Jesse James, under the sponsorship of 20th Century-Fox, was murdered a year ago by those cowards, the Ford brothers. This season, with vengeance rankling in his breast, Jesse’s older brother, Frank, returns to even the score. That he does, in obedience to Sam Hellman’s script, but it’s pretty slow stuff in the telling. Frank’s no cinematic match for Jesse, which appears to be Will Hays’ fault more than anyone else’s. Rule 16a in the book is that a bad man can’t be a hero. Which leaves Hellman in the paradoxical position of having Frank responsible for deaths of three men who never so much as tasted a single slug from his six-shooter. Effort to put wings on Frank is too much. Angelic aspect bogs the plot and instead of flying it can do no better than plod for a slow 92 minutes.
From standpoint of production and cast, Darryl Zanuck has spared nary a horse. It’s filled with ah-evoking outdoor scenes and nostalgically-impressive western streets and indoor sets. Henry Fonda, underplaying Jesse James’ older brother, Frank, in typical quiet style, is impressive; Jackie Cooper, as his kid buddy, shows a maturing dramatic sense although the pout is still there; Henry Hull, as a southern newspaper editor, overacts like no one else can, but is tremendously appealing despite it; John Carradine is a duly hissable villain as Bob Ford; J. Edward Bromberg earns laughs as a dumb railroad detective; and Donald Meek, Eddie Collins and George Barbier are, as usual, good for smiles.
Only member of the cast with whom fault can be found is Gene Tierney, making her film debut. Tierney’s plenty pretty but for oomph she just isn’t. Playing the role of a naive gal reporter to whom Frank takes a fancy, she seems to just lack what it takes to make an impression on the screen.