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  Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, The Not Getting Any Younger
Year: 1972
Director: Philip Kaufman
Stars: Cliff Robertson, Robert Duval, Luke Askew, R.G. Armstrong, Dana Elcar, Donald Moffat, John Pearce, Matt Clark, Wayne Sutherlin, Robert H. Harris, Jack Manning, Elisha Cook Jr, Royal Dano, Mary-Robin Redd, William Callaway, Arthur Peterson, Craig Curtis
Genre: WesternBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: 1876, and the outlaws known as the James Younger Gang, criminal refugees from the American Civil War a decade earlier, like to think of themselves as folk heroes, Wild West Robin Hoods, if you will. Some of the populace like that idea too, given the gang targets the authorities who won the war, but the powers that be have decided to grant them an amnesty because of the admiration they foster; however, many more are none too pleased with this turn of events and send out a posse from the Pinkerton Detective Agency to track them down and bring them to justice. This leaves them in a confused position - are they pardoned or what? - but will not hold them back from a fresh raid.

By the early nineteen-seventies, the revisionist Western was a genre that had replaced the traditional form of the genre, and it was, it could be argued, the reason why it waned so badly from the most popular of American movie styles to the state it is in during the twenty-first century, where indie movies tend to be where they are made rather than the occasional big budget effort. This has left those seventies entries looking both prescient to what would be on the way - basically a bunch of disillusioned, even mournful low-to-mid budget efforts that usually gained a cult following at best - but also largely appealing to the buffs, as they lacked the hook to bring in a wider audiences.

The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (a historically accurate but needlessly complicated title, though perhaps it had nothing on the Brad Pitt attempt at telling the Jesse James tale) was Philip Kaufman's big studio debut as director, sparking a career that had its ups and downs but at its best was ambitious and distinctively intelligent, lending him a cult following of his own for selected pictures. His tone here was largely cynical, as everyone we saw was incompetent to some degree or another, leaving us watching (and those making the film) in the position of seeing the past from a weirdly arrogant place, considering the folks here to be cunning in some respects, but idiotic in many others.

Cliff Robertson was the ostensible lead, bringing some old school charisma to his role as Cole Younger, but this was more of an ensemble piece, leading to some rivalry among the cast to see who could steal the movie. Robert Duvall, now a rising star, did his level best to present Jesse James as not some charming antihero, but as a ruthless and entirely self-centred villain with no room for an ounce of sentimentality in the way he was portrayed; he made an impression, and was patently destined for bigger things (this was released the same year as his star-making turn in The Godfather), but amidst some very well-kent faces of Westerns past and future, he did not stand out maybe to the degree he appeared to be hoping for. With old hands like R.G. Armstrong or, in smaller roles, Elisha Cook Jr and Royal Dano, that was understandable.

At times the film erupted into broad comedy you would imagine would have gone down well with rough men of violence like the gang depicted, despite the historical folks being the butts of the jokes: see the baseball game which is pure slapstick, including the conclusion decided when Cole shoots the ball out of the sky to divert the attention back to him and his scheme to get the Northfield locals to invest in the bank. He has discovered this lot are hoarders, therefore the vault is empty leaving the gang with nothing to rob; in a story of the stupid, he is just smart enough to concoct this plan without the wherewithal to pull it off. If you know the history, or if you have seen Walter Hill's not dissimilar (but without the comedy) The Long Riders of eight years later, then you'll be aware of how this went, and with every Western from this period we are reminded that time marches on (here represented by steam power), but if this is a rickety, wayward version, it has enough to compel. Music by Dave Grusin.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Philip Kaufman  (1936 - )

Level-headed American writer and director who doesn't shy away from challenging material; after award-winning debut Goldstein, he offered superhero spoof Fearless Frank, but it was five years until his movie career really got off the ground. The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid was followed by The White Dawn and the script for The Outlaw Josey Wales, and a remake of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers was his first big hit. Then came The Wanderers, The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the controversial Henry & June, Rising Sun, Marquis de Sade drama Quills and thriller Twisted. He also contributed to the story of Raiders of the Lost Ark; considering his talent, it's surprising how few films he has directed.

 
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