The Return of Frank James


The Return of Frank James (1940)



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Movie Info

This Technicolor sequel to 1939's Jesse James does without the services of the earlier film's star Tyrone Power, who after all was shot dead by that "dirty little coward" Bob Ford (John Carradine). Repeating his portrayal of western outlaw Frank James, Henry Fonda is promoted to top billing here. As depicted by scenarist Sam Hellman, Frank has retired from his life of crime to become a peaceful farmer, though he has never given up his search for the treacherous Ford. The killer and his cohorts are eventually rounded up, but are pardoned due to political intervention. That's when Frank slaps on six-guns once more to seek his own form of justice. Featured in the cast is Henry Hull as a top-of-his-lungs crusading newspaperman and Jackie Cooper as a headstrong young sprout who pays the ultimate price for his bullheadedness. Making her screen debut is Gene Tierney, in the role of an Eastern reporter who wants to tell Frank's true story to the world.

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Henry Fonda
as Ben Woodson/Frank James
Gene Tierney
as Eleanor Stone
Jackie Cooper
as Clem/Tom Grayson
Henry Hull
as Maj. Rufus Cobb
Eddie Collins
as Station Agent at Eldora
George Barbier
as Ferris the Judge
Ernest Whitman
as Pinky Washington
Charles Tannen
as Charles Ford
Lloyd Corrigan
as Randolph Stone
Russell Hicks
as Prosecutor
Victor Kilian
as Preacher
Edward McWade
as Col. Fentridge Jackson
Budd Fine
as Deputy
Irving Bacon
as Man at Wagon Sale
Frank Shannon
as Sheriff Daniels
Barbara Pepper
as Nellie Blane
Louis Mason
as Wilson the Watchman
Matthew 'Stymie' Beard
as Mose the Bellboy
William Pawley
as `Jesse James' Actor
Frank Sully
as Pappy the Old Actor
Edmund Elton
as Jury Foreman
Arthur Byron
as Engineer
Sherry Hall
as Court Clerk
A.S. Byron
as Engineer
Lee Phelps
as Bartender
Bob McKenzie
as Old Man on Rocker
Hattie Noel
as Chambermaid
Adrian Morris
as Detective
Almeda Fowler
as Mrs. Edna Stone
Bob Battier
as `Frank James' Actor
Milton Kibbee
as Reporter
James C. Morton
as Bartender
Frank Melton
as Reporter
Lester Dorr
as Reporter
Kermit Maynard
as Courtroom Extra
Lew Meehan
as Bailiff
Nelson McDowell
as Confederate Veteran/Juror
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Critic Reviews for The Return of Frank James

All Critics (6)

As a snapshot of what mindless popcorn cinema looked like in 1940, it's a flattering example, still watchable and breezy even if it's not remotely challenging on any level.

Jun 4, 2014 | Rating: 7/10 | Full Review…

The abstruse stylization of Rancho Notorious is still a decade away, though the frontier is already a severe plain enlivened by intimations of hellfire

Sep 25, 2009 | Full Review…

Fine Fritz Lang telling of Frank James (Fonda) in sequel to Jesse James.

Jun 21, 2008 | Rating: 5/5

Gets by with its remarkable photography (an early attempt at color for Lang), crisp action sequences and breezy storytelling.

Mar 22, 2007 | Full Review…

The film is short on action but long on courtroom melodrama, not a good balance for a routine Western.

Feb 16, 2007 | Rating: B- | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Return of Frank James


Average western, sequel to "Jesse James" with none of Lang's more familiar mood touches. Still not bad with Fonda strong in the lead. Gene Tierney is very green, lovely but a bit stiff and missing the sense of concealed hysteria under the placid exterior that the years and tragedy would bring to her best work.

jay nixon
jay nixon

Super Reviewer


A Fritz Lang Western sounds mighty strange, but it is good.

Anthony Valletta
Anthony Valletta

Super Reviewer


This sequel to the 1939 Jesse James sees his brother Frank hunting down those responsible for his death. And I must say I've never seen such a bloodless warpath. We are are used to the way films can romanticise outlaws, but this one really takes the cake; Henry Fonda's Frank makes Robin Hood look like Charles Manson! The only crime he commits is a robbery (for very good reasons of course) and the of the men he is hunting, one (or rather the most unconvincing dummy in cinematic history!) falls off a cliff and the other dies before he gets a chance to shoot him. For most of the film Frank is far more interested in romancing Gene Tierney than revenge (although who could blame him for that...) Fritz Lang is clearly not comfortable with this genre; it all feels very static and the wishy washy technicolor does not suit his visual style. But it is the overly simplistic script that is by far the biggest handicap of this film. It's kept watchable by the amiable cast, but it's hardly the finest moment of anyone involved.

xGary Xx
xGary Xx

Super Reviewer


[font=Century Gothic]"The Return of Frank James" starts in 1882 with the murder of outlaw Jesse James by the brothers Ford(John Carradine and Charles Tannen). Jesse's brother, Frank(Henry Fonda), is hiding out in the Ozarks with his ward, Clem(Jackie Cooper), but he has no interest in revenge since he believes the courts will find the brothers guilty. But he is proven wrong when they are immediately pardoned and given the reward money to boot. Sensing trouble, they head west. Frank is swiftly on their trail but first he has to make an unauthorized withdrawal from the local railway office.[/font] [font=Century Gothic][/font] [font=Century Gothic]Directed by Fritz Lang, "The Return of Frank James" is an entertaining technicolor western. Having recently seen "Fury," I was disappointed not to see more on the nature of revenge. And the very dated views on race(although there is one late sequence that tries to reverse this) are offensive, even with an early attempt at feminism. I know this may not be fair but I prefer the recent "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford."[/font]

Walter M.
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

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