The Return of Frank James (1940)

92 mins | Western | 16 August 1940

Director:

Fritz Lang

Writer:

Sam Hellman

Producer:

Darryl F. Zanuck

Cinematographer:

George Barnes

Editor:

Walter Thompson

Production Designers:

Richard Day, Wiard B. Ihnen

Production Company:

Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
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HISTORY

Although onscreen credits list David Buttolph as music director, earlier official billing sheets credited Alfred Newman with that role. According to materials contained in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, Sam Hellman's original treatment for this film was based on a "story pattern" by Nunnally Johnson. In story conferences, producer Darryl Zanuck proposed that Frank James should be hounded by the character of George Runyan from the film's opening to its close. Zanuck theorized that the difference between "outstanding" westerns like Stageocach and Jesse James and merely ordinary westerns resided in their "clever treatment and adaptation." Zanuck also suggested that Sam Hellman write a rough draft continuity because of his familiarity with the story.
       Although the studio bought the rights to the James brothers lives, the real life that Frank James led was quite different from that told in the film. The real Frank surrendered six months after Jesse's murder, after living a peaceful life in Missouri. He was tried and acquitted twice. Neither of the Ford brothers were alive at the time of Frank's surrender, and Frank played no part in the death of either Ford. In the original story outline, Frank was romantically interested in reporter Eleanor Stone, but the studio, fearful of a libel suit by either Frank's widow or son, decided to eliminate the romantic interest. The film was shot on location in Bishop, CA. It was a sequel to Fox's 1939 film Jesse James (see above). Henry Fonda, Henry Hull, John Carradine, J. Edward Bromberg, Donald Meek, Ernest Whitman, Charles Tannen and George Chandler reprised the ... More Less

Although onscreen credits list David Buttolph as music director, earlier official billing sheets credited Alfred Newman with that role. According to materials contained in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, Sam Hellman's original treatment for this film was based on a "story pattern" by Nunnally Johnson. In story conferences, producer Darryl Zanuck proposed that Frank James should be hounded by the character of George Runyan from the film's opening to its close. Zanuck theorized that the difference between "outstanding" westerns like Stageocach and Jesse James and merely ordinary westerns resided in their "clever treatment and adaptation." Zanuck also suggested that Sam Hellman write a rough draft continuity because of his familiarity with the story.
       Although the studio bought the rights to the James brothers lives, the real life that Frank James led was quite different from that told in the film. The real Frank surrendered six months after Jesse's murder, after living a peaceful life in Missouri. He was tried and acquitted twice. Neither of the Ford brothers were alive at the time of Frank's surrender, and Frank played no part in the death of either Ford. In the original story outline, Frank was romantically interested in reporter Eleanor Stone, but the studio, fearful of a libel suit by either Frank's widow or son, decided to eliminate the romantic interest. The film was shot on location in Bishop, CA. It was a sequel to Fox's 1939 film Jesse James (see above). Henry Fonda, Henry Hull, John Carradine, J. Edward Bromberg, Donald Meek, Ernest Whitman, Charles Tannen and George Chandler reprised the roles that they played in the earlier film. This film also marked Gene Tierney's screen debut. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Film Daily
12 Aug 40
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Apr 40
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
4 May 40
pp. 6-7.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Jun 40
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Aug 40
p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily
12 Aug 40
p. 6.
Motion Picture Herald
17 Aug 40
p. 32.
New York Times
10 Aug 40
p. 16.
New York Times
18 Aug 40
p. 3.
Variety
14 Aug 40
p. 14.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
Orig scr, Orig scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Photog assoc
Cam op
Asst cam
Spec eff
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus dir
SOUND
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Scr clerk
Head grip
Grip
Props
Tech asst
Tech asst
Still photog
STAND INS
Stand-in for Jackie Cooper
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor dir
Technicolor tech
Technicolor tech
Technicolor service
DETAILS
Release Date:
16 August 1940
Premiere Information:
New York opening: week of 10 August 1940
Production Date:
24 April--20 June 1940
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
16 August 1940
Copyright Number:
LP10088
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
92
Length(in feet):
8,440
Length(in reels):
10
Country:
United States
PCA No:
6330
SYNOPSIS

After the tragic Northfield, Minnesota robbery, in which several members of their gang are killed, the outlaw James brothers split up and Frank disappears to the Missouri countryside. There, using the name Ben Woodsen, he farms the land with his friends, Pinky and Clem, the son of one of the gang members. One day, Frank learns that his brother Jesse has been shot in the back by one of the Ford brothers, who have been sentenced to hang for their crime. Frank is resolved to let the law deal with the Fords until he reads that they have been pardoned and awarded money for their cowardly crime. Determined to exact justice for the murder of his brother, Frank rides after the Fords, who hastily depart for the West. To fund his crusade, Frank robs the railroad express office, rationalizing that it was railroad money that killed his brother. Frank's plans go awry, however, when Clem appears and insists that he join Frank. In the chaos, the watchman is killed and Frank is accused of the murder. In retaliation, McCoy, the head of the railroad, offers a reward for Frank, and his henchman, George Runyan, follows the Ford boys West, knowing that Frank will not be far behind. In Denver, Frank and Clem fabricate the story of Frank's demise, which is picked up by aspiring young newspaper reporter Eleanor Stone and printed in her father's paper. Meanwhile, Frank tracks down the Fords and in a frantic pursuit, Charlie Ford falls from a cliff and dies. While Frank is out of town, Runyan appears and identifies Ben Woodsen as Frank James. After ... +


After the tragic Northfield, Minnesota robbery, in which several members of their gang are killed, the outlaw James brothers split up and Frank disappears to the Missouri countryside. There, using the name Ben Woodsen, he farms the land with his friends, Pinky and Clem, the son of one of the gang members. One day, Frank learns that his brother Jesse has been shot in the back by one of the Ford brothers, who have been sentenced to hang for their crime. Frank is resolved to let the law deal with the Fords until he reads that they have been pardoned and awarded money for their cowardly crime. Determined to exact justice for the murder of his brother, Frank rides after the Fords, who hastily depart for the West. To fund his crusade, Frank robs the railroad express office, rationalizing that it was railroad money that killed his brother. Frank's plans go awry, however, when Clem appears and insists that he join Frank. In the chaos, the watchman is killed and Frank is accused of the murder. In retaliation, McCoy, the head of the railroad, offers a reward for Frank, and his henchman, George Runyan, follows the Ford boys West, knowing that Frank will not be far behind. In Denver, Frank and Clem fabricate the story of Frank's demise, which is picked up by aspiring young newspaper reporter Eleanor Stone and printed in her father's paper. Meanwhile, Frank tracks down the Fords and in a frantic pursuit, Charlie Ford falls from a cliff and dies. While Frank is out of town, Runyan appears and identifies Ben Woodsen as Frank James. After eluding Runyan, Frank is about to ride after Bob Ford when Eleanor informs him that Pinky has been arrested for the freight office robbery and sentenced to hang. Torn between avenging his brother's murder and returning to Missouri to save his friend, Frank's conscience wins out and he rides to Missouri, where he is arrested and put on trial for murder. Frank's old friend, Major Rufus Todd, the town newspaper editor, defends him by casting the trial in terms of a war between the railroad and the farmers, the North and the South. Just as the jury, composed of Southern farmers, finds Frank innocent, Bob Ford appears and runs from the courtroom. In his flight, he kills Clem, but the boy fatally wounds Ford. With his brother's death avenged, Frank begins life anew. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.