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The Return of Frank James (1940)

Approved  |   |  Crime, History, Western  |  16 August 1940 (USA)
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Ratings: 6.7/10 from 1,963 users  
Reviews: 33 user | 19 critic

Frank James continues to avoid arrest in order to take revenge on the Ford brothers for their murder of his brother Jesse.



(original screenplay)
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Cast overview, first billed only:
J. Edward Bromberg ...
Eddie Collins ...
Station Agent
George Barbier ...
Russell Hicks ...
Ernest Whitman ...
Charles Tannen ...
Lloyd Corrigan ...
Randolph Stone
Victor Kilian ...
Edward McWade ...
Colonel Jackson


Frank James, the brother of Jesse James, has been laying low, living as a farmer and taking care of Clem, the son of one of the members of the James gang. He gets word that Jesse was killed by Bob and Charlie Ford, he hoped that the law would deal with them but when he learns that the railroad man whom he and Jesse terrorized contracted them to kill Jesse and helped them get off, he goes after them. Clem whom he told to remain on the farm goes with him and when it's impossible for him to do so, Frank has no choice to let him tag along. Now in order to cover their tracks they start telling people that Frank James is dead and that they saw it. Eleanor Stone, a female reporter, who wants to write about it interviews them and they are both taken with each other. But eventually she learns who Frank is from the Pinkerton detective who is tracking them but doesn't turn them in. But eventually Frank learns that his farm hand, Pinky has been arrested as his accomplice and is about to be hung. ... Written by

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Crime | History | Western


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Release Date:

16 August 1940 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Le retour de Frank James  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)



Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The studio bought the rights to the James Brothers but changed the facts for entertainment. Although Frank surrendered 6 months after Jesse James' murder, both Ford brothers were already dead and Frank had nothing to do with their deaths. See more »


Frank James: [Holding a gun] Now lay there still. Don't let me hear a peep from ya!
Dan Wilson: You won't hear nothing from me, brother. I wanna be around for breakfast!
See more »


Follows Jesse James (1939) See more »


Ring, Ring de Banjo
Written by Stephen Foster
Arranged by David Buttolph and Herbert W. Spencer
See more »

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User Reviews

Frank James very well played by Fonda sets off to hunt down the culprits who killed his infamous sibling
18 May 2015 | by (Santander Spain) – See all my reviews

Classic Western with very good cast , dealing with a relentless vengeance . Spectacular as well as exciting Western talks the life of Frank James , Jesse James's brother , who is the most colourful bandit who ever lived and both of whom rank with Billy the Kid as the most famous of Western outlaws . This is a slight and intelligent biopic about Frank James , featuring notorious interpretations by a popular group of known stars . Legend and folklore have cast them as modern Robin Hoods , good boys forced by circumstances to follow a criminal life . Jesse and his brother Frank joined the Confederate guerrillas of Quantrill and learned to kill in ruthless company . It is believed that took part in their first robbery in 1866 when a dozen men held up the bank in Liberty , Missouri . Jesse (Tyrone Power , who appears on the opening sequence showing his death from the final of the previous movie) , Frank and the Younger carry out a lot of hold-ups and attacks , as they move from Civil War to their territory becoming into semi-legends . So James Brothers wielding their six-guns commence to robbin' banks and trains to help out the poor folks who been done wrong . Pinkerton detectives were contracted to chase Jesse and Frank , the agents surrounded the home , believing they to be there , tossed a bomb and the explosion killed Jesse's young half-brother . As their fame grows , so will the legend of their leaders , a young outlaw by the name of Jesse James and his brother Frank James . On 1876 Jesse and Frank in company the three Younger Brothers , attempted a bank robbery at Northfield , Minnnesota , and walked in disaster . At the end , Jesse is betrayed by the Ford brothers , Charlie and dirty little coward Bob (John Carradine) . As the killer and his cohorts are eventually rounded up, but are pardoned due to political intervention . Brother Frank attempts to go straight , but eventually the happenings go awry . The picture provides a good portrait of Frank James who along with a very young headstrong Jackie Cooper set out in pursuit the Ford Brothers to seek his own form of justice . In the course of his revenge , Frank will become the object of the biggest manhunt in the history of the Old West . Along the way , Frank courts attractive young Eastern journalist (Gene Tierney film debut) who wishes to write James's true story to the world .

This is a sprawling and glamorous Western with first-rate Technicolor cinematography and excellent performances from Henry Fonda and Jackie Cooper . The film gets spectacular shoot em'up , thrills , fast as well as fierce action , exciting horse pursuits and many other things . Packs colorful scenarios , moving pace and slick edition . This is one of the strange occasions in the cinema history when a follow-up results to be as good as the original . Interesting and thrilling script by scenarist Sam Hellman . This is a decent look about the known story of the West's greatest bandits with acceptable interpretations and compelling direction creating some good action scenes . The yarn shows nice as well as impressive frames , breathtaking go riding and wonderful outdoors . The studio bought the rights to the James Brothers but changed the facts for entertainment . Although Frank surrendered 6 months after Jesse James' murder, both Ford brothers were already dead and Frank had nothing to do with their deaths . Magnificent acting by Henry Fonda as an authoritative but likable outlaw become a peaceful farmer when he takes his pistols to carry out a merciless vendetta . Support cast is frankly good such as Henry Hull , John Carradine , J Edward Bromberg , Donald Meek and Jackie Cooper gives an intensely sympathetic portrayal as an amiable young . Taut excitement throughout , beautifully cinematographed by George Barnes and W. Howard Greene , both of them photographed former film . The picture lavishly produced by Darryl F Zanuck was based on actual events and stunningly realized by Fritz Lang . The film is splendid and original , despite being a sequel , the reason lies mostly in the filmmaking by master craftsman Lang . Fritz directed masterfully all kind of genres such as Noir cinema as ¨Big heat¨ , ¨Scarlet Street¨ , ¨Cloak and Dagger¨ , ¨Beyond a reasonable doubt¨ , Drama as ¨Human desire¨, ¨You only lives twice¨, ¨Ministry of fear¨, Epic as ¨Siegfred¨, Sci-fi as ¨Woman in the moon¨, ¨Metropolis¨, suspense as ¨Secret beyond the door¨, ¨Clash by night¨ , Wartime as ¨Man hunt¨ , ¨Hangmen also die¨ and Western as ¨Rancho Notorious¨ , ¨Western Union¨ and ¨Return of Frank James¨

Other films about these legendary outlaws , Frank and Jesse , are : ¨I shot Jesse James¨ by Samuel Fuller with John Ireland as Bob Ford ; ¨Jesse James vs the Dalton (1954)¨ by William Castle with John Ireland . ¨The true story of Jesse James¨ (1957) by Nicholas Ray with Robert Wagner , Jeffrey Hunter , Hope Lange , Agnes Moorehead ; in which footage from the original 1939 production was used when Frank and Jesse go over a cliff on horseback into a river and when they crashed , on horseback, through a store window during the "Northfield Minnesota Raid" . And contemporary-style Western such as ¨Frank and Jesse¨ by Robert Boris with Rob Lowe as Jesse James , Bill Paxton as Frank James and Randy Travis as Younger ; ¨American outlaws¨ by Les Mayfield with Colin Farrell , Gabriel Macht , Terry O'Quinn , Harris Yulin and Ali Larter ; and ¨The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford¨ (2007) by Andrew Dominik with Brad Pitt , Sam Shepard , Mary Louise Parker , Casey Affleck and Sam Rockwell.

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