The True Story of Jesse James

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The True Story of Jesse James
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Written by Screenplay:
Walter Newman
Earlier Screenplay:
Nunnally Johnson
Starring Robert Wagner
Jeffrey Hunter
Hope Lange
Agnes Moorehead
Alan Hale Jr.
Music by Leigh Harline
Cinematography Joseph MacDonald
Edited by Robert L. Simpson
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date
February 22, 1957
Running time
92 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,585,000[1]
Box office $1,500,000 (US rentals)[2]

The True Story of Jesse James is a 1957 American Western drama film adapted from Henry King's 1939 film Jesse James, which was only loosely based on James' life.[3] It was directed by Nicholas Ray, with Robert Wagner portraying Jesse James and Jeffrey Hunter starring as Frank James. Filming took place during 1955.[4] Originally titled The James Brothers in the United Kingdom, the film focused on the relationship between the two James brothers during the last 18 years of Jesse James' life.[4]


Jesse (Robert Wagner) and Frank James (Jeffrey Hunter) ride with their gang into Northfield, Minnesota for a raid. While robbing a bank, gun fighting breaks out and two of the gang are killed. The James brothers and another gang member head out of town and hide out while investigators from the Remington Detective Agency search for James to receive a $30,000 reward. While the three are hiding, the film tells the story of how the James brothers came to be criminals in flashback.



Shortly after his success with 1955's Rebel Without a Cause, Ray was hired to direct this movie based on Jesse James' later life. He had only one movie left under his contract with 20th Century Fox, before he would depart for Europe and film Bitter Victory. The studio suggested a remake of King's 1939 biography of Jesse James.[5]

It is speculated that had James Dean not died in a car crash before production began, he would have starred in this film as Jesse James.[6][7] In place of Dean, director Ray hoped to cast Elvis Presley, who had successfully completed his first film, Love Me Tender.[8] Ray's son Tony also was cast in the film as Bob Younger, the first time he appeared in one of his father's films.[8]

Hope Lange, a contract player for 20th Century Fox, was hired for the role after her Academy Award-nominated success with Peyton Place. John Carradine had appeared in the first Jesse James film as Bob Ford and appears in the 1957 version as Rev. Jethro Bailey.[3]

Ray shot the film using CinemaScope, a new technology at that time.[3] The movie was shot in 1956. Stock footage that had previously been used on the earlier James film which inspired this one was re-used and reconfigured for CinemaScope.[3]


In the film, Jesse James is portrayed as a "Nicholas Ray hero"—a consistent type of character seen throughout Ray's films and thought to be based on Ray himself.[5] Ray's similar characters include Jim Stark (James Dean) in Rebel Without a Cause and Jesus Christ in King of Kings.[5]

Comic book adaption[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p251
  2. ^ Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p227
  3. ^ a b c d "The True Story of Jesse James (1957)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-30. 
  4. ^ a b "The True Story of Jesse James (1955)". Retrieved 2008-10-30. 
  5. ^ a b c "THE TRUE STORY OF JESSE JAMES". Electric Sheep Magazine. Retrieved 2008-10-30. 
  6. ^ "Wanted: Jesse James". New York Sun. Retrieved 2008-10-30. 
  7. ^ French, Philip (2007-12-02). "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford". London: The Observer. Retrieved 2008-10-30. 
  8. ^ a b Live Fast, Die Young. Simon & Schuster. Retrieved 2008-10-30. 
  9. ^ "Dell Four Color #757". Grand Comics Database. 
  10. ^ Dell Four Color #757 at the Comic Book DB

External links[edit]