14 July 2002 | BrianDanaCamp
Roy Rogers makes pals with Jesse James in Republic B-western
Inspired no doubt by the success of Fox's Technicolor saga, JESSE JAMES (1939), Republic Pictures cranked out DAYS OF JESSE JAMES (1939) which turned the Jesse story into a vehicle for Roy Rogers at a time when the actor was specializing in historical westerns with a minimum of songs (BILLY THE KID RETURNS, YOUNG BUFFALO BILL, YOUNG BILL HICKOK, etc.). As a result, poor Jesse gets short shrift here, functioning as a red herring in a standard B-western tale of a corrupt banker robbing his own bank and blaming it on the James gang.
Roy Rogers stars as Roy Rogers, a freelance peace officer hired by the Bankers' Association to track down the stolen money, a mission which compels him to go undercover and masquerade as an ex-con to join the James gang. Complicating matters is the presence of a corrupt railroad detective (Harry Woods) seeking to use Rogers' efforts to get the reward money for himself. Gabby Hayes plays Gabby Whitaker, a former California miner whose savings were stolen from the bank and who tags along with Roy. Gabby's granddaughter Mary, played by Pauline Moore, provides the female love interest. Donald Barry plays Jesse James and Glenn Strange (a future Frankenstein monster over at Universal Pictures) shows up briefly as Cole Younger.
The film follows the lead of the Fox hit (which starred Tyrone Power in the role) in whitewashing the reputation of the famed outlaw. Jesse is let off the hook pretty easily and is played by Barry as a fairly conscientious fellow although he does try to rob a bank at one point. In general, the film takes a pretty casual view of the rule of law. Roy commits crime in the course of the film--all in the aim of solving the bank robbery, of course--but suffers no consequence. Even the Missouri sheriff (Fred Burns) working with Roy gets into the act, at one point entering a man's home looking for "outlaws" Roy and Gabby. When the homeowner asks to see a warrant, the sheriff thrusts his pistol at him and declares, "This is all the search warrant I need."
Despite the potential for suspense and conflict, there is far less action here than usual for a Rogers western of this period and far too much talk. Barry does a good, quick turn as Jesse, a role he would play again 15 years later in an even lower budgeted western, JESSE JAMES' WOMEN (1954), which he also directed. (As Don "Red" Barry, the actor achieved some success as a Republic Pictures B-western star in the early-to-mid 1940s.) The character of Jesse fared slightly better in a subsequent Rogers western, JESSE JAMES AT BAY (1941), in which Rogers himself played both a noble Jesse and a less-than-noble look-alike who commits crimes in Jesse's name.