Roy Rogers, George 'Gabby' Hayes, and Gale Storm in Jesse James at Bay (1941)


(director: Joseph Kane; screenwriters: Harrison Jacobs/James R. Webb; cinematographer: William Nobles; editor: Tony Martinelli; music: Darrell Calker/Leo Erdody/Cy Feuer/Albert Glasser/Mort Glickman/William Lava/Walter Samuels/Paul Sawtell/Marlin Skiles; cast: Roy Rogers (Jesse James/Clint Burns), George ‘Gabby’ Hayes (Gabby Whittaker), Sally Payne (Polly Morgan), Gale Storm (Jane Fillmore), Pierre Watkin (Phineas Kraeger), Ivan Miller (Judge Rutherford), Wally Wales (Paul Sloan, crooked lawyer), Roy Barcroft (Henchman Vern Stone); Runtime: 56; MPAA Rating: NR; producer:Joseph Kane; Republic; 1941)

“You’re asked to believe that the bland Roy Rogers is the volatile Jesse James.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Republic’s Jesse James at Bay absurdly rewrites history with this revisionist take on the west’s most famous outlaw. It shows that the outlaw is not only alive and well in Nebraska after supposedly being killed according to legend, but is also turned into a “good guy” whose train-robbery rampage is excused away because he’s a Robin Hood figure who robs the rich to give to the poor because the railroad people are crooks who stole the honest farmers’ land by exploiting a loophole in the law. You’re asked to believe that the bland Roy Rogers is the volatile Jesse James. Veteran B-western director Joseph Kane (“Young Bill Hickok”/”Bad Man of Deadwood”/Sons of the Pioneers”) can’t make this dog bark. This is one of the few westerns where Roy is not only miscast but doesn’t even warble a tune.

Slimy railroad man Kraeger (Pierre Watkin) works a landgrabbing scheme on the Missouri farmers and unknown to the local yokels hires crooked lawyer Sloan (Wally Wales) to lose their case while defending them against the railroad. Sheriff Gabby Whittaker (Gabby Hayes) writes to Nebraska for the supposedly dead Jesse James to return to his hometown of Hillman and help his people get their stolen land back from Kraeger. Two sassy young lady reporters from St. Louis, Polly Morgan (Sally Payne) and Jane Fillmore (Gale Storm), come to the small-town to get the story about the landgrab by the railroad and stick around to cover the return of Jesse James story. There’s also a coincidence that bad guy gambler Clint Burns arrives in town and is mistaken for Jesse James because he’s a dead ringer for Jesse. When Jesse wins the hearts of the farmers by robbing the railroad and laying the stolen loot on them so that they can buy back their land (which can’t be honest, but Republic’s Boy Scout-like star seems to have no qualms about risking his squeaky-clean image for such questionable ethics), Kraeger hires Burns (also played by Rogers) to pose as Jesse and burn down their farms to give him a bad image.

After the real Jesse straightens things out and brings all the baddies to justice, he heads back to Nebraska by buggy with Jane sitting next to him. Unfortunately, this was one tall story that strained one’s credulity and is one of Roy Rogers’ poorer efforts.