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Cinemascope

"The Return of Frank James" (1940)

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In this smashing sequel to 1939's Jesse James, Henry Fonda gets the lead part and a new leading lady, Gene Tierney -- looking very beautiful in the great Technicolor photography. The sequel was directed by Fritz Lang - his first Technicolor film.

 

The movie actually opens with the closing scenes of the first movie, and most of the cast is back, giving it a good sense of continuity. Aside from Tierney, another new actor in the cast was Jackie Cooper as Frank's buddy.

 

Although some people have expressed mixed feelings about Gene Tierney in a western, I think she's just perfect, playing the well-to-do daughter of a newspaper publisher who is herself trying to get started as a newspaper reporter. Needless to say, Frank James represents her first big story.

 

This is a good western and especially recommended to fans of Fonda, Tierney, and Fritz Lang. :)

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This was an important film to Fritz Lang's career. "You and Me" had flopped and he had been without work for a while, when Zanuck offered him this. Apparently he expected Lang would refuse or that Lang would screw up and be fired. However, Lang had been a big fan of Karl May's German language western novels while a young man, and Lang showed a real flair for the Western. Lang went on to make "Western Union" and then "Manhunt" and his Hollywood career took on new life after "Frank james."

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I'm very glad that Zanuck gave him the chance - it may just be my imagination, but I've got the feeling this movie flows more smoothly than did the original. It might just be that movie crews were getting more familiar with shooting outdoors using Technicolor cameras, I dunno.

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I spent some time yesterday and earlier today looking for the NYT review; for some reason it doesn't come up with a straight name search so I had to dig a little deeper.

 

One of the interesting things that makes this sequel different from the original is that it goes out of its way to show that Frank James never killed anybody. Well, at least that's what apparently had to be done in order to satisfy the Hayes code, as the NYT reviewer himself writes:

 

Perhaps the rub lies in the fact that the producers have attempted to show Frank as both dangerous and respectable. In those bandit years, a man wasn't dangerous unless he had a notch on his six-shooter; today, according to Hays office manifesto, he can hardly be a hero if he has. As a result, the film is almost as careful of Frank's essentially good character as if it were a legal brief in his defense. In one way or another three men are driven to their deaths during his attempt to avenge Jesse's death, but not one falls at the point of Frank's gun. A little anti-climactic, that. After all, what did he finally get a pardon for?

 

Ultimately, this was kind of necessary in order to end the movie on a somewhat more positive note than the first movie. If FJ had been a killer, then the code would have dictated that he had to be punished somehow.

 

The only real bummer is that FJ doesn't ride off into the sunset with Gene Tierney at his side! B-)

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It's been a while since I've seen The Return of Frank James, so I don't recall many details, just that it was as good as the original, excepting the fact that I miss Tyrone Power's presence. Wish I'd taped it. I will next time it airs on FMC.

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Yes, TP is definitely missed.

 

One word of warning: if you record it from Fox Movie Channel, be sure to CHECK if it has been put into a 90-minute slot. The reason is that the movie is about 92 minutes and will run past the scheduled time, unless they put it in a 2-hour slot.

 

(Why doesn't FMC ever use 105-minute slots? :( )

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> {quote:title=MikeBSG wrote:}{quote}

> This was an important film to Fritz Lang's career. "You and Me" had flopped and he had been without work for a while, when Zanuck offered him this. Apparently he expected Lang would refuse or that Lang would screw up and be fired. However, Lang had been a big fan of Karl May's German language western novels while a young man, and Lang showed a real flair for the Western. Lang went on to make "Western Union" and then "Manhunt" and his Hollywood career took on new life after "Frank james."

 

Mike,

I had no idea this Western had been so important to Lang's career. I watched You and Me not too long ago, and I can sort of imagine why it didn't really find an audience at the time of its release.

 

Hope to catch up with this and Western Union fairly soon!

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What was up with Zanuck at this time allowing european expatriate directors handling VERY american subjects, like Lang's two westerns; or "Swamp Water" with Rene Clair(?). Decent jobs done however.

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> {quote:title=Arturo wrote:}{quote}

> What was up with Zanuck at this time allowing european expatriate directors handling VERY american subjects, like Lang's two westerns; or "Swamp Water" with Rene Clair(?). Decent jobs done however.

 

I think the European emigres demonstrated they were up to the task. Lang, for example, had already directed 3 movies in America before being given a Western to do.

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