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The young Rebel turns to crime after the Civil War's end.
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.
Cast & Crew
|MPAA Ratings:||Premiere Info:||not available|
|Release Date:||1957||Production Date:||
EBX; UCLA has VHS P-VA3079M; AFI*
|Color/B&W:||Color (DeLuxe)||Distributions Co:||Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.|
|Sound:||Stereo||Production Co:||Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.|
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