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Return of Frank James, The (Fox 1940, Henry Fonda, Gene Tierney)

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Sequel to 20th Century Fox’s Jesse James (1939), in which HENRY FONDA starred as Frank James, brother of notorious outlaw Jesse. At the end of the movie, Jesse is shot in the back by the Ford brothers.

In The Return of Frank James, Frank (Fonda again) has rejected Jesse’s misguided sense of romantic rebellion and is leading a contented life as a law-abiding farmer. When he hears of Jesse’s death, he decides to let justice take its course and, sure enough, the Fords are convicted of murder. But when the Governor pardons the killers, Frank vows to avenge his brother’s death.

Needing money to fund his mission, he robs the railway (during which a guard is shot), and, with faithful kid Clem (JACKIE COOPER) in tow, together with a little loving support from glamorous newspaper reporter, Eleanor Stone (GENE TIERNEY), Frank eventually catches up with Bob (JOHN CARRADINE) and Charlie Ford (CHARLES TANNEN) who are touring the country in a vaudeville reconstruction of Jesse’s death. In the ensuing confrontation, Charlie Ford falls to his death. Before he can deal with Bob, however, Frank hears that his servant has been accused of the railway robbery murder. He returns to face the music, is tried and acquitted in time to bump into Bob Ford for the film’s thrilling denouement.

Director Fritz Lang had fled Germany in 1933. This Darryl F Zanuck production was only the fourth film he directed in the US, his first for Fox, his first western, and his first colour picture. But despite the novelties of the experience, The Return… sees the director revisit his favourite theme, “the psychology (and indeed the pitfalls) of revenge” (Time Out).

Fonda’s performance in Jesse James had made him a star, and here he’s equally impressive, “underplaying the part in typical quiet style,” according to Variety. Within four years Tierney would be a huge Hollywood star, having taken leading roles in Tobacco Road, Belle Starr, Heaven Can Wait, and Laura.

production details
Country: USA | Twentieth Century Fox | 92 minutes
Release Year: 1940

Writer: Sam Hellman
Cinematography: George Barnes, William V. Skall
Music: David Buttolph
Producer: Daryl F. Zanuck
Director: Fritz Lang

cast
Henry Fonda as Frank James
Gene Tierney as Eleanor Stone
Jackie Cooper as Clem
Kernan Cripps as Deputy
Irving Bacon as Bystander
Barbara Pepper as Nellie Blane
Henry Hull as Major Rufus Cobb
George Barbier as Judge
John Carradine as Bob Ford
Shep Houghton as Courtroom Spectator
Russ Powell as Juror
Lew Meehan as Bailiff
James C. Morton as Liberty Bartender
J. Edward Bromberg as George Runyan
Donald Meek as McCoy
Charles Tannen as Charlie Ford
Lloyd Corrigan as Randolph Stone
Edward McWade as Colonel Jackson
Eddie Collins as Station Agent
Russell Hicks as Prosecutor
Ernest Whitman as Pinky
Victor Kilian as Preacher
George Chandler as Roy
Frank Shannon as Sheriff
Louis Mason as Watchman
Matthew ‘Stymie’ Beard as Mose
William Pawley as Actor
Frank Sully as Actor
Davison Clark as Officer
Bob Battier as Frank James in Play
A.S. Byron as Train Engineer
Rube Dalroy as Juror
Lester Dorr as Reporter
Tex Driscoll as Play Spectator
Edmund Elton as Jury Foreman
Budd Fine as Deputy
Almeda Fowler as Mrs. Edna Stone
Slim Gaut as Courtroom Spectator
Sherry Hall as Court Clerk
Milton Kibbee as Reporter
Kermit Maynard as Courtroom Spectator
Eric Mayne as Saloon Patron
Nelson McDowell as Confederate Veteran Juror
Robert McKenzie as Old Man on Rocker
Frank Melton as Reporter
Adrian Morris as Denver Detective
Hattie Noel as Denver House Chambermaid
Lee Phelps as Denver House Bartender
Tex Phelps as Front-Row Play Spectator
Allen D. Sewall as Old Timer
Cap Somers as Courtroom Spectator
Dale Van Sickel as Reporter
Lillian Yarbo as Eleanor’s Maid

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