The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972)




Director:  Philip Kaufman.

Starring:  Cliff Robertson (Cole Younger), Robert Duvall (Jesse James), Luke Askew (Jim Younger), R. G. Armstrong (Clell Miller), Dana Elcar (Allen), Donald Moffat (Manning), John Pearce (Frank James), Matt Clark (Bob Younger), Wayne Sutherlin (Charley Pitts), Robert H. Harris (Wilcox).

Story of the ill-fated 1876 bank robbery that nearly devastated the James and Younger gangs.


Just an o.k. picture.  They take a lot of liberties with the facts.  Of course, they repeat the myth that Jesse James (Robert Duvall) is jus a good ol' Robin Hood and not a psychopathic killer.  How come, if Americans are so satisfied with the class structure here, that they just love this old myth of he James brothers as Robin Hoods. 

They have the James-Younger gang stopping at a cat house for some good ol' recreation with the pros. 

It appears that the gang was just a little too overconfident about their chances of success in Northfield.  They rode into town breaking into three groups, three went into the bank, two stayed outside and three down the street.  One look at this display of force and the towns people thought "bank robbery".  The town had time to mobilize because the bank teller bravely refused to cooperate with the robbery. 

I enjoyed the movie a bit because the gang got what they deserved: three dead and four wounded out of eight robbers, with three each given a 25 years sentence in Stillwater prison.  And two (the James brothers) were on the run for many months and were shadows of themselves before they found rest.  It couldn't have happened to a nicer group of murderers.  Good. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

Historical Background:

For the Historical Background, see review for Jesse James (1939).



August  --  the James-Younger gang began its trip north to Northfield, Minnesota.  The gang included Frank and Jesse James; Cole, Bob and Jim Younger; and Charley Pitts, Clell Miller, and Bill Chadwell. 

September 6  -- the gang arrives in Northfield.   The gang divided into three parts.  Jesse James, Bob Younger, and Charley Pitts went into the bank.  Cole Younger and Clell Miller stood outside the bank.  Frank James, Jim Younger and Bill Chadwell stayed in their saddles at the end of the street. 

The behavior of the new comers gave the towns people the impression that a bank robbery was in progress.  Perhaps most suspicious among the towns people was the owner of the hardware store across from the bank, J. A. Allen.  He was bold indeed, walking up to Clell Miller and asking "What's going on here, young man?"  Miller told him to get out of here and shoved Allen off the boardwalk.  This rough behavior convinced the towns people that their suspicions were right and they came out onto the boardwalk with their rifles and handguns. 

In the meantime, Jesse was having no luck in getting teller Joseph Heywood to open the save.  Jesse punched Heywood in the stomach and forced his gun barrel into the man's cheek, but Heywood would not budge. 

Cole Younger warned Jesse that there was trouble a plenty brewing out on the street.  Bob Younger looked out the bank window and saw a crowd of towns people marching up the street toward the bank.  Jesse knocked the teller to the ground and left the bank, followed by Bob Younger.  Charley Pitts followed, but before exiting through the bank door he shot Heywood in the head, killing him. 

Charley Pitts was hit in the ankle, but managed to get onto his horse.  He was then hit in the shoulder a couple of times by a merchant armed with a Remington rifle. 

Clell Miller had gotten on his horse only to receive a shotgun blast to his face.

Bill Chadwell lay in the street screaming for mercy, his eyes blown out. 

Frank James was shot in the leg. 

Jesse was able to get onto his horse and, tugging at Frank's arm, the two headed for an exit down an alleyway. 

Jim Younger had half his upper jaw blown away.

Cole Younger was shot in the shoulder.

Bob Younger's horse was killed and before Bob could find cover, he was shot in the thigh and wrist. 

Cole Younger turned his horse around to pick up brother Bob and they followed the James brothers through the alleyway. 

They were followed by Jim Younger and then Charley Pitts.

Left behind were Clell Miller and Bill Chadwell. 

Several miles out of town, the gang split up.  Jesse and Franks James went their own way.  Cole and the three left stayed together to seek a hiding and resting place.   Charley Pitts died of his wounds en route, reducing the four to three. 

Two weeks later the gang of three surrendered to a posse when confronted in Madelia, Minnesota.  The men were tried and each sentenced to a term of 25 years.  The Northfield Raid was their last. 

The James boys were on the run for many months, suffering a great deal on the way.  They telegraphed their families and stayed with them near Nashville, Tennessee for nearly three years.



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