“Jesse James” screens at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, March 15, 2014 in the Durwood Film Vault of the Kansas City Central Library, 14W. 10th St. Admission is free. It’s part of the year-long film series Hollywood’s Greatest Year, featuring movies released in 1939.
You don’t watch the Tyrone Power/Henry Fonda version of “Jesse James” for an accurate history lesson.
If you want something approaching realism in a depiction of the infamous James Gang, try 2007’s excellent “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” with Brad Pitt as the psychotic outlaw and Casey Affleck as the repellent little creep who shot him in the back.
Back in 1939, though, audiences were all about a romantic Jesse James, and this Henry King-directed Western delivered.
It’s highly selective in the story it tells. For example, it makes no mention of the James brothers’ background as ruthless Confederate guerrillas during the Civil War. Rather, Jesse (Power) and Frank (Fonda) are presented as simple farm folk (albeit good with guns) who turn to violence when a brutish agent for the railroad attempts to seize their land – and kills their mother with a bomb.