The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid

1972, Movie, PG, 91 mins


An offbeat, ragged but totally absorbing Western, this film profiles the infamous yet celebrated James-Younger gang in relatively realistic terms, showing them for the murderous and desperate men they probably were while offering a refreshingly sophisticated and cynical political analysis of their situation. Though it borrows heavily from late 1960s-early 1970s genre landmarks such as BONNIE AND CLYDE and McCABE AND MRS. MILLER, it remains interesting for its depiction of how exploitive capitalism--the railroads in this case--compels somewhat simpleminded farmers into outlaw lives.

The Missouri legislature is preparing to vote on granting amnesty to those notorious outlaws, Jesse James (Duvall) and Cole Younger (Robertson). Some enlightened members argue that these men and their followers were driven into crime by powerful behind-the-scenes interests that appropriated their lands. Cole is willing to accept the amnesty and return to farming, but James argues that nothing will change, the railroads will continue to steal their land and their persecution will never stop. He's right. After the amnesty motion is ruled out of order, James plans to take the gang from their native Missouri to rob the big bank in Northfield, Minnesota, after reading a newspaper account about its financial standing as the biggest bank west of the Mississippi. Things go wrong.

Although director-writer Kaufman claimed to have researched the real tale of the James-Younger gang while studying history at the University of Chicago, many of his details are inaccurate and some scenes are outright fabrications. However, the awkward, crude, unsophisticated dialogue is appropriate to the period, region, and characters. Duvall delivers an interesting interpretation of Jesse James as a borderline psychotic. Robertson credibly portrays Cole Younger as a cunning, intelligent and even sensitive person. The supporting players also are all believable, and the well mounted production seems clearly authentic. One of the best profiles of the James-Younger gang yet made, although Walter Hill's THE LONG RIDERS more aptly captures the character of the gang. leave a comment

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The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid
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