Jesse James (1939): Fox Technicolor Western, Starring Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda

Fox’s Technicolor production of Jesse James, written by Nunnally Johnson and directed by Henry King, was one of the most popular pictures of 1939, largely due to its entertainment values and star power of Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda.

Though based on the exploits of the real murderous brothers Frank and Jesse James, the film is more myth than reality, whitewashing some basic facts, while disregarding others.

Jesse (Tyrone Power) and Frank (Henry Fonda) become train and bank robbers to avenge the death of their mother (Jane Darwell), killed for a greedy railroad interests.

Jesse then settles down to a life of domesticity—until he is shot in the back by cowardly Bob Ford (John Carradine).

Meanwhile, Frank James remains alive, setting the grounds for the a sequel The Return of Frank James, made two years later, in 1941.

Some of the action sequences, such as the famous bank-robbery scene, in which Jesse rides his horse through a plate glass window, were striking by standards of the time.

The onscreen rivalry between the James brothers also prevailed off screen, as Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda were very different actors.  While Power was a handsome bankable star, Fonda was the more versatile actor, and in this picture he is enabled by a richer role and some good lines.

Unlike many epic pictures of the era, Jesse James was largely shot on location in Missouri.