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Although most contemporary reviews and news items refer to the film as The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid, there is no comma in the onscreen credits. After the ending cast credits, a written statement reads: "We wish to express our appreciation to the St. Olaf's College Choir of Northfield, Minnesota for their rendition of `Hodie Christus-Natus Est' and also for the kind co-operation of the people of Jacksonville, Oregon." Philip Kaufman's onscreen credit is "Written and directed by." The film begins with voice-over narration by Paul Frees, describing the film's setting and introducing the characters. Intermittent narration throughout the picture gives dates and details of the action. At the end, the narration states that the crowd cheered "Cole Younger" all the way to Stillwater Penitentiary.
Although a April 25, 1969 Daily Variety news item reported that Frank Price had been assigned by Universal to produce the picture, he was not credited onscreen or by reviews, and the extent of his contribution to the completed picture, if any, has not been confirmed. Although Kaufman had directed two independent films in the 1960s, The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid marked his first directorial effort for a major studio. According to a December 1970 article in The Sunday Oregonian, Kaufman collaborated closely with actor and producer Cliff Robertson during the making of the movie. The article specified that while the script was based on Kaufman's original idea, Robertson "re-worked it" before filming began, and that Kaufman "would often consult with Robertson" on setting up the shots.
As noted by the onscreen credits, the picture was filmed on location in Jacksonville, OR. The December 1970 The Sunday Oregonian article reported that eighty percent of the picture would be filmed in Oregon, and according to Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety news items, the production also shot in central and southern California locations. Modern sources include Ken Drake in the cast.
As depicted in the film, Younger, James and their gang attempted to rob the First National Bank in Northfield, MN on September 7, 1876. The robbery was thwarted, although it resulted in the deaths of bank cashier Joseph Lee Heywood, townsman Nicolas Gustafson [spelled Gustavson in the film] and outlaws Clell Miller and William Stiles (also known as William Chadwell or Kid Chadwell). Later in the month, Cole, Jim and Bob Younger, along with Charlie Pitts [spelled Charley in the film], were spotted by a posse. Pitts was killed in the ensuing shootout and the three Younger brothers were captured. After pleading guilty to avoid the death penalty, the brothers were sentenced to life imprisonment at Stillwater State Penitentiary. Cole was released in 1901 and, after spending more than a decade lecturing about his former life of crime, died in 1916 of heart disease. Jim, also released in 1901, committed suicide in 1902, and Bob died of tuberculosis in 1889 while still in prison. After the botched raid, Jesse and Frank James separated from the rest of the gang and returned to Missouri. Toward the end of the film, "Jesse" tells "Frank" that they should invite Bob Ford, who is never seen in the picture, to join their new gang. On April 3, 1882, Jesse was killed by Ford.
Although Northfield's First National Bank eventually relocated, in 1975 the original building became a museum operated by the Northfield Historical Society. The successful prevention of the robbery is commemorated annually in Northfield with a weekend of re-enactments, rodeos, carnivals and other festivities known as The Defeat of Jesse James Days. For more information on Frank and Jesse James, and on the Younger Brothers, please see the entries above for Bad Men of Missouri (1941) and The Great Missouri Raid (1951), and the entry below for Jesse James (1939).