I Shot Jesse James

I Shot Jesse James is a 1949 American western film directed by Samuel Fuller about the murder of Jesse James by Robert Ford and Robert Ford's life afterwards. The story is built around a fictional rivalry between Ford and his eventual killer Edward Kelley (called John in the film) over a woman. I Shot Jesse James is Samuel Fuller's first movie, and stars Reed Hadley as Jesse James and John Ireland as Bob Ford.

I Shot Jesse James
Film poster
Directed bySamuel Fuller
Produced byCarl K. Hittleman
Executive producer:
Robert L. Lippert
Screenplay bySamuel Fuller
Story bySamuel Fuller
Homer Croy
Based onarticles first published in The American Weekly
by Homer Croy
StarringPreston Foster
Barbara Britton
John Ireland
Music byAlbert Glasser
CinematographyErnest Miller
Distributed byScreen Guild Productions Inc.
Release date
  • February 26, 1949 (1949-02-26)
Running time
81 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$118,000[1] or $500,000[2]

The film was released on video by the Criterion Collection's Eclipse imprint together with The Baron of Arizona and The Steel Helmet.[3]


Bob Ford of the Jesse James gang is wounded during a bank robbery. He mends at Jesse's home in Missouri for six months, although Jesse's wife Zee doesn't trust him.

Cynthy Waters, an actress Bob is in love with, comes to town to perform on stage. Bob catches her speaking with John Kelley, a prospector, and is jealous. He knows that Cynthy wants to get married and settle down.

In need of money, Bob hears of the governor's $10,000 reward for Jesse. He betrays his friend, shooting Jesse in the back. Bob is pardoned by the governor but receives a reward for just $500.

He spends the money on an engagement ring. Harry Kane, who manages Cynthy's career, books Bob for stage appearances in which he re-enacts the shooting of Jesse. He is booed by audiences and mocked in public for his cowardly deed.

Bob goes to Colorado to try prospecting and runs into Kelley, who is rejecting offers to become Creede's town marshal. Bob wakes up one day to find both Kelley and the engagement ring missing. Cynthy arrives just as Kelley returns, having captured the ring's thief. Kelley is disappointed when Cynthy accepts Bob's proposal, so he accepts the job as marshal.

Frank James, brother of Jesse, overhears a conversation in which Cynthy confides to Kelley that he's the one she truly loves. Frank makes sure that Bob learns of this, knowing Bob will make the fatal mistake of confronting Kelley face to face. In the street, Bob draws on Kelley and is shot dead. Kelley gets the girl and Frank avenges his brother's death.



Sam Fuller was a writer who wanted to direct. He offered Robert L. Lippert a script for a low price if he could direct as well. Fuller's directing fee was a reported $5,000.[1]

Filming started 25 October 1948.[4]


The film premiered in St Joseph, where Bob Ford shot Jesse James.[5]


Robert L. Lippert sold the film's international rights for a flat $200,000.[2]

The film reportedly earned Lippert over half a million dollars in profits and was the movie that took his career to the next level in Hollywood.[6]

Lippert was so pleased with the film he signed Carl Hittleman to produce five more films: Grand Canyon, Park Row, The Baron of Arizona, an adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Ghost of Jesse James; Park Row, Baron and Leagues were to be directed by Sam Fuller.[7] Fuller did make Baron for Lippert but did Park Row for another producer. Ghost of Jesse James became The Return of Frank James.[8] Hitleman eventually signed a contract with Universal.[9]


  1. Low-Budget Movies With POW!: Most fans never heard of director Sam Fuller, but to some film buffs he has real class. Low-Budget Movies By EZRA GOODMAN HOLLYWOOD.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 28 Feb 1965: SM42.
  2. Schallert, E. (1948, Dec 21). Ethel barrymore will play second grandma; foreign deal unusual. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/165905835
  3. http://www.criterion.com/films/882-i-shot-jesse-james
  4. MOVIELAND BRIEFS. (1948, Sep 23). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/165849397
  5. 'PLUNDERERS' WILL SCREEN. (1948, Dec 20). Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/165907021
  6. By, A. H. W. (1949, Jan 30). BY WAY OF REPORT. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/105774114
  7. Schallert, E. (1949, Mar 30). Israel bids for adler, muni and hecht play; rogers seeks star packet. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/165911177
  8. By THOMAS F BRADY Special to THE NEW,YORK TIMES. (1950, Mar 24). WARNERS ACQUIRE 'WINTERSET' RIGHTS. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/111423569
  9. Scheuer, P. K. (1951, Aug 22). Drama. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/166222656
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