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JESSE JAMES


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I may have seen it many times, and own the DVD, but it's always a joy to watch this classic movie. It has it all...A great cast, from the stars to many top character actors, beautiful locations, breathtaking technicolor, and a compelling story. Opening in January 1939, it not only ushered in the revival and rehabilitation of the western as an A feature, but also a year of so many memorable classic movies. JESSE JAMES is an essential IMHO.

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My husband and I just finished watching Jesse James and enjoyed it very much.

 

I want to know, does the real Jesse James really have grave marker that says, "shot in the back by coward, and etc, etc. whose name is not worthy to be mentioned here?"

 

 

 

Lori

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The film does have an excellent array of character actors. Jane Darwell is at her best in the powerful opening sequence. I love it any time she plays Henry Fonda's Ma.

 

Tyrone Power is too femme for me in this role. I much prefer Audie Murphy's version of the character in KANSAS RAIDERS. Brian Donlevy, interestingly, is in both films.

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Yes it does. If you Google "Jesse James marker", you will find the marker.

 

Sadly the horse fall over the cliff did not bode well for the horse. It was killed in the fall and it helped bring about some much needed publicity regarding animal abuse in films. This film and Warners "Charge of the Light Brigade" were two that caused an uproar.

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I like Tyrone Power but I'm hard pressed to name any performances that he gave in the 1930s that really impresses me. Watching him in Lloyds of London, Alexander's Ragtime Band, Marie Antoinette, Rose of Washington Square, always makes me think of his performances as being rather callow. He's a charming, handsome presence, of course, and I understand why the ladies like him. To be honest, though (and remember, I'm just talking about his career 1936 to 1939), I find him wanting.

 

It was, however, in his last scene of Jesse James when I always thought I saw the first real signs of growth in Power as an actor. His performance through most of the film as Jesse is largely that of a glamour boy actor to me, not particularly credible (certainly he pales besides Henry Fonda's great performance as Frank).

 

It's when he's hiding out with his family in his final screen moments, though, particularly in that interplay that he has with his son, after the son is "shot" playing Jesse James with a friend, that I thought Power was highly effective. There was a new maturity in his performance there that I hadn't seen in his earlier performances.

 

It was in the '40s that I think Power began to blossom in some roles, starting with The Mark of Zorro. He is simpy great in that film, convincingly playing a bit of a fop in scenes noteworthy for their gentle humour, and a genuinely dashing swordsman in other moments, with a final duel with Rathbone that can stand up to anything that Flynn ever did.

 

Zorro was a big hit at the 1940 box office but I've always been under the impression that critics did not compare Power's wonderful performance too favourably to that of silent swashbuckling king Doug Fairbanks, who had originated the part. And I've got a theory as to why 1) sentiment, because Fairbanks had recently died, and 2) a criticial predisposition to not be impressed by Power's performances, based upon his '30s work.

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See my post in the "Tyrone's got the Power" thread for comments on his change as an actor over the years.

 

 

Now, back to THIS movie. I mentioned that this version of *Jesse James* was my standard for movies about JJ, up until *The Long Riders* came out. (Did somebody mention Audie Murphey? Good Godfrey!) There was a TV show called "Jesse James" in the mid '60's starring a guy named Christopher Jones(whatever happened to HIM?) that used clips from the Power's movie in it's opening sequence. I don't know, actually, how historically ACCURATE any of the movie versions are. I did find it interesting that Osbourne mentioned Zanuck wanted to end the film WITHOUT James getting killed.

 

 

Sepiatone

 

 

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I feel Power is miscast. He is not sturdy or masculine enough, at least at this early phase of his career, to project the image of a farmer-turned-renegade.

 

I read a description of Power by another actor, and I cannot recall who said it, but they said Power acted on movie sets as if he was an aristocrat who took on human form. I get that sense of entitlement about him, which works to his advantage in costume epics, but not in a western. I almost don't buy him in 1950s westerns like RAWHIDE and UNTAMED, but there he is more advanced in age and a little more rugged.

 

On the other hand Darwell fits her role like a glove. A woman who has spent her whole life working on a farm from sunup to sundown, raising two boys that are prone to get into their share of trouble-- she is definitely going to look a bit tough and not as feminine. No garden tea party for her.

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> Now, back to THIS movie. I mentioned that this version of *Jesse James* was my standard for movies about JJ, up until *The Long Riders* came out.

 

"The Long Riders" was a good flick... Like that so many actor family members were in it portraying the real-life brothers - James Keach and Stacy Keach play the James bros.; David, Robert and Keith Carradine play the Younger bros.; Dennis and Randy Quaid play the Miller bros.; and Christopher Guest and Nicholas Guest play the Ford bros.

 

The film has a very realistic quality to it and sticks about as close to history as a Hollywood film can... Movie is mostly about the Northfield, Minnesota bank robbery and its aftermath...

Good stuff...

 

I think in reality, Jesse James was a very nasty character and no different than gangsters like John Dillinger or anybody else. He started his murderous ways as a Confederate guerrilla during the Civil War and continued after the end of the Civil War.

To northern sympathizers he would've been regarded as no better than a terrorist, but to Confederate sympathizers he would've been regarded as someone who was continuing the war against the Yankees. And the myth surrounding Jesse James certainly would've come from those Confederate sympathizers and lasted into the 20th century.

Of course, if you look at his life, he was really a nasty, murderous criminal and nothing more:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James-Younger_gang

That's not "political correctness," that's just the facts, Ma'am...

 

Hard to imagine any films today being sympathetic towards him or portraying him in a sympathetic light. In the film "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," starring Brad Pitt as Jesse James, the character of James is violent and paranoid. Not a hero...

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Zanuck's films were not known for historical accuracy, but there was a school of thought that believed Jesse to be a hero - in fact, that's where the film was made, Jesse-land.

 

I don't find Tyrone Power too "femme" for the role. Odd comment.

 

I also don't get the aristocrat remark. I believe that was said by Robert Evans, who met him in 1957. By 1957, that may well have been true. However, from what I've read, and what people have told me who knew him, he was delightful to work with, very friendly, and personally had a great presence. He certainly did not have a sense of entitlement. Only a few years earlier, when it rained out, he had to put cardboard in his shoes, and he lived off of fruit in a neighbor's yard.

 

 

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>I don't find Tyrone Power too "femme" for the role.

 

Fonda seems more masculine. In the sequel, Jackie Cooper and Fonda appear more like country boys to me. Mr. Power is too pretty for this role and he sort of vamps in a few of his close-ups that pulls me out of the story. I feel he is too transgender and miscast here. He lost most (not all) of his feminine qualities in later years and took on sturdier film roles. He seems even softer and more feminine in LLOYDS OF LONDON, but at least that is not a macho western and it's easier to look past.

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>from what I've read, and what people have told me who knew him, he was delightful to work with, very friendly, and personally had a great presence.

 

I am sure he did, that is what made him appealing to folks. His niceness was never questioned or invalidated.

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When Robert Evans called Tyrone Power it was meant as a compliment, not an indication that the actor had a sense of entitlement. Quite the opposite.

 

This is from Evans' book:

 

"If I were to be reborn . . . I'd like to come back as Tyrone Power. Not for his extraordinary black Irish looks, but for his complete lack of narcissism. Tyrone was a man's man, a ladies' man, an adventurer, artist, athlete, compulsive reader, competitive but never boastful; genuinely, not theatrically, concerned; never afraid to admit his fright. . . . Without knowing it or acting like one, Tyrone Power was a true aristocrat."

 

Clearly Evans deeply admired the man he knew on the sets of The Sun Also Rises.

 

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You're supporting the point I made earlier in the thread. Power's persona was a bit ethereal and aristocratic, as Evans says...and clearly that is not the kind of person a country boy on the run like Jesse James would be...

 

Edited by: TopBilled on Aug 27, 2012 1:03 PM

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sorry, TomH, I was thrown by the sense of entitlement thing. I did know Robert Evans wrote something about him and said he wanted to come back as Tyrone.

 

As far as Tyrone's performance, what Henry Fonda had a sense of is fine, but he came to it on his own or those qualities were just there for him to call on -- just like in Tyrone's case, the qualities you mention were easily expressed.

 

My acting teacher used to talk to us about how important the director is. It was up to the director to get that from Tyrone, and I have no doubt Tyrone would have done it. He loved directors but he loved real directors, like he had on stage. Given the types of films he'd been making, the heavy schedule he had of going from one to another, and given the "image" Zanuck had insisted upon him having, it's doubtful he would have come up with those aspects of the character. And I'm sure Henry King only directed him as far as blocking the film. Tyrone was the "star" after all. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

 

If you've ever seen a script of his, it is full of notes, and very intelligent ones.

 

When you deal with actors, you deal with raw material, and some qualities are just there for a role, like Fonda's, and others you have to draw out.

 

I always remember a story Tony Curtis told about one of his first small roles where he delivered a telegram to Barbara Stanwyck. The director said one thing to him: "All you want is a tip."

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I have to say, having seen Tyrone Power in 40-odd films, the word transgender has never come to my mind, nor the word feminine.

 

In his star-making performance in Lloyds of London, he was more made up than usual and the costumes made him seem foppish, but I don't think he acted that way - he was, however, too young for Madeleine Carroll, being something like 22 years old at the time.

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He comes across to me as very transgender in various scenes of his films, especially the earlier pictures. He also seems to play some roles in a bisexual frame of mind. A scene with Tyrone Power and Michael Rennie in one of the films they did together is imbued with all kinds of added subtext, and I think that if the actors are trying to convey the character in a real sort of way, using their own resources as men and sexual beings, then it is either there or it isn't...but in one scene it is definitely infused with a level or homoeroticism that both actors seem to draw on from each other. If you are not looking for it, you won't find...or, even if you are not looking for it, it may just sort of pop out at you anyway.

 

Someone else referenced Jane Darwell's ambiguous sexual persona. I think it is time to more intelligently examine the spectrum of sexuality and the different sexual readings that exist in these films. Of course, it may be a hard sell to those that may not want to acknowledge classic films were made by bisexuals. Our psychology and our fluid sexuality is present in a human construct like a piece of film whether we seek out the evidence or not.

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I have no problem with acknowledging anyone's homosexuality or bisexuality, or any director's, but I never felt Tyrone was transgender.

 

Now, if you want to have a conversation about androgyny in another thread, that is something I actually have studied - if you mean androgyny - frankly, he is one actor I never felt was androgynous. Cary Grant, Dietrich, Hepburn, Garbo - I really think their androgyny is part of their appeal, and certainly many stars have it. I'm not sure being androgynous always indicates someone's sexuality - sometimes it's apparent in one role and not in another - Vanessa Redgrave being a good example of that.

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Yes. I have been wanting to start a thread about sexually ambiguous performances, especially by straight-identified performers and look at it from a genre angle. But I want to think it through a bit more, to figure out what kind of ground can be covered. I also want to use some queer theory which takes me back to a course in college I had at USC, but I need to brush up on the materials before I start making specific assertions. I hope you will contribute to the thread when it appears here in General Discussions in the near future...and anyone else, too! I think androgyny is certainly an offshoot or related subtopic, most definitely.

 

Edited by: TopBilled on Aug 27, 2012 3:05 PM

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No matter Tyrone Power's fluid sexuality, he's never been sexually ambiguous to me nor to anyone else I know. That includes a woman I knew who was involved with him. You can look for homoeroticism and transgenderism under every rock and find it, but that doesn't mean it's there. I don't sit there analyzing every second for it. Ben Hur is another story. I've seen some '30s, '40s, '50s films where there were homoerotic elements that I'm sure went right over the heads of the audiences. Not in any Tyrone Power film except for Zorro where he deliberately played Don Diego as a fop. It was hilarious. Regarding Michael Rennie, there's the old adage, "I'm not gay. I'm English."

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Thanks for the comments, Lorraine. I find it curious that people are quick to try and shut down a discussion of this type. Film can be a non-personal way to examine societal conditions, including fluctuations in human sexuality.

 

I have been very careful not to suggest a performer is gay or straight. I would approach it the same way if this were a film featuring Franklin Pangborn or Meredith Baxter. There is a fluidity and a bisexuality that is evident in most of these films whether people are comfortable to look at it or not.

 

I know that there was a series of films shown several summers ago on TCM that looked at 'out' and 'in the closet' classic film portrayals. That is not where I want to go with the new thread, in fact I do not want it to be a replay of the celluloid closet idea at all. But I want to invite people to participate in a subjective analysis about sexual identity images in film and to what degrees those images can be oriented to one side of the spectrum or the other, if at all.

 

The inspiration for this comes from my watching FREUD recently. It was very controversial for a social scientist to come along and tell people that humans understanding of themselves changed significantly thanks to work by Copernicus and Darwin, and that he (Freud) had a new approach called psychoanalysis about the deep recesses of the mind.

 

In film, we can undertake a study of men and women in society and gender identification and active sexuality in order to better understand ourselves. If someone doesn't like the implication that a beloved movie star may have been a bit sexually ambiguous in a role in a classic film, that is something they will have to work out for themselves. For the rest, it can hopefully be an enlightening internet discussion.

 

Now, to get back to the original post in this thread and make sure we are on topic, my reading of Tyrone Power as a bit femme distracts me from accepting him in the title role of Jesse James. I think the main reason I have trouble accepting his casting is because of the genre, which has its own codes (and maybe even stereotypes) about masculinity.

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