Blu-ray Review: The Return of Frank James

The Return of Frank James was written and directed by Fritz Lang and stars Henry Fonda, Gene Tierney, Jackie Cooper, Henry Hull, John Carradine, J. Edward Bromberg and Donald Meek. The score is by David Buttolph.

When Jesse James’s murderers are set free, his brother Frank vows revenge and, accompanied by his ward, sets out to track them down. To fund his manhunt, he robs an express office and is subsequently wrongly accused of the clerk’s murder, but a newspaper reporter is determined to find out the truth.

A sequel to Henry King’s 1939 Jesse James, The Return of Frank James (1940) is, significantly, directed by the one and only Fritz Lang; even more significantly, it stars Henry Fonda as an otherwise good-hearted man bent on avenging the death of his brother at the hands of Bob and Charlie Ford (John Carradine and Charles Tannen). Beautifully shot by George Barnes, highlighted by a score from David Buttolph, and featuring the screen début of the sensational Gene Tierney.

The story for this 1940 sequel to 1939’s Jesse James centers around Frank James who’s gone into hiding until he finds out about the Ford brothers killing Jesse. Frank lives a peaceful life out in the country with Clem (Jackie Cooper), a teenager that he’s looking after, and his farmhand Pinky (Ernest Whitman). When Frank finds out the Governor has pardoned the two brothers he decides to take the law in his own hands and takes his gun out of retirement and heads to town.

Frank is able to take out Charlie Ford (Charles Tannen) but Bob Ford (John Carradine) gets away. This attempt also pulls Frank back into the spotlight where he decides to turn himself in with a little talking into by Eleanor Stone (Gene Tierney), a young reporter who sides with Frank. What happens is, the court finds Frank not guilty on all counts and when the elusive Ford brother finds out that Frank is free he makes a run for it. This is where young Clem steps in and tries to stop Bob from running away but the poor kid also gets hit with a fatal shot. Frank is finally able to catch up to the wounded Ford brother and ultimately get his revenge for his brother and his young friend.

The front of the packaging features the artwork you see at the top of the page and the back includes movie details, an image, a few quotes, and list of special features. The reverse sleeve features more artwork. The Blu-ray disc also features some artwork that matches the front cover. Inside is a booklet from Twilight Time that includes more images from the movie, some nice words about The Return of Frank James by Julie Kirgo and more original artwork on the front and back. You can see the front cover of the booklet down below. Inserting the disc, the menu screen was simple and easy to navigate. The picture and sound quality for this high-definition release were crisp and clear. There might be a little grain in a few of the scenes but that’s part of the movie’s charm. I didn’t have any major issues with the video and audio.

Bottom line is, The Return of Frank James is a sequel to a movie that I still haven’t had the chance to watch but thankfully they acknowledge the events that take place in the 1939 feature so everything was easy to follow. I’ve also recently watched a few other Jesse James movies so I was familiar enough with the story and what happened to the outlaw. I really like this story about Frank James who appeared to be a little more mild-mannered and level-headed than his infamous brother even though I read somewhere that this movie is considered to be historically inaccurate. Still, I thought Henry Fonda delivered a great performance as the slightly lessor known outlaw brother who finally decides to get some revenge. The supporting cast also did a really good job with their characters plus we get to see Jackie Cooper all grown up from his kiddo days in Our Gang and decades before he’d take on the role as Perry White in the Superman movies. This was also the debut for the beautiul Gene Tierney who went on to have an impressive career of her own. The Return of Frank James features some action scenes that include horse riding (looks like the actors did some of their own stunts) and gun fire. The movie was helmed by Fritz Lang who directed so many different kinds of movies throughout his impressive career and I thought he delivered an exciting western about this outlaw brother from the notorious James Gang. The Return of Frank James is now available on Blu-ray and has a limited edition run of 3,000 units.

Distributor: Twilight Time

Run Time: 93 Minutes

Rated: Not Rated

Blu-ray Video: 1080p High-Definition Widescreen (1.33:1) Region Free

Blu-ray Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and 1.0

Subtitles: English SDH

Special Features: N/A

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