The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid


1h 31m 1972

Brief Synopsis

This film chronicles the most daring robbery of the James Younger gang. On September 7, 1876, the gang held up the bank in Northfield, Minnesota which was known at the time as "the biggest bank west of the Mississippi."

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
Apr 1972
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 28 Apr 1972
Production Company
Robertson & Associates; Universal Pictures
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures
Country
United States
Location
Jacksonville, Oregon, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 31m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Synopsis

In 1876, with the United States still recovering from the Civil War, the Missouri Legislature debates awarding amnesty to outlaws Cole Younger and Jesse James and their men, on the grounds that the criminals were driven to their crimes by the war and the encroaching railroad, which expelled families from their land. Cole and his brothers, Bob and Jim, Jesse and his brother Frank and the rest of the gang┬┐Charley Pitts, Clell Miller and Kid Chadwell┬┐have mixed feelings about the impending pardon, with Cole welcoming it and Jesse doubtful that it will happen. Although many legislators believe that the gang members are heroes, the railroad barons despise them and have hired a dogged Pinkerton agent and his men to capture them. One day, while sitting in the outhouse together, Jesse and Frank find some papers discarded by Cole and realize that they are Cole's plans for robbing the bank in Northfield, Minnesota, which is supposedly the biggest bank west of the Mississippi. Because of the amnesty, Cole has forsaken crime, but Jesse hides the plans for future use. In town, Cole is showing his handmade leather vest, which has saved him numerous times from fatal gunshots, to a group of admiring boys, then prepares to leave with Bob and Jim. As they are riding, however, the womanizing Cole is distracted by a naked prostitute, who is being held captive by a Pinkerton agent. The detectives fire on the outlaws, and even though Cole is injured, Jim and Bob carry him to safety. Cole is treated by the superstitious Charley and the local medicine woman, while Jesse rails against the Yankees always pursuing them. Hoping for revenge, Jesse pretends to have a vision of the Northfield bank, which they can rob by wearing long duster coats and disguising themselves as cattle buyers. Energized, Frank, Bob and Chadwell agree to join Jesse, although Jim and Charley stay with Cole. After Cole has regained consciousness, he learns that Frank has gone on a raid, thereby endangering their amnesty. Furious, he rides with Jim and Charley to Clell's mule farm, where he convinces Clell to join them in stopping Jesse. Eager to overtake Jesse, who has just murdered several Union soldiers, Cole and his men board the train to Minnesota. During the journey, they learn that the Missouri legislature has voted down the outlaws' amnesty, presumably because the Speaker of the House was bribed by the railroad conglomerates. Enraged at having been double-crossed, Cole decides to rob the Northfield bank and use the proceeds to give the legislature a larger bribe to vote for the pardon. Upon arriving at Northfield, Cole and his men, dressed in typical cattlemen's dusters, learn that the townspeople have been suspicious of banks ever since the panic of 1873 and hoard their money rather than deposit it. Dismayed to discover that the establishment is almost bankrupt, Cole schemes with greedy bank president Wilcox to trick the townspeople into investing their money by pretending to have a gold shipment arrive that afternoon. Meanwhile, on 5 September 1976, after riding more than four hundred miles, Jesse and his men arrive at the town's outskirts, where they are welcomed by an elderly woman named Dottie, who is about to be evicted. Moved by her plight, Jesse gives her the $80 she needs to pay her mortgage, then soon after, robs and kills the landlord who collected the money from her. That afternoon, during a well-attended baseball game, Cole loudly declares that he was almost robbed recently and is going to deposit his money in the bank for safe-keeping. Townsmen Manning and Allen grumble that the bank is not stable because it has no gold as collateral, but soon after, Bunker, one of Wilcox's men, arrives on a coach seemingly laden with bags of gold. With Cole's men acting as guards, the townspeople are fooled and soon deposit their money in the bank. With the streets deserted, and Cole and his men standing guard at the bank, Jesse and his followers arrive. The outlaws are delighted to be reunited and spend the afternoon at a sauna, but Jesse objects when Cole offers to treat the men to an evening at a brothel. With Jesse staying behind, the rest enjoy their night at Mad Katie Kate's, where Cole tells one prostitute about his love for new technology. The next morning, Cole and the others go to rob the bank. Wilcox protests violently, but can do nothing against the superior firepower. Heywood, Wilcox's accountant, lies to the outlaws, trying to get rid of them by stating that the vault cannot be opened because of the time release. Outside, Bob is irritated by the presence of Gustavson, a local man driven mad by the loss of his son in the war. Bob shoots Gustavson and the old man falls on the calliope that Wilcox had hired to attract business, and which Cole fixed when it was broken. The resulting noise frays the outlaws' nerves, even though Chadwell has managed to get into the vault, and while they are distracted, Heywood closes and locks the vault's door, trapping Chadwell inside. Jesse shoots Heywood but as a crowd gathers, the gang must leave Chadwell behind. Clell is killed during the melee and Bob is wounded, but Cole manages to escape with his brother. Bunker alerts the sheriff, and posses form as word spreads. With the inept Northfield posse soon engaged in a shootout with another posse, the outlaws reach Dottie's house, where she tenderly cares for Bob. Although Jesse wants to move on, Cole insists that Bob cannot be moved, and so Dottie decides to go for a trustworthy doctor. Jesse and Frank accompany her on her wagon, and after they leave, the posse finally tracks the gang to Dottie's house. With guns blazing, the outlaws are either killed or wounded and captured, then put in a horse-drawn cage. Meanwhile, Jesse has murdered Dottie and disguised himself in her dress, with Frank acting as his driver. Musing on their future, Jesse decides that they should invite Bob Ford to join their new gang. In town, the cage bearing the outlaws is driven through the booing crowd. The wounded Cole struggles to his feet, and his pride and stamina so impress the people that they cheer lustily as they accompany the men to the state penitentiary.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Release Date
Apr 1972
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 28 Apr 1972
Production Company
Robertson & Associates; Universal Pictures
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures
Country
United States
Location
Jacksonville, Oregon, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 31m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

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).

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States January 1998

Released in United States on Video September 15, 1988

Released in United States Spring April 1972

Shown at Cinequest 1998: The San Jose Film Festival January 29 -

February 4, 1998.

Released in United States January 1998 (Shown at Cinequest 1998: The San Jose Film Festival January 29 -)

Released in United States Spring April 1972

Released in United States on Video September 15, 1988