
The Long Riders (1980)
The Long Riders (1980)
The Long Riders (1980)
The Long Riders (1980)

The Long Riders (1980) Directed by Walter Hill and starring David Carradine as Cole Younger, Keith Carradine as Jim Younger, Robert Carradine as Bob Younger, James Keach as Jesse James, Stacy Keach as Frank James, Dennis Quaid as Ed Miller, Randy Quaid as Clell Miller, Pamela Reed as Belle Starr, James Remar as Sam Starr, Christopher Guest as Charlie Ford and Nicholas Guest as Bob Ford. 100mins.

The infamous Northfield, Minnesota robbery is recreated on film again.

Dazzlingly filmed by Walter Hill, this is an underrated western, featuring a memorable slow-motion shootout, the sound effects editing is excellent.

The film is particularly noteworthy for using real life acting siblings to play the various outlaw brothers.

IMDB rating 7.0

Colin Farrell as Jesse James in American Outlaws (2001)
Colin Farrell as Jesse James in American Outlaws (2001)
American Outlaws (2001)
American Outlaws (2001)

American Outlaws (2001) Directed by Les Mayfield and starring Colin Farrell as Jesse James, Scott Caan as Cole Younger, Ali Larter, Gabriel Macht as Frank James, Gregory Smith as Jim Younger, Harris Yulin, Kathy Bates, Timothy Dalton, Will McCormack as Bob Younger, Ronny Cox and Terry O'Quinn. 94mins.

Worth watching for the cast but no attempt is made to stick with the facts and the film seems more like a romanticised alternate history view of Jesse James and his gang of outlaws.

Slated by the critics the film cost $35m and has grossed $13.3m at the US box office.

IMDB rating 5.7

Brad Pitt in The Assassination of Jesse James (2007)
Brad Pitt in The Assassination of Jesse James (2007)
Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James (2007)
Casey Affleck in The Assassination of Jesse James (2007)
The Assassination of Jesse James (2007)
The Assassination of Jesse James (2007)
The Assassination of Jesse James (2007)
The Assassination of Jesse James (2007)

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) Directed by Andrew Dominik and starring Brad Pitt as Jesse James, Mary-Louise Parker, Casey Affleck as Robert Ford, Sam Rockwell as Charlie Ford, Sam Shepard as Frank James, Paul Schneider, Jeremy Renner and Zooey Deschanel. 160mins.

Beautifully photographed and purposely slow moving western.

Casey Affleck is excellent as Robert Ford, who begins by idolising Jesse James (with subtle homo-erotic undertones), the hero worship eventually turns to disillusionment, and tragedy.

"A magnificent throwback to a time when filmmakers found all sorts of ways to refashion Hollywood's oldest and most durable genre... Affleck makes an indelible impression as the insecure, physically unprepossessing weakling who endures no end of humiliation, and eventually embodies the sort of nobody who has bloodied American history from time to time to insure his own immortality. " (Variety)

"Every element of this Western is beautifully rendered. So why is it a chore to sit through?" (Los Angeles Daily News)

Nominated for two Oscars - Best Cinematography and Best Supporting Actor (Affleck).

The film cost $30m and was not a hit grossing $15m worldwide.

IMDB rating 7.6

The Assassination of Jesse James (2007)
The Assassination of Jesse James (2007)

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Comments 8 comments

Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 4 years ago from San Francisco

Another good one by you. thanks


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Thanks Mhatter99, your comments are always appreciated. I did one of these on Wyatt Earp so I decided a legendary outlaw would be a good companion piece.


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 4 years ago from Virginia

Very interesting hub....I feel I should get a failing grade on Jesse James movies. I have seen only two of these movies....although I did have a third one(the Bob Hope one) in my hand today at my local library...but I put it back down without checking it out.

The two I have seen are The Long Riders(remember when Walter Hill was considered one of the best directors going back then?) and the Brad Pitt longest movie title one.

I enjoyed reading the history of the James brothers...I had no idea that Frank was able to leave his gangster days behind him...that is actually pretty cool that he lived until he was 72.

Looking at the IMDB ratings....it looks like the only movie that I have not seen that really stands out is Jesse James Under the Black Flag with a 7.6....and I am thinking that will be a hard one to find.

Voted up and interesting....you are on a hub roll again.....hey I see my James Garner hub on "Discover More Hubs" section.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Thanks for commenting Bruce, appreciated as always.

According to the New York Times obituary on Frank James " "In 1882 ... Frank James surrendered in Jefferson City, MO. After his surrender James was taken to Independence, MO., where he was held in jail three weeks, and later to Gallatin, where he remained in jail a year awaiting trial. Finally James was acquitted and went to Oklahoma to live with his mother. He never was in the penitentiary and never was convicted of any of the charges against him."

Lucky Frank, but Jesse wasn't so lucky.

I'd like to see that silent film if it can be found, Jesse James own son playing his father on film, hmmm.

I watched the Tyrone Power version again yesterday on DVD and that scene with the horse being killed after it falls down a ravine was cut, Frank and James are being chased by the US cavalry, mid chase Jesse's horse is shot dead, he climbs onto Franks horse and than there's a jump cut and they're crossing a river with the horse.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

Jesse James is one of those romanticized outlaw characters that people love to elevate. I just saw a special on him on the History Channel. He was no hero.

My favorite of these films was the Brad Pitt one. Good movie.

Another fun hub,

Rob


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Thanks for commenting Rob, much appreciated.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

Another great hub. I only missed a few of these...I guess I always had a fascination with good old Jesse. I know I never saw "Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter " though I like both genre's I just couldn't imagine them mixed.

You always do such a good job. Guess I'll have to skip westerns and leave them to you!

Voted up, awesome, and interesting. Also shared.


Steve Lensman profile image

Steve Lensman 4 years ago from London, England Author

Thank you Mary much appreciated. I haven't seen Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter either, not sure I want to. :)

I love westerns and find the facts and legends of the Old West endlessly fascinating.

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