(director/writer: Philip Kaufman; cinematographer: Bruce Surtees; editor: Douglas Stewart; music: David Grusin; cast: Cliff Robertson (Cole Younger), Robert Duvall (Jesse James), Luke Askew (Jim Younger), R. G. Armstrong (Ciell Miller), Dana Elear (Allen), Donald Moffat (Manning), John Pearce (Frank James), Matt Clark (Bob Younger), Wayne Sutheriln (Charley Pitts), Robert H. Harris (Wilcox), Jack Manning (Heywood), Elisha Cook (Bunker), Royal Dano (Gustavson), Bill Callaway (Calliopist), Mary-Robin Redd (Kate); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Jennings Lang; MCA Universal Home Video; 1972)
The finale bank heist is well-executed and possibly excuses the pic’s flaws.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A well-photographed slick but realistic rough-hewn looking revisionist Western, whose major flaw is that it drags at times, is poorly paced, the writing is muddled and its point of view remains confusing. The finale bank heist is well-executed and possibly excuses the pic’s flaws. As directed and written by Philip Kaufman (“The White Dawn”/”Invasion of the Body Snatchers”/”The Wanderers”), it aims for the odd look of Bonnie and Clyde. It gives the mythical western outlaws some political cover by claiming they went astray because capitalism was corrupting the land.

In 1876, the United States is still feeling the after-effects of the Civil War, as the Missouri Legislature controversially grants amnesty to outlaws Cole Younger (Cliff Robertson) and Jesse James (Robert Duvall) and their gangs, based on the grounds that their crimes were part of the war effort as Rebels. Cole is willing to go along with the amnesty and adjust to the changing industrial times, while Jesse turns into a mystic fanatic wanting to carry out guerrilla raids for the dying Rebel cause.

The railroad barons don’t look upon the gangs as heroes and hire a zealous Pinkerton agent to nab them.

Meanwhile Cole plans to leave Missouri and go north into Yankee territory to rob the bank in Northfield, Minnesota, rumored to be the biggest bank west of the Mississippi, but because of the amnesty forsakes his plans. After Cole is wounded by a Pinkerton agent during a flareup at a cathouse, Jesse, learning of Cole’s robbery plans, pretends to have a vision of robbing the Northfield bank and rides there without Cole to do the job. But Cole changes his mind when he learns the speaker of the house has thwarted the amnesty deal, and hopes this last bank robbery will give him enough coin to bribe the legislature to pass amnesty. Both gangs meet in Northfield, where the botched robbery results in the capture of the entire Younger gang and the escape of Jesse and his brother Frank (John Pearce). Cole was sentenced to a 25-year prison term, and died in 1916; while Jesse was shot in the back six years later by new gang member Bob Ford. The Minnesota bank robbery was the last one by the notorious outlaws.

Kaufman wishes to demythologize the famous folk hero outlaw legends by contrasting Cole as the womanizing, contemplative and non-violent businessman-like outlaw ready to live in a changing country of steam engines, while the Bible-spouting prudish Jesse is viewed as a cold-blooded murderer hiding behind a political cause and is unwilling to change his set ways. The derivative film works in parts, as its memorable bank heist is impressively shot and its baseball sketch is cartoonishly funny.