The True Story of Jesse James (1957)

92 mins | Biography, Western | February 1957

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HISTORY

The working titles of this film were Jesse James and The James Brothers . The onscreen credits read "Based on the screenplay by Nunnally Johnson." Rosalind Shaffer and Jo Francis James are credited onscreen with historical data. Shaffer and James also supplied the historical data for the 1939 film Jesse James , for which Johnson wrote the screenplay. John Carradine, who appeared as "Rev. Jethro Bailey" in The True Story of Jesse James , played the role of "Bob Ford" in the 1939 film.
       The film opens with the following written prologue: "The tragic War Between the States spawned much that was good, much that was evil. No person better symbolized that curious mixture than a quiet Missouri farm boy named Jesse James who became America's most notorious outlaw. Much that you see here is fact and much is as close to what actually happened as any man can testify." Jesse James was born in Missouri in 1847, and at the age of fifteen, joined a group of vicious, pro-Confederate querrillas led by William C. Quantrill. As depicted in the film, in 1876, the gang was almost wiped out during a bank holdup in Northfield, MN. On 3 Apr 1882, Jesse was shot and killed by fellow gang member Bob Ford for a reward. Six months after Jesse's death, Frank surrendered and was tried and acquitted twice.
       Although a Jul 1956 HR news item places Patricia Owens in the cast and a Sep 1956 HR news item states that Stuart Whitman was cast, neither appeared in the released film. A Sep 1956 ... More Less

The working titles of this film were Jesse James and The James Brothers . The onscreen credits read "Based on the screenplay by Nunnally Johnson." Rosalind Shaffer and Jo Francis James are credited onscreen with historical data. Shaffer and James also supplied the historical data for the 1939 film Jesse James , for which Johnson wrote the screenplay. John Carradine, who appeared as "Rev. Jethro Bailey" in The True Story of Jesse James , played the role of "Bob Ford" in the 1939 film.
       The film opens with the following written prologue: "The tragic War Between the States spawned much that was good, much that was evil. No person better symbolized that curious mixture than a quiet Missouri farm boy named Jesse James who became America's most notorious outlaw. Much that you see here is fact and much is as close to what actually happened as any man can testify." Jesse James was born in Missouri in 1847, and at the age of fifteen, joined a group of vicious, pro-Confederate querrillas led by William C. Quantrill. As depicted in the film, in 1876, the gang was almost wiped out during a bank holdup in Northfield, MN. On 3 Apr 1882, Jesse was shot and killed by fellow gang member Bob Ford for a reward. Six months after Jesse's death, Frank surrendered and was tried and acquitted twice.
       Although a Jul 1956 HR news item places Patricia Owens in the cast and a Sep 1956 HR news item states that Stuart Whitman was cast, neither appeared in the released film. A Sep 1956 HR news item places David Palmer in the cast, but his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed. Modern sources note that director Nicholas Ray was working on a rough cut of the film when he tore some ligaments and had to undergo an operation. In Ray's absence, producer Herbert Swope added the swirling mist shots that signal the start of the flashbacks in the film. Studio head Buddy Adler cut several scenes from the revivalist meeting sequence, according to another modern source. In Ray's original version, Jesse railed against the Union soldiers at the meeting. Modern sources also add that Arthur Kramer worked with Walter Newman to tighten the screenplay. For additional information about films based on the life of Jesse James, please see the entry for the 1939 film Jesse James in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 . More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
23 Feb 1957.
---
Daily Variety
15 Feb 57
p. 3.
Film Daily
25 Feb 57
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Jul 56
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Sep 56
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Sep 56
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Sep 1956
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Oct 56
p. 16.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Nov 56
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Nov 56
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Dec 56
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Feb 57
p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
23 Feb 57
p. 273.
New York Times
23 Mar 57
p. 17.
Variety
20 Feb 57
p. 6.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Alan Hale [Jr.]
Joseph Di Reda
Alex Campbell
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Exec ward des
Cost des
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairstyles
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the screenplay of the film Jesse James written by Nunnally Johnson (Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 1939) and historical data provided by Rosalind Shaffer and Jo Francis James.
SONGS
"The Ballad of Jesse James," words and music by Billy Gashade.
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Jesse James
The James Brothers
Release Date:
February 1957
Production Date:
6 September--late October 1956
retakes 12 November--14 November 1956
addl scenes 28 November--30 November 1956 and 12 December 1956
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
12 February 1957
Copyright Number:
LP7784
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Color
De Luxe
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Lenses/Prints
lenses by Bausch & Lomb
Duration(in mins):
92
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

After a disastrous raid on the Northfield, Minnesota bank, Jesse James and his gang are hotly pursued by lawmen throughout the territory. Led by Remington, the head of the detective agency hired to apprehend the gang, and spurred on by a thirty-thousand-dollar reward, the posse tracks down and captures gang members Sam Wells and the Younger brothers. Back at the James family home in Missouri, meanwhile, the boys's ailing mother, Mrs. Samuels, blames the Yankees for turning her sons into renegades. She recalls a time, years earlier, during the Civil War when Missouri sided with the North: Frank, feeling an allegiance to the Confederacy, enlists in the guerrilla band known as Quantrill's Raiders. One day, the Jayhawkers, a militia of Northern sympathizers, come to the farm in search of Frank, and when they try to whip the young Jesse into disclosing his brother's whereabouts, Jesse defiantly rides off to join Frank. At the war's end, Jesse proposes to Zee, the pretty niece of Maj. Cobb, with whom the boys served in battle, and envisions leading the life of a peaceful farmer. On the night that Zee and Jesse are baptized by Rev. Jethro Bailey, Jesse's visions of peace are shattered when Northern sympathizers raid the family farm and hang Hughie, their friend and hired hand, for riding with Quantrill's Raiders, warning that the James brothers will be next. Outraged, Frank and James assemble the Younger brothers, along with other Confederate compatriots and propose robbing a Yankee bank to earn a grubstake for a new farm. After their plans of robbing one bank turns into a life of crime, Zee returns home to live with ... +


After a disastrous raid on the Northfield, Minnesota bank, Jesse James and his gang are hotly pursued by lawmen throughout the territory. Led by Remington, the head of the detective agency hired to apprehend the gang, and spurred on by a thirty-thousand-dollar reward, the posse tracks down and captures gang members Sam Wells and the Younger brothers. Back at the James family home in Missouri, meanwhile, the boys's ailing mother, Mrs. Samuels, blames the Yankees for turning her sons into renegades. She recalls a time, years earlier, during the Civil War when Missouri sided with the North: Frank, feeling an allegiance to the Confederacy, enlists in the guerrilla band known as Quantrill's Raiders. One day, the Jayhawkers, a militia of Northern sympathizers, come to the farm in search of Frank, and when they try to whip the young Jesse into disclosing his brother's whereabouts, Jesse defiantly rides off to join Frank. At the war's end, Jesse proposes to Zee, the pretty niece of Maj. Cobb, with whom the boys served in battle, and envisions leading the life of a peaceful farmer. On the night that Zee and Jesse are baptized by Rev. Jethro Bailey, Jesse's visions of peace are shattered when Northern sympathizers raid the family farm and hang Hughie, their friend and hired hand, for riding with Quantrill's Raiders, warning that the James brothers will be next. Outraged, Frank and James assemble the Younger brothers, along with other Confederate compatriots and propose robbing a Yankee bank to earn a grubstake for a new farm. After their plans of robbing one bank turns into a life of crime, Zee returns home to live with her sister, Rowena Cobb. Time passes, and one day Jesse reappears to claim Zee's hand in marriage. Assuming the identity of Tom Howard, a respectable businessman whose affairs require him to travel, Jesse rents a house for himself and Zee. Zee's happiness is cut short, however, when Jesse soon leaves for another job. In the present, Jesse, Frank and Tucker, one of the last members of the gang, take refuge in the hills. Jesse, who blames Tucker for failing to cut the telegraph wires in time, thus allowing the news of the robbery to be transmitted throughout the territory, determines to kill him. When Frank objects, Jesse accuses him of betrayal and Frank responds that their luck turned bad when the overly ambitious Jesse insisted on targeting railroads. His thoughts returning to the past, Frank recalls what happened after one robbery: Bill Ryan is arrested and becomes the first member of the gang to be convicted and sentenced to prison. After Ryan's trial, Jesse, Zee, Frank and his wife Anne board a train to visit the boys's mother. At the station, Attorney Walker, who knows Jesse only as Howard, introduces them to Remington. When Frank defends the actions of the James brothers, Walker explains that the brothers have given voice to the quiet desperation of the downtrodden populace of Missouri. After the train stops en route, the brothers see Remington and Walker ride in the direction of their mother's house and realize that they intend to raid the farm. Hurrying to the farm, the boys watch in horror as the forces of the law, abetted by a neighboring farmer, toss a bomb into the house, injuring their mother and killing little Archie, their half-brother. Appalled, the Jameses' neighbors lobby to grant the brothers amnesty, but when Jesse, seething with anger, shoots down Askew, a neighbor who participated in the assault, the campaign is defeated. The gang then reassembles for one last raid at Northfield, four hundred miles from home, in unfamiliar territory. As they approach Northfield, Frank senses that something is amiss and asks Jesse to call off the raid, but Jesse arrogantly refuses to do so. Outside of town, Jesse hands Tucker his watch and instructs him to cut the telegraph wire at exactly 2:30. Once inside the bank, Jesse orders the teller to open the vault, while on the street, a tense Cole Younger shoots an unruly bystander, thus sounding the alarm. In the ensuing shootout, much of the gang is slaughtered, but Tucker, Frank and Jesse escape. Back in the present, Frank declares that Northfield is the end of the road while Jesse blames Tucker for their predicament. After the brothers argue, Frank announces that he is going his separate way and rides off. As Tucker aims his rifle at Jesse, Jesse fires and then flees. Alerted by the sound of gunshots, the posse hurries to the area and, finding Jesse's watch on Tucker's body, assume that he is Jesse and spread the news of the notorious outlaw's death. Back at their rented house, Zee steels herself to claim her husband's body just as Jesse stumbles in the door and collapses from exhaustion. After Frank and Jesse reconcile, Jesse finally admits that Northfield was a mistake. Zee still clings to the dream of being a simple farmer's wife, and Frank offers to lend them the money to buy a small farm. After Frank rides off to retrieve their mother, Zee and Jesse pack their belongings, eager for a new life. In a gesture of peace, Jesse hands his pistols to gang members Charley and Robby Ford. When Jesse turns his back, Robby shoots him with his own gun and then runs out into the street, boasting that he has just killed Jesse James. As the town flocks to the James house, Frank and his mother arrive, and Frank consoles Zee while a wandering minstrel sings of the death of Jesse James. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.