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The Return of Frank James
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The Return of Frank James (1940) More at IMDbPro »

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The Return of Frank James -- In this sequel to Jesse James, Frank has given up his life of crime for that of farming, but when he finds that his brother's killer, Ford, has been freed he sets out to exact revenge.


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Sam Hellman (original screenplay)
View company contact information for The Return of Frank James on IMDbPro.
Release Date:
16 August 1940 (USA) See more »
Frank James continues to avoid arrest in order to take revenge on the Ford brothers for their murder of his brother Jesse. Full summary » | Full synopsis »
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(6 articles)
The Grandmaster – The Review
 (From 29 August 2013, 5:40 PM, PDT)

Your Vote Counts! 20th Century Fox Brings Classic Films to Blu-ray
 (From Scorecard Review. 15 January 2013, 8:31 AM, PST)

Daily Briefing. Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism 3
 (From MUBI. 24 December 2011, 4:24 AM, PST)

User Reviews:
A pale, watery excuse for a western, but with lots of great archetypes See more (33 total) »


  (in credits order) (verified as complete)

Henry Fonda ... Frank James

Gene Tierney ... Eleanor Stone

Jackie Cooper ... Clem

Henry Hull ... Major Rufus Cobb

John Carradine ... Bob Ford
J. Edward Bromberg ... George Runyan

Donald Meek ... McCoy
Eddie Collins ... Station Agent
George Barbier ... Judge
Russell Hicks ... Prosecutor
Ernest Whitman ... Pinky
Charles Tannen ... Charlie Ford
Lloyd Corrigan ... Randolph Stone
Victor Kilian ... Preacher
Edward McWade ... Colonel Jackson
George Chandler ... Roy
Irving Bacon ... Bystander
Frank Shannon ... Sheriff
Barbara Pepper ... Nellie Blane
Louis Mason ... Watchman
Matthew 'Stymie' Beard ... Mose (as Stymie Beard)
William Pawley ... Actor
Frank Sully ... Actor
Davison Clark ... Officer (as Davidson Clark)
rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Bob Battier ... Frank James in Play (uncredited)
A.S. 'Pop' Byron ... Train Engineer (uncredited)
Kernan Cripps ... Deputy (uncredited)
Rube Dalroy ... Juror (uncredited)
Lester Dorr ... Reporter (uncredited)
Tex Driscoll ... Play Spectator (uncredited)
Edmund Elton ... Jury Foreman (uncredited)
Budd Fine ... Deputy (uncredited)
Almeda Fowler ... Mrs. Edna Stone (uncredited)
Sherry Hall ... Court Clerk (uncredited)
Milton Kibbee ... Reporter (uncredited)
Kermit Maynard ... Courtroom Spectator (uncredited)
Nelson McDowell ... Confederate Veteran Juror (uncredited)
Robert McKenzie ... Old Man on Rocker (uncredited)
Lew Meehan ... Bailiff (uncredited)
Frank Melton ... Reporter (uncredited)
Adrian Morris ... Denver Detective (uncredited)
James C. Morton ... Liberty Bartender (uncredited)
Hattie Noel ... Denver House Chambermaid (uncredited)
Lee Phelps ... Denver House Bartender (uncredited)
Tex Phelps ... Front-Row Play Spectator (uncredited)
Russ Powell ... Juror (uncredited)
Dale Van Sickel ... Reporter (uncredited)
Lillian Yarbo ... Eleanor's Maid (uncredited)

Directed by
Fritz Lang 
Writing credits
Sam Hellman (original screenplay)

Produced by
Kenneth Macgowan .... associate producer
Darryl F. Zanuck .... producer
Original Music by
David Buttolph (uncredited)
Cinematography by
George Barnes (director of photography)
Film Editing by
Walter Thompson 
Art Direction by
Richard Day 
Wiard Ihnen  (as Wiard B. Ihnen)
Set Decoration by
Thomas Little 
Makeup Department
Louis Hippe .... makeup artist (uncredited)
Production Management
Ben Silvey .... production manager (uncredited)
Second Unit Director or Assistant Director
Hal Herman .... assistant director (uncredited)
Aaron Rosenberg .... assistant director (uncredited)
Art Department
Joe Behm .... props (uncredited)
Fred Smith .... props (uncredited)
Sound Department
W.D. Flick .... sound
Roger Heman Sr. .... sound (as Roger Heman)
Special Effects by
Larry Chapman .... special effects (uncredited)
Camera and Electrical Department
William V. Skall .... associate director of photography
Frank Corey .... grip (uncredited)
George Dye .... technician: Technicolor (uncredited)
George Dye .... technicolor technician (uncredited)
Kenneth Green .... camera operator (uncredited)
Charlie Hall .... grip (uncredited)
Wendell Jones .... grip (uncredited)
Eddie Ledgerwood .... grip (uncredited)
Roger Mace .... technician: Technicolor (uncredited)
George McHose .... grip (uncredited)
Fred Rezk .... grip (uncredited)
C.E. Richardson .... key grip (uncredited)
Herbert Romey .... grip (uncredited)
Anthony Ugrin .... still photographer (uncredited)
John F. Warren .... assistant camera (uncredited)
Jack Young .... camera operator (uncredited)
Costume and Wardrobe Department
Travis Banton .... costumes
Sam Benson .... wardrobe (uncredited)
Wesley Trist .... wardrobe (uncredited)
Music Department
David Buttolph .... musical director
Charles Henderson .... composer: stock music (uncredited)
Edward B. Powell .... orchestrator (uncredited)
Herbert W. Spencer .... composer: additional music (uncredited)
Herbert W. Spencer .... orchestrator (uncredited)
Other crew
Natalie Kalmus .... Technicolor director
Morgan Padelford .... associate Technicolor director
Bert Hendrickson .... stand-in: Jackie Cooper (uncredited)
Jack McKinney .... technical assistant (uncredited)
Walter Myron .... service: Technicolor (uncredited)
Stanley Scheuer .... script clerk (uncredited)
Paul Uhl .... technical assistant (uncredited)
Crew verified as complete

Production CompaniesDistributors

Additional Details

Also Known As:
92 min
Color (Technicolor)
Aspect Ratio:
1.37 : 1 See more »
Sound Mix:
Mono (Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording)
Argentina:13 | Finland:K-16 | Sweden:15 | UK:A (original rating) (passed with cuts) | UK:U (tv rating) | UK:U (video rating) (cut) | USA:Approved (PCA #6330) | West Germany:16 (nf)

Did You Know?

Film debut of Gene Tierney.See more »
Frank James:I can't talk without thinking, not being a lawyer.See more »
Movie Connections:
Features Jesse James (1939)See more »
Old Ironsides MarchSee more »


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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful.
A pale, watery excuse for a western, but with lots of great archetypes, 12 March 2011
Author: secondtake from United States

The Return of Frank James (1940)

The Western is back, as of 1939 when four big ones were released, including John Ford's "Stagecoach" with John Wayne, which has lasting critical acclaim, and also "Jesse James" which was the fourth largest moneymaker for that blockbuster year. Maybe it was the war breaking out in Europe, or just a realization that if you lifted a Western from its usual B-movie status the public would respond. Henry Fonda starred as Frank James in that one, and so this is really a sequel with the same chronology and feel as the first one. It is clearly A-list movie material with genuine Technicolor, a year after "Jesse James," "The Wizard of Oz," and "Gone with the Wind" had all made clear Technicolor was no passing gimmick.

Frank James is now out to seek the killers of the more famous outlaw. The fact we are rooting for the renegade through his surviving brother is slightly odd--the anti-hero or negative stereotype as protagonist wasn't really respectable (or possible) until the 1960s, full fledged. Jesse James was a brave Civil War guerrilla fighter but he became an uncommonly violent criminal and murderer after the war. Frank James was probably as ruthless and bad (he was part of the same gang), but after the death of Jesse he escaped prison (in real life) and lived into the Twentieth Century.

In this movie, Frank is not portrayed as a bad person. He just wants his brother's killers dead. And Henry Fonda is a kind of low key, determined fellow throughout. We naturally run into the standard assortment of types that are almost required in period Westerns--drunks and sheriffs and pretty girls out of place in this rough manly world. And there are shoot outs and a court trial and so on.

Of all people to approach this genre, and in color, you'd least expect Fritz Lang, the recent émigré with "Metropolis" and "M" and "Fury" all in his portfolio. He gets rising star Henry Fonda in the loner lead for this sequel, naturally, and Fonda is the meat of it, really terrific (in an echo, actually, of the loner lead in John Ford's "Grapes of Wrath" in the same year). And then there's Gene Tierney playing a pseudo-reporter in her very first film role, showing early on that she is mostly a pretty face, but a decent actress at least. There are other great character actors (like John Carradine, fresh off of "Stagecoach" as well as "Jesse James") but specially notable (to me) is the African-American farm hand Ernest Whitman, who has to suffer from some awful stereotyping, but who is malleable and likable (and turns a verbal mistake into a catchy little song without a hitch).

I love Lang's movies, even his weaker ones, and I really think he didn't quite "get" what a Western was about the way Ford did in the same period. It becomes something like a Hollywood drama that happens to be set in this post Civil War place west of the Mississippi. The stereotypes and archetypes are in play, but he misses the combination of grit and certitude that is part of the scene. Even Fonda comes across as slightly underplayed, a rather nice fellow who just happens to be out for blood.

The photography is strong and vivid even though trapped to some extent on being "pretty" because of the rich color and beautiful scenery and by the bright lights so often used to blast the scenes for the tri-pack film. And then there is the ridiculous plasticity of the facts--most of what happens in the movie didn't happen at all in real life. Everyone is really just cashing in on the folk hero status of this killer, and on the success of "Jesse James" the movie the year before.

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