November 19th, 2011
When I was just a little girl, my maternal grandfather — whose own life is the stuff of storybooks — began researching our family history. He traced the line back to the Hite family of Bell Grove Plantation. In the end, it turns out we may not have any real Hite blood at all. But I seem to recall he did find a few other remarkable characters dangling from the family tree. Including notorious outlaw brothers Jesse and Frank James.
For someone who is likely kin to the James brothers, I’ve displayed remarkably little interest in their exploits. I don’t really know what they did to become WANTED. Or even what became of them after they were hunted down. But tonight I settled in with my latest crocheted collar project and watched Henry Fonda, John Carradine, Henry Hull, Jackie Cooper, and Gene Tierney in The Return of Frank James. If the all-star cast weren’t enough to entice you, it was directed by Fritz Lang.
The film, made in 1940, was impeccable. And I learned quite a lot about the James legend (not to be confused with the facts of the case). Perhaps it was too impeccable. I’ve been on a horse opera kick lately, watching lots of early B westerns and glorying in every dusty, over-acted minute. The Return of Frank James was a mite too polished. It felt more like Twelve Angry Men than Stagecoach. Not that that’s a bad thing, just not exactly what I was expecting.