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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
When Jesse James came out in 1939, the player that got the best reviews for that film was Henry Fonda who played the laconic older brother Frank. His reviews were so outstanding that it was almost a public demand that a sequel be done.
It almost didn't get done because instead of Henry King who directed Jesse James, Darryl F. Zanuck assigned Fritz Lang. Henry Fonda hated the man, he was a sadistic bully on the set and even though he directed Fonda to a great performance in You Only Live Once, Fonda hated every second on that set.
Fonda tells in his autobiography that he and Lang sat down prior to shooting and Lang agreed to tone his behavior down. But the same thing happened as on You Only Live Once. And Fonda dutifully finished the film.
Though he hated the experience Fonda was on the mark again as Frank James. What The Return of Frank James lacks in truth it makes up for in capturing the spirit of the times in the post Civil border state of Missouri and why the James Brothers were regarded as heroes by some.
In addition to Fonda, John Carradine, Charles Tannen, Ernest Whitman, Donald Meek, Henry Hull, George Chandler and J. Edward Bromberg repeat their roles from Jesse James so continuity is assured. Bromberg as the railroad detective who basically plans an assassination for Jesse James in that film and tries again to Fonda in this film particularly stands out.
So does Henry Hull as the newspaper editor/lawyer who was a very colorful character in both films, dictating the same editorial at whatever group or individual he doesn't like at the moment. His patented formula is to "shoot 'em down like dogs."
If you liked Jesse James and I think more than western fans liked that film, no reason you shouldn't like The Return of Frank James.
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