26 Apr 2016
The Jesse James Case
The Return of Frank James (1940) is a very interesting case as it is a sequel that is much stronger and altogether superior to the previous film Jesse James (1939). Both films use most of the same cast and crew, including set and costume design and the Technicolor is shot by the same cinematographer. While Henry King’s The Case of Jesse James (1939) is still a solid and very decent piece of filmmaking it lacks several elements including an idiosyncratic director’s touch.
On the other hand, Fritz Lang’s The Return of Frank James (1940) is a much bolder regarding subject matter as it addresses racial discrimination, alienation, feminism (also the first motion picture to feature Gene Tierney); it also re-defines the genre by creating an impressive and truly haunting series of scenery and atmospheres. While Lang uses many of the same motifs from the screenplay, he puts them forward in a much more witty, humorous and effective manner than before. The great directors will do magnificent jobs in both their personal projects and jobs-for-hire, there is no difference as they treat all work with the same attitude and will always try to push the boundaries with the studio system. The biggest and most important weapon a filmmaker has is his/her “craft”. One can always use it idiosyncratically to shape the artistic vision- even at the cost of earning a living. Lang had it all!