Sunday, July 19, 2009
Day 178: The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972) - Rank 3.5/5
Ah, R.G. Armstrong, how I will never tire of watching you in films. Don't ever die. What started as a mere impulse rental for enjoying the antics of the silver screen's most ornery character actor turned out to be a vast cornucopia of fun roles for niche performers. I sat waiting for Armstrong's name to appear when whose name should become emblazoned on the screen? Cliff Robertson. Followed by Robert Duvall. As the names of recognizable character actors grew - Nellie Burt, Royal Dano, Donald Moffat, Luke Askew, Elisha Cook Jr, spazzy Matt Clark - I knew I was in for fun.
The film is light fare, nothing complex. Spaghetti western fluff, if I can use such a term. A band of outlaws headed by Cole Younger (Robertson) and Jesse James (Duvall) make their way due north to rob the bank of Northfield, Minnesota. Upon arrival, the James-Younger gang learn that the bank is bankrupt, so they gain the trust of the bank president enough to enact a scheme that will build the townspeople's trust of the establishment. Once most of the money of the town is in the bank, then they will rob it. Furthermore, they plan to use a large portion of the wealth to bribe Missouri lawmakers to grant their actions a pardon (the gang had been on the verge of a pardon for their Robin Hood-esque wrongdoings, but it was stymied by the wealthy railmen they'd scorned in their robberies). Thus, the plan will be perfect and everyone will end up happily ever after. But since this is a tale based on a true incident, it should come as no surprise that life rarely offers perfect Hollywood endings and as such, a cavalcade of shootings and bloodshed finish up our second half.
What stops it from being a great western is a script that is rather mediocre at times. It calls for a narrator to insert Paul Harvey "Rest of the story" inspired moments, which makes it feel a little bit Disneyfied (the fact that Paul Frees is the narrator gives it an even stronger feel of being something you might catch late at night on the Disney channel...back in the 1980's before it turned to shit). There's also a subplot about a roaming train filled with assassins hired to kill the James-Younger gang that goes nowhere. The railman in charge of the assassins is easily the worst actor in the film too, making me wish it had been left on the cutting room floor. Still, I can't hate any movie where R.G. Armstrong has a large role and a gun at his side. Oh, and props to Philip Kaufman for his hilarious introduction of Royal Dano's character (he appeared just as I was asking myself when he'd show in the story).
Royal Dano appears, babbling in what sounds like drunken Swedish
Jim Younger (Askew): Who's that?
Manning (Moffet): Him? Oh, that's just Crazy Gustavson! He probably just thinks your his son. He ain't been right since the war.
Gustavson (Dano) babbles excitedly in agreement.
Younger: Well make him stop.
Manning pulls a rock out of his pocket and throws it at Gustavson, who squeals and runs away.
Manning: See, if you just throw a stone at him, he goes away. It never hurts to keep a couple on you.
I think I managed to utter "What the hell?" before succumbing to apoplectic laughter on that number.