In 1876, the Missouri legislature issues a pardon and amnesty to the James and Younger gangs despite many people considering them outlaws. The pardon is because they protected the homesteaders of Clay County against the marauding railroaders, who wouldn't let anyone or anything get in their way of building the railroad where they wanted. However, the railroad companies and banks still consider them outlaws and will take matters into their own hands if they come across the gangs. Prior to the pardon, Cole Younger had contemplated robbing the First National Bank in Northfield, Minnesota - what is considered the largest bank west of the Mississippi - but has now decided against it. Circumstances, including learning that Jesse James and his gang are going ahead with the robbery behind his back, and that the railroaders issuing a war against them which also includes bribing the legislature to revoke the pardon, make Cole change his mind. But right from the start - even during the planning ... Written by
One of the prostitutes is Valda Hanson who appeared in several Ed Wood, Jr movies. See more »
When the Younger gang arrives in Northfield, there are automobile tire tracks clearly visible in the muddy street. See more »
Even before the wounds of the Civil War had healed in Missouri, the railroads came swarming in to steal the land. Everywhere, men from the railroads were driving poor, defenseless families from their homes. And that's when a fresh wind suddenly began to blow. It was other Clay County farmers, the James and Younger boys, coming to the rescue. They tarred and feathered the railroad men and drove them from the land. From that moment onward, they were outlaws. But the people of ...
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"One Of The First Things An Outlaw Gotta Learn Is To Lend A Helpin' Hand"
Riven by internal frictions and harried by the Pinkerton men, the James-Younger Gang is at a low ebb. One last big project is planned, a daring raid on the bank of Northfield, Minnesota.
Outlaws have long been treated as folk heroes by Hollywood, but a particularly virulent strain arose with "Bonny And Clyde" and "Butch Cassidy" at the end of the 60's, then flourished in the early 70's, mutating into the 'realistic' western ("Dirty Little Billy", "Bad Company" etc). The present film stands squarely in that tradition.
Cliff Robertson plays Cole Younger as an avuncular, pipe-smoking nice guy with a passion for machines. Robert Duvall, first-class as always, portrays Jesse James as a half-crazed, bible-thumping Southern zealot who can't accept that the Civil War is over. He regards robberies as military attacks on the perfidious North. His preacher-style oratory in the hot baths is a memorable sequence.
In order for the viewer to sympathise fully with the robbers, the authorities have to be made to look bad. Accordingly, we see Pinkerton bribing the Speaker of the Missouri Legislature to ensure that the Coles and Youngers don't get their amnesty. Throughout the film, we are constantly reminded that the gang is 'only robbing from robbers'. The proprietor of Northfield's bank is shown to be a charlatan, and the town's posse is crueller and dumber than the gang which it is pursuing.
'Northfield' is a good-looking film. The music is exceptionally good, with neat bottleneck guitar and passages of calliope-style music, mimicking the steam organ which features in the story. "Our national sport, gentlemen, is shooting," we are told, and the film has some great gunplay. Watch out for Elisha Cook Jr in the cameo part of Mr. Bunker.
There are also flaws. The baseball game is too modern in its styling... did runners really slide into the bases like this in the 1870's? And the game goes on too long. The extended joke, that fielders are sometimes clumsy, quickly turns stale. The townspeople call the crazy German guy 'squarehead', a term of abuse that surely dates from the First World War at the very earliest.
However, despite these shortcomings, the film works. The dourness of unspectacular industrial Minnesota contrasts nicely with the romanticism of these vagabonds. The egotistical Jesse's struggle to supplant Cole is well depicted, each man reluctant to fight openly, but their contrasting leadership styles making conflict inevitable.
These heroes who are not heroic populate a western which is not set in the west. The free-ranging nomads are trapped in the grey drizzle and brick structures of the MidWest, caught up in the midst of an Industrial Revolution which is sounding their death-knell.
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