A few words about…™ The Return of Frank James – in Blu-ray

While Fritz Lang’s 1940 Technicolor production, The Return of Frank James, may not fill the boots of its 1939 predecessor, those who take a shot a this new Twilight Time Blu-ray, will be pleasantly surprised that as a representation of the 3-strip era, it’s near the top of the pile of Fox’s films with no original elements.

Except for a bit of black crush, the color is essentially pleasant, and in fully lit scenes, there’s enough shadow detail to go around.

Audio is fine.

While not especially well reviewed at the time, my take is that it’s a better film now than it was almost eighty years ago, and well worth your attention. There were complaints of Henry Hull over-acting. I love it. And how can one own Jesse James, without The Return of Frank?

A nice quality addition to the Twilight Time library of classics.

And for Technicolor collectors, with only 17 productions released in 1940, a delightful rarity.

Image – 4

Audio – 4.5

Pass / Fail – Pass

Upgrade from DVD – Totally

Very Highly Recommended


Published by

Kevin Collins



  1. Robert Harris

    Contrast is nowhere near as problematic as those examples. I’m shocked, as I always trust frame grabs

    Yup, I know caps can be misleading, & I'm pleased to hear that the Blu-ray doesn't look that bad, but will there ever be a forties colour Fox film that looks really HD good & not dupey, I'm beginning to think not.

    …& a bit of black crush…surly if colourists know what they're doing, there shouldn't be any black crush.

  2. Billy Batson

    Yup, I know caps can be misleading, & I'm pleased to hear that the Blu-ray doesn't look that bad, but will there ever be a forties colour Fox film that looks really HD good & not dupey, I'm beginning to think not.

    …& a bit of black crush…surly if colourists know what they're doing, there shouldn't be any black crush.

    AFAIK, only one film survives as nitrate masters.

  3. As I think I have shared before, I saw THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES, along with WESTERN UNION & BLOOD AND SAND in what I believe were nitrate 3 strip Technicolor prints lent by Henri Langois as part of a sidebar event at the New York Film Festival in either 1970 or 71, and they were also admission free!

    For my money, THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES was the film with the most glorious color, as well as the best clarity, and because of the presentation, it immediately rose in my estimation from minor Lang to one of his best American films. While the sumptuous production values might be attributed to Mr. Zanuck, this is an extremely personal film for Lang, as it explores the ramifications of revenge, and does so within a strongly delineated visual design, that begins with bucolic, golden hued landscapes, and grows darker, moodier and more shadowy–in addition to featuring shallower, more claustrophobic compositions–as the film and the plot progresses. The compositions are very characteristic of Lang; quite painterly in their use of light as well as a very angled camera which contrasts foreground and background. Oh, and Henry Fonda is wonderful here, initially lighter than air, but also with a strong hint of gravitas shining through. I would place his performance here alongside YOUNG MR. LINCOLN as among his very best. And yes, though I generally try to keep a long distance between myself and Henry Hull's fire-spitting performances, I agree with Mr. Harris that he's very entertaining, and fairly restrained in this film.

    I also forgot to mention Gene Tierney, whose debut film this is, in her first blush of Technicolored bloom, which should be reason enough for everyone to want to own this film.

  4. This blu ray is beautiful and velvety-looking. Perhaps just a tad dark, but beautiful. And Gene Tierney’s first movie! She is lovely and does a great job and shows signs of having the star quality. This is a great movie and has stunts we may likely never see the equal. The horses actually do cartwheels and somersaults! Wow! Don’t miss this. No extras, but it looks so beautiful, who cares.

  5. I received this today from Twilight Time and it's much better than I expected. The colors are not as translucent and luminous as the nitrate print from the Cinematheque Francaise that I saw at the NYFF almost 50 years ago, but the colors themselves are very close to what I remember. The colors of the skies, for instance. And the contrast between leafy trees, grass and the sky is really good and also has wonderful depth of field, something other Blu-Rays of Fox Technicolor productions from this period–and yes I'm talking about JESEE JAMES and WESTERN UNION in particular–do not at all possess. For me, the Blu-Ray is worth getting simply to get an eyeful of Ms.Tierney's yellow ensemble. Also, this is an even better film, both dramatically and cinematically, then I remember, it's very exciting and emotionally involving to watch and the color on this Blu-Ray really enhances the experience. This is absolutely the closet I've seen any Blu-Ray come to creating a reasonable reproduction of what a Fox Technicolor production from the early 40's should look like. It's not perfect but it's still pretty wonderful.

  6. Josh Steinberg

    I’m looking forward to this. I also just realized that I never got a copy of the ‘39 Jesse James movie so I went and ordered a copy of that as well.

    While JESSE JAMES is a wonderfully produced and acted big budget studio Western and a minor classic, the Blu-Ray is highly problematic in terms of its color, which is brownish, soft-edged and flat, while the colors themselves look really weird, more computer-generated than natural, and since in at least my opinion, one of the best elements of JESSE JAMES is the outdoor Technicolor cinematography, that makes a big difference. However, if you watch JESSE JAMES first, the color in THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES may look even better.

    Also, in terms of its themes of social justice, the general plot development and also Henry Fonda's persona, THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES is, in my view, more of a follow-up to YOUNG MR. LINCOLN than JESSE JAMES. THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES also shares the same associate producer as YOUNG MR. LINCOLN, Kenneth MacGowan, who co-founded the Provincetown Playhouse with Eugene O'Neil, and later produced films in Hollywood such as BECKY SHARP, LITTLE WOMEN and LIFEBOAT which were distinctive for their literacy.

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