Jesse James

I am a fugitive from a James gang: Tyrone Power as Jesse in Jesse James (dir. Henry King, 1939).

Is "Tyrone Power" the best name ever or what? If ever there were a moniker you would think for sure had to be dreamed up by an agent, there it is--but the Powers are actually a venerable old family, and Tyrone was named after a long line of fathers and grandfathers. The next thing you'd think is that this guy was just a cardboard cut-out with a nice physique and smile, but he's convincing as Jesse, especially when he's got a few days' growth of beard to cover over the look of pampered innocence. I really want to believe that the following quote I found attributed to him on IMdB is genuine, but my confidence level is low: "Some day I will show all the motherfuckers who say I was a success just because of my pretty face. Sometimes I wish I'd have a really bad car accident so my face would get smashed up and I'd look like Eddie Constantine."

The movie is pure Hollywood: unrepentant historical distortion, anachronistic hair and makeup, endless schtick of all sorts. It's also a fun ride, and has some nuance here and there. There are even a few moments when the technicolor popcorn-fest darkens to admit some chilling vignettes, as when some neighborhood kids play outlaw in the front yard, pointing sticks at little Jesse Junior and shouting "You're Jesse James! You're dead!" "I'm dead," he agrees quietly, with hands folded across his chest, as his father looks on in consternation--moments before going to live out the scene in earnest himself.


girish said...

I've never seen this, but I like Lang's sequel, made the following year, The Return of Frank James, with Henry Fonda in the title role. Recently, at George Eastman House, I caught up with Philip Kaufman's Jesse James film, The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (Robert Duvall plays James as a dumb, bigoted hick and the focus is not on him but on Cliff Robertson as Cole Younger) on a double bill with Sam Fuller's I Shot Jesse James, both good films, esp. the former. I've been meaning to see Nick Ray's Jesse James film for a long while; it's now on dvd.

Mrs. R said...

Both of the quotes you attribute to Tyrone are his, and can be found in "All Those Tomorrows" by Mai Zetterling, with whom he was involved from 1955 to 1958. He was very hurt by the way he was disregarded by the critics because of his looks and found that the theater critics appreciated him more.

One of my friends told me that "Alexander's Ragtime Band" was shown in their music appreciation class. She and the girl next to her went ga-ga over Tyrone Power, whom they had never seen before, and waited eagerly for the cast list to find out his name. When they saw the name Tyrone Power, my friend turned to the girl next to her and said, "Wait a minute. You're not going to tell me this guy looks like that and is named TYRONE POWER???"

If you by chance live in the vicinity of Los Angeles, American Cinematheque is doing a three-day tribute to him in November 2008.