AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Return of Frank James
Director: Fritz Lang (Dir)
Release Date:   16 Aug 1940
Premiere Information:   New York opening: week of 10 Aug 1940
Production Date:   24 Apr--20 Jun 1940
Duration (in mins):   92
Duration (in feet):   8,440
Duration (in reels):   10
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Cast:   Henry Fonda (Frank James)  
    Gene Tierney (Eleanor Stone)  
    Jackie Cooper (Clem)  
    Henry Hull (Major Rufus Todd)  
    John Carradine (Bob Ford)  
    J. Edward Bromberg (George Runyan)  
    Donald Meek (McCoy)  
    Eddie Collins (Station agent)  
    George Barbier (Judge)  
    Ernest Whitman (Pinky)  
    Charles Tannen (Charlie Ford)  
    Lloyd Corrigan (Randolph Stone)  
    Russell Hicks (Prosecutor)  
    Victor Kilian (Preacher)  
    Edward McWade (Colonel Jackson)  
    George Chandler (Roy)  
    Irving Bacon (Bystander)  
    Frank Shannon (Sheriff)  
    Barbara Pepper (Nellie Blane)  
    Louis Mason (Watchman)  
    Stymie Beard (Mose)  
    William Pawley (Actor)  
    Frank Sully (Actor)  
    Davidson Clark (Officer)  

Summary: 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. 

Production Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Director: Fritz Lang (Dir)
  Aaron Rosenberg (Asst dir)
  Hal Herman (Asst dir)
Producer: Darryl F. Zanuck (Prod)
  Kenneth Macgowan (Assoc prod)
Writer: Sam Hellman (Orig scr)
Photography: George Barnes (Dir of photog)
  William V. Skall (Photog assoc)
  Jack Young (Cam op)
  Kenny Green (Cam op)
  Jack Warren (Asst cam)
  Larry Chapman (Spec eff)
Art Direction: Richard Day (Art dir)
  Wiard B. Ihnen (Art dir)
Film Editor: Walter Thompson (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Thomas Little (Set dec)
Costumes: Travis Banton (Cost)
  Wesley Trist (Ward)
Music: David Buttolph (Mus dir)
Sound: W. D. Flick (Sd)
  Roger Heman (Sd)
Make Up: Louis Hippe (Makeup)
Production Misc: Ben Silvey (Prod mgr)
  Stanley Scheuer (Scr clerk)
  C. E. Richardson (Head grip)
  Charlie Hall (Grip)
  Herbert Romey (Grip)
  Ed Ledgerwood (Grip)
  Wendell Jones (Grip)
  Frank Corey (Grip)
  Fred Rezk (Grip)
  George McHose (Grip)
  Joe Behm (Props)
  Fred Smith (Props)
  Jack McKinsey (Tech asst)
  Paul Uhl (Tech asst)
  Anthony Ugrin (Still photog)
Stand In: Bert Hendrickson (Stand-in for Jackie Cooper)
Color Personnel: Natalie Kalmus (Technicolor dir)
  Morgan Padelford (Assoc)
  Roger Mace (Technicolor tech)
  George Dye (Technicolor tech)
  Walter Myron (Technicolor service)
Country: United States

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. 16/8/1940 dd/mm/yyyy LP10088

PCA NO: 6330
Physical Properties: col: Technicolor
  Sd: Western Electric Mirrophonic Recording

 
Genre: Western
Sub-Genre: Historical
 
Subjects (Major): Brothers
  Frank James
  Jesse James
  Friendship
  Impersonation and imposture
  Murder
  Revenge
 
Subjects (Minor): Bank robberies
  Editors
  Bob Ford
  Charlie Ford
  Missouri
  Railroad detectives
  Reporters
  Rewards
  Trials

Note: 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. 

Bibliographic Sources:   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.

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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.
 
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