Robert Ford, who's idolized Jesse James since childhood, tries hard to join the reforming gang of the Missouri outlaw, but gradually becomes resentful of the bandit leader.

[last lines]
Narrator: He was ashamed of his persiflage, his boasting, his pretensions of courage and ruthlessness; he was sorry about his cold-bloodedness, his dispassion, his inability to express what he now believed was the case- that he truly regretted killing Jesse, that he missed the man as much as anybody and wished his murder hadn't been necessary. Even as he circulated his saloon he knew that the smiles disappeared when he passed by. He received so many menacing letters that he could read them without any reaction except curiosity. He kept to his apartment all day, flipping over playing cards, looking at his destiny in every King and Jack. Edward O'Kelly came up from Bachelor at one P.M. on the 8th. He had no grand scheme. No strategy. No agreement with higher authorities. Nothing but a vague longing for glory, and a generalized wish for revenge against Robert Ford. Edward O'Kelly would be ordered to serve a life sentence in the Colorado Penitentiary for second degree murder. Over seven thousand signatures would eventually be gathered in a petition asking for O'Kelly's release, and in 1902, Governor James B. Ullman would pardon the man. There would be no eulogies for Bob, no photographs of his body would be sold in sundries stores, no people would crowd the streets in the rain to see his funeral cortege, no biographies would be written about him, no children named after him, no one would ever pay twenty-five cents to stand in the rooms he grew up in. The shotgun would ignite, and Ella Mae would scream, but Robert Ford would only lay on the floor and look at the ceiling, the light going out of his eyes before he could find the right words.
Narrator: By his own approximation, Bob assassinated Jesse James over 800 times. He suspected no one in history had ever so often or so publicly recapitulated an act of betrayal.
Jesse James: [Bob walks in on Jesse in the bath] Go away.
Robert Ford: Used to be nobody could sneak up on Jesse James.
Jesse James: Now you think otherwise?
Robert Ford: I ain't never seen you without your guns, neither.
[Jesse removes a towel, revealing his gun]
Jesse James: [pause] Can't figure it out: do you want to be like me or do you want to BE me?
Robert Ford: [defeated] I'm just making fun is all.
Ed Miller: I was with a girl once. Wasn't a squaw, but she was purty. She had yellow hair, like uh... oh, like something.
Dick Liddil: Like hair bobbed from a ray of sunlight?
Ed Miller: Yeah, yeah. Like that. Boy, you talk good.
Dick Liddil: You can hide things in vocabulary.
Ed Miller: Maybe you and me could writer her a note, send it by post?
Dick Liddil: See, all you gotta do, Ed, is predict her needs and beat her to the punch.
Ed Miller: Well, this girl, she had a real specific job.
Dick Liddil: Specific?
Ed Miller: We's only together once. She's afraid of lightning. She came up into the wagon and just cuddled right up to me. She gave me a kind price, too.
Dick Liddil: Well I'll be! That is specific.
Ed Miller: Yeah, sure, she been with other people. But the kinds of things she said to me, people just don't say unless they really mean it.
Dick Liddil: "My love said she would marry only me, and Jove himself could not make her care, for what women say to lovers, you'll agree, one writes on running water, or on air."
Ed Miller: My God that's good. Let's write her that.
Dick Liddil: Naw. Poetry don't work on whores.
[first lines]
Narrator: He was growing into middle age, and was living then in a bungalow on Woodland Avenue. He installed himself in a rocking chair and smoked a cigar down in the evenings as his wife wiped her pink hands on an apron and reported happily on their two children. His children knew his legs, the sting of his mustache against their cheeks. They didn't know how their father made his living, or why they so often moved. They didn't even know their father's name. He was listed in the city directory as Thomas Howard. And he went everywhere unrecognized and lunched with Kansas City shopkeepers and merchants, calling himself a cattleman or a commodities investor, someone rich and leisured who had the common touch. He had two incompletely healed bullet holes in his chest and another in his thigh. He was missing the nub of his left middle finger and was cautious, lest that mutilation be seen. He also had a condition that was referred to as "granulated eyelids" and it caused him to blink more than usual as if he found creation slightly more than he could accept. Rooms seemed hotter when he was in them. Rains fell straighter. Clocks slowed. Sounds were amplified. He considered himself a Southern loyalist and guerrilla in a Civil War that never ended. He regretted neither his robberies, nor the seventeen murders that he laid claim to. He had seen another summer under in Kansas City, Missouri and on September 5th in the year 1881, he was thirty-four-years-old.
Jesse James: [last words] Don't that picture look dusty?
Jesse James: [Jesse has given Bob a gun as a gift] You know what John Newman Edwards once wrote about me? He said I didn't trust two men in ten thousand and was even cautious around them. The government's sort of run me ragged. I'm going the long way around the barn to say I've been feeling cornered and just plain ornery of late and I'd be pleased if you'd accept the gun as my way of apologizing.
Robert Ford: Heaven knows I'd be ornerier if I were in your position.
Jesse James: No. I haven't been acting correctly. I can't hardly recognize myself sometimes when I'm greased. I go on journeys out of my body and look at my red hands and my mean face and I wonder about that man who's gone so wrong. I've been becoming a problem to myself.
Narrator: And so it went, Jesse was increasingly cavalier. Merry, moody, fey, unpredictable. He camouflaged his depressions and derangements with masquerades of extreme cordiality, courtesy, and goodwill towards others. But Even as he jested or tickled his boy in the ribs, Jesse would look over at Bob with melancholy eyes as if the two were meshed in an intimate communication. Bob was certain that the man had unriddled him; had seen through his reasons for coming along; that Jesse could forecast each of Bob's possible moves and inclinations and was only acting the innocent in order to lull Bob into a stupid tranquility and miscalculation.
Narrator: The day before he died was Palm Sunday. And Mr. and Mrs. Howard, their two children and their cousin Charles Johnson strolled to the second Presbyterian Church to attend the 10:00 service. Bob remained at the cottage and slyly migrated from room to room. He walked into the Master bedroom and inventoried the clothes on the hangers and hooks. He sipped from the water glass on the vanity. He smelled the talcum and lilacs on Jesse's pillowcase. His fingers skittered over his ribs to construe the scars where Jesse was twice shot. He manufactured a middle finger that was missing the top two knuckles. He imagined himself at 34. He imagined himself in a coffin. He considered possibilities and everything wonderful that could come true.
Charley Ford: You think it's all made up don't ya? You think it's all yarns and newspaper stories.
Robert Ford: He's just a human being.
Robert Ford: They gave me ten days.
Charley Ford: For what?
Robert Ford: Arresting him.
Charley Ford: You and me, huh?
Robert Ford: It's going to happen one way or another. It's going to happen, Charley, and it might as well be us who get rich on it.
Charley Ford: Bob, he's our friend.
Robert Ford: He murdered Ed Miller. He's going to murder Liddil and Cummins if the chance ever comes. Seems to me Jesse's riding from man to man, saying goodbye to the gang. Your friendship could put you under the pansies.
Charley Ford: I'll grind it fine in my mind, Bob. I can't go any further than that, right now.
Robert Ford: You'll come around.
Charley Ford: You think it's all made up, don't you? You think it's all yarns and newspaper stories.
Robert Ford: He's just a human being.
Jesse James: [motioning to Bob] Sit over here closer, Kid.
[begins massaging Bob's neck]
Jesse James: Charley, you'll stay with the animals. Me and The Kid will walk into the bank just before noon. Bob will move the cashier away from the shotgun that's under the counter and I'll creep up behind that cashier and cock his chin back like so...
[snaps Bob's head back, sticks a knife to his throat]
Jesse James: I'll say 'How come an off-scouring of creation like you is still sucking air when so many of mine are in coffins?' I'll say 'How'd you reach your twentieth birthday without leaking out all over your clothes?' And if I don't like his attitude, I'll slit that phildoodle so deep he'll flop on the floor like a fish.
[Jesse let's Bob go, begins to laugh hysterically]
Jesse James: My God, what just happened? I could hear your gears grinding- rrr,rrr,rrr-and your little motor wondering, 'My Gosh, what's next, what's happening to me?' You were precious to behold, Bob. You were white as spit in a cotton field!
Jesse James: You ever count the stars? I can't ever get the same number, they keep changin' on me.
Ed Miller: I don't even know what a star is, exactly...
Jesse James: Well, your body knows, it's your mind that forgot.
Narrator: He was ashamed of his boasting, his pretensions of courage and ruthlessness. He was sorry about his cold-bloodedness, his dispassion, his inability to express what he now believed was the case: That he truly regretted killing Jesse, that he missed the man as much as anybody, and wished his murder hadn't been necessary.
Jesse James: Yeah, just ain't no peace with old Jesse around. You ought to pity my poor wife.
Robert Ford: [to Frank James] Folks sometimes take me for a nincompoop on account of the shabby first impression I make, whereas I've always thought of myself as being just a rung down from the James Brothers. And I was hoping if I ran into you aside from those peckerwoods, I was hoping I could show you how special I am. I honestly believe I'm destined for great things, Mr. James. I've got qualities that don't come shining through right at the outset, but give me a chance and I'll get the job done- I can guarantee you that.
Jesse James: Look at my red hands and my mean face... and I wonder 'bout that man that's gone so wrong.
Charley Ford: Hey, Dick, you ever diddled a squaw?
Dick Liddil: Shh...
Charley Ford: Come on, you can tell me. I've always wanted to lay down with a redskin.
Dick Liddil: Well, Charley, there's a feeling that comes over you gettin' inside a woman whose hands have scalped a congregation.
Wood Hite: There's a thunderous sound that comes from their cooch on account of the fact that they birth a child standing upright like a wild animal.
Charley Ford: What's it sound like?
Wood Hite: Whatever a thunderous cooch sounds like, Charley. I don't know.
Dick Liddil: No, they got a noisy quim on account of the fact that they use their cunnies as a saddlebag to carry tundries across the planes.
Charley Ford: Come on, what'd it really feel like? It feel good? Come on. Fess up, now.
Dick Liddil: I like you, Charley.
Wood Hite: I like you too, Charley.
Dick Liddil: Can you hand me that six-gun there, Bob?
[Bob hands Dick his "grandaddy" paterson colt]
Dick Liddil: [holding the gun to Bob's head, whispering] If you so much as mention my name to Jesse... Boy, I'd find out about it. You had better believe *that*. And I'll look you up. I will knock on your door. And I will be as mad as a hornet. I will be hot.
Robert Ford: Careful with that iron, Dick.
Dick Liddil: You know where I stand on these matters and that's all there is to it. Me and you can be as friendly as pigs from now on.
Wood Hite: [about Dick] His philanderin' ways have instigated such malice. He's a yellow snake in the grass and can't be trusted.
Wilbur Ford: Dick told me a complete other version of that affair.
Robert Ford: [upstairs, waking Dick] Wood Hite's downstairs.
Wood Hite: You mean he's here?
[Bob and Dick grab their Colts and ready themselves]
Robert Ford: Your brother Frank and I just had a real nice visit. Chit-chattin about this and that. There must have been a hundred subjects we entertained...
Jesse James: [interrupting] Good lord, you know what this stew needs?
Robert Ford: [hesitating] ... dumplings?
Jesse James: Noodles! You get yourself some noodle stew, your clock'll tick all night!
[Bob nervously smiles]
Jesse James: You ever see that woman up in Fayette, can suck noodles up 'er nose? In Fayette?
Robert Ford: No. I don't believe I have.
Jesse James: Never heard of her? Huh? She got canals up there you never dreamed of.
Zee James: [Bob has shot Jesse] Bob, have you done this?
Robert Ford: I swear to God that I didn't.
Dick Liddil: Did you cook this, ma'am?
Sarah Hite: I've got a nigga woman.
Major George Hite: [short of hearing] How's that?
Sarah Hite: [louder and slower] Dick asked if I cooked this!
Major George Hite: Did ya?
Sarah Hite: ...No!
Wood Hite: [whispering to Dick] She knew what he was like when she married him.
Jesse James: Did I ever mention that scalawag George Shepherd? George was one of Quantrill's lieutenants and he gave me a story like Bob's, is why I thought of him, giving me everything we had in common and so on, just so he could join the gang. How could I know he had a grudge against me and was lying to get on my good side? I said 'Come aboard, George. Glad to have ya,'. George thought he was smart. 'Cept he wasn't. He rode into camp one morning and about twenty guns opened up on him.
Jesse James: But he only had one eye- and you need two eyes to get Jesse.
Robert Ford: You oughn't think of me like you do George Shepherd.
Jesse James: You brought him to mind.
Robert Ford: It's not very flattering.
Jesse James: [ignoring him] Sure is good eating, Martha.
Martha Bolton: Well, I'm so glad you enjoyed it.
Robert Ford: How come George had a grudge against you?
Jesse James: Hmm?
Robert Ford: I said "How come George had a grudge against you?"
Jesse James: Oh. George asked me to protect this nephew of his during the war and it so happens the kid had five thousand dollars on him. The kid winds up killed, and all the money swiped from him, and when George was in prison someone whispers to him it was Jesse James slit the boy's throat.
Charley Ford: Just mean gossip, was it?
Jesse James: Bob's the expert; let's put it to him.
[Bob stands up abruptly, pouting]
Jesse James: Oh dear, I've made him cranky.
Robert Ford: I'm not cranky. I've been through this before, is all. Once people get around to making fun of me, they just don't ever let up.
Jesse James: Give me some more conversations, Bob.
Charley Ford: I got one. This one's about as crackerjack.
Jesse James: Let Bob tell it.
Robert Ford: I don't even know what you're talking about.
Charley Ford: About how much you and Jesse have in common.
Jesse James: Go on, Bob.
Charley Ford: Tell a story.
Robert Ford: Nope. Nope.
Charley Ford: Entertain Jesse. He's here.
Robert Ford: Well, if you'll pardon my saying so, I guess it is interesting, the many ways you and I overlap and whatnot. You begin with our Daddies. Your daddy was a pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church; my daddy was a pastor of a church at Excelsior Springs. Um. You're the youngest of the three James boys; I'm the youngest of the five Ford boys. Between Charley and me, is another brother, Wilbur here, with six letters in his name; between Frank and you was a brother, Robert, also with six letters. Robert is my Christian name. You have blue eyes; I have blue eyes. You're five feet eight inches tall. I'm five feet eight inches tall. Oh me, I must've had a list as long as your nightshirt when I was twelve, but I've lost some curiosities over the years.
Jesse James: [stares at Bob for a long time, smiles] Ain't he something?
Jesse James: Go back to bed.
Robert Ford: I got to use the privy.
Jesse James: You think you do, but you don't.
Narrator: Bob always challenged the allegations of cowardice, but Charley seemed to agree with them. He spoke of Mrs. Zee James as certain priests might the Madonna, and composed long soul-describing letters to her, begging her forgiveness; none of which he mailed.
[Charley shoots himself in the heart]
Narrator: Charley Ford became all that his countrymen wanted an assassin of Jesse James to be.
Robert Ford: You want to investigate my courage? Do you? Find out! Find out!
Jesse James: You ever consider suicide?
Charley Ford: Can't say that I have. There was always something else I wanted to do. Or my predicaments changed or I saw my hardships from a different slant; you know all what can happen. It never seemed respectable.
Jesse James: I'll tell you one thing that's certain; you won't fight dying once you've peeked over to the other side; you'll no more want to go back to your body than you'd want to spoon up your own puke.
Charley Ford: [long pause] Since we're looking to rob banks, I was wondering if I could go as far as to recommend we add another feller to the gang and sort of see if we couldn't come out of our next job alive. Bob wanted to know could he ride with us next time we took on a savings bank or a-
[Jesse fires his gun into a frozen lake]
Charley Ford: A savings bank or-
[Jesse fires again]
Charley Ford: A railroad.
[Jesse fires once more]
Charley Ford: Bob isn't much more than a boy to most appearances, but there's about two tons of sand in him and he'll stand with his shooter when that's what's called for. And he's smart too-he's about as intricate as they come.
Jesse James: You're forgetting that I've already met the kid.
Charley Ford: He surely thinks highly of you.
Jesse James: All American thinks highly of me.
Charley Ford: Still. It's not like you've got two million names you can snatch out of a sock whenever you need a third man.
Jesse James: I can see you're trying to wear me down on this.
Charley Ford: [smiles] That was my main intention.
Bowery Saloon Singer: [singing] Jesse had a wife to mourn for his life. Three children, they were brave. But that dirty little coward...
[Bob draws his gun and shoots the floor of the saloon]
Robert Ford: I'm Robert Ford...
[saloon patrons stand in stunned silence while Bob throws his gun on the floor]
Robert Ford: It was two children. Not three.
Jesse James: You know I'm real comfortable with your brother. Hell, he's ugly as sin and he smells like a skunk and he's so ignorant he couldn't drive nails in the snow, but he's sort of easy to be around. I can't say the same for you, Bob.
Robert Ford: I'm sorry to hear you say that.
Jesse James: [pause] You know how it is when you're with your girlfriend and the moon is out and you know she wants to be kissed even though she never said so?
Robert Ford: Yeah.
Jesse James: You're giving me signs that grieve my soul and make me wonder if maybe your mind's been changed about me.
Robert Ford: What do you want me to do? Swear my good faith on the Bible?
Governor Crittenden: Jesse James sent me a telegram last month, saying he was going to kill me if he had to wreck a train to do it. He said that once I was in his hands he was going to cut my heart out and eat it in strips like it was bacon.
Governor Crittenden: I'm going to wreck his train first.
Robert Ford: [Bob scoffs, Crittenden glares at him] I'm sorry, Your Excellency. I was thinking of something else.
Governor Crittenden: Jesse James is nothing more than a public outlaw who's made his reputation by stealing whatever he could and by killing whoever got in his way. You'll hear some fools say he's getting back at Republicans and Union men for wrongs his family suffered during the war, but his victims have scarcely ever been selected with reference to their political views. I'm saying his sins will soon find him out. I'm saying his cup of iniquity is full. I'm saying Jesse James is a desperate case and may require a desperate remedy.
Frank James: You're not so special, Mr. Ford. You're just like any other tyro who's prinked himself up for an escapade, hoping to be a gunslinger like them nickel books are about. You may as well quench your mind of it, because you don't have the ingredients, son.
Robert Ford: Well, I'm sorry to hear you feel that way, as I put such stock in your opinion. As for me being a gunslinger, I've just got this one granddaddy Paterson Colt and a borrowed belt to stick it in. But I also got an appetite for greater things. I hoped by joining up with you, it'd put me that much closer to getting them.
Frank James: Well, what am I supposed to say to that?
Robert Ford: Let me be your sidekick tonight.
Frank James: Sidekick?
Robert Ford: So you can examine my grit and intelligence.
Frank James: I don't know what it is about you, but the more you talk, the more you give me the willies. Now I don't believe I want you anywhere within earshot this evening, okay? You understand?
Robert Ford: Well, I'm sorry...
Frank James: Why don't you just get, now? Scat!
Robert Ford: I've been a nobody all my life. I was the baby; I was the one they made promises to that they never kept. And ever since I can recall it, Jesse James has been as big as a tree. I'm prepared for this, Jim. And I'm going to accomplish it. I know I won't get but this one opportunity and you can bet your life I'm not going to spoil it.
Jesse James: I'll tell you one things that's for certain... you won't minddying once you've peeked over the other side. You'll no more wanna go back to your body than... you'd wanna soon up your own puke.
Robert Ford: I can't believe I woke up this morning wondering if my Daddy would loan me his overcoat, and here it is just past midnight and I've already robbed a railroad train and I'm sitting in a rocking chair chatting with none other than Jesse James.
Jesse James: Yeah, it's a wonderful world.
Robert Ford: [reaches into his pocket and removes a newspaper clipping] Oh, what's this? I was real agitated this morning, wondering if I'd be able to tell you and Frank apart. So I had the clipping that described you both. You want me to read it?
Jesse James: Go on.
Robert Ford: Well, I gotta find... here. 'Jesse James, the youngest, has a face as smooth and innocent as a schoolgirl. The blue eyes, very clear and penetrating, are never at rest. His form is tall and graceful and capable of great endurance and great effort. Jesse is lighthearted, reckless, and devil-may-care. There is always a smile on his lips-'
Jesse James: All right, all right.
Robert Ford: Well, yeah. Then it's 'Frank, Frank, Frank... ' You know what I've got right next to my bed? The Train Robbers, or a story of the James Boys, by R.W. Stevens. Many's the night I've stayed up with my mouth opens and my eyes open, reading about your escapades in the Wide Awake Library.
Jesse James: They're all lies, you know.
Robert Ford: 'Course they are.
Jesse James: [to Bob] You're gonna break a lot of hearts.
Wood Hite: Oh, I'm a good old rebel, Now thats just what I am, And for this yankee nation, I do no give a damn. I'm glad I fought a ganner, I only wish we won. I aint asked any pardon for anything I've done. I hates the yankee nation and eveything they do. I hates the declaration of independence, too. I hates the glorious union, just dripping with our blood. I hates the striped banner, and fitted all I could.
Dick Liddil: I guess we're the night-owls, you and I...
Robert Ford: [Looking at Wood lying on the floor in a pool of blood with a bullet hole in his head] He's still suckin' air, but I think he's a goner.
Martha Bolton: Why did you and Dick get into a scrape about?
Wood Hite: Well, he tampered with my daddy's wife while a pork chop burned on the skillet, so I shot him.
Robert Ford: How's that leg?
Dick Liddil: Full of torment, Bob. Thanks for askin'.
Jesse James: [indicating Frank] My brother and me are hardly on speaking terms these days.
Robert Ford: I wasn't going to mention it.
Jesse James: [pulls two snakes out of a box, startling Bob] You scared?
Robert Ford: Just surprised a little.
Jesse James: They aren't as succulent as I like and they're the devil to clean but if a man skins them and fries them in garlic and oil-mercy, thems good eating.
Robert Ford: Well, I've never been that hungry.
Jesse James: I give them names.
Robert Ford: Such as?
Jesse James: Such as enemies. I give them the names of enemies.
[cuts their heads off with a knife]
Jesse James: Well, Charley, did you hurt your leg?
Charley Ford: Yeah, I slipped... I slipped off the roof and I smacked down into a snow bank, like a ton of stupidness. One second I'm screamin', "Woah Nelly!", Next second, poof, I'm neck-deep in snow!
Jesse James: Well, whatever possessed you to climb a roof in December?
Charley Ford: There was a k - a kite. What am I saying? There was a cat, a cat! It was on the roof and I went after him. It was a tomcat yowling and what all, and I slipped.
Jesse James: I thought maybe your club foot was gaining on you!
Jesse James: Don't tell me what I can and can not do, Ed.
Dorothy Evans: Why did you kill him?
Robert Ford: Well, he was gonna kill me.
Dorothy Evans: So you were scared and that's the only reason?
Robert Ford: Yeah. And the reward money.
[long pause]
Dorothy Evans: Do you want me to change the subject?
Robert Ford: You know what I expected? Applause.
[laughs to himself]
Robert Ford: I was only 20 years old then. I couldn't see how it would look to people. I was surprised by what happened. They didn't applaud.

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