The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper (1981)

On November 24, 2022, it will be fifty-one years, since the enduring mystery as to the identity of D.B. Cooper began. There have been at least one thousand suspects that have been investigated as possibly being Cooper. Furthermore, over three dozen books have been written on him, speculating as to his identity, each one claiming that their suspect is the case solver. Films have been made about Cooper, as well as documentaries, and episodes on television series such as “Unsolved Mysteries,” and “In Search of,” that have dealt with who Cooper could be. As of the writing of this post, no one has been able to provide definitive proof as to his true identity. 

November 24, 1971, on the eve of Thanksgiving, a man with slicked back, black hair, who was wearing a plain dark suit, purchased a ticket under the name Dan Cooper. He boarded Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 305, a Boeing 727, in Portland, Oregon. The plane’s destination was Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Once on board, he ordered a bourbon and soda from the flight attendant, Tina Mucklow. He then handed her a note. Mucklow took the note, and began to walk away, when the man informed her, in a calm manner, that she needed to read the note right away. The note stated that he had a bomb in his briefcase, and unless his demands were met, he was going to blow up the plane. Cooper took back the note from Mucklow, removing one of the few potential pieces of physical evidence that could’ve been used against him. Next, he stated his demands. They were as follows: When the plane landed in Seattle, he would exchange the passengers on board for $200,000 cash, four parachutes, dinner for the crew, and for the plane to take off again. Cooper’s demands were met. The one problem is that, when the plane was airborne, he wanted to be flown to Mexico City. He was informed that the plane didn’t have enough fuel to make it there. When Cooper learned of the situation, he ordered the pilots to fly under 10,000 feet at a speed slower than 230 miles per hour. Somewhere between Seattle and Reno, he lowered the back entrance of the plane, and jumped into infamy. (As an aside: At the time, the F.B.I. investigated a real D.B. Cooper, in case the hijacker was foolish enough to use his own name. The media found out about the suspect, and that is how the name Dan Cooper was changed to D.B. Cooper).

I was initially going to review “D.B. Cooper: Where Are You?!” The four part Netflix series premiered on July 13, 2022. After thinking about it, there wasn’t much, of anything, that was new in the series about D.B. Cooper, as to his possible identity. The series seemed to be piggybacked off of something I watched several years earlier on the History Channel. In fact, most of the people shown talking on camera were the same people that had tried to get a deal with the History Channel for a series. The people involved with the series felt that they had proof as to who D.B. Cooper was; at the time, however, the History Channel decided to pass.  Instead, I decided to watch, and now review, a film I have know about for a good deal of time, but had never watched, “The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper.” 

The film “The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper,” opens with Cooper, (name given in the film, Jim Meade), jumping out of the airplane he hijacked. Meade is played by three time Golden Glove nominee Treat Williams (Hair). He’s former military, and skilled enough to make the dangerous jump. After the jump, the film, speculates as to what might have happened if Cooper actually survived. The viewer will soon learn that Meade planned the entire thing out, not only the hijacking and the jump, but what he would need to get away with the crime, if he landed safely. The manner in which Meade is able to avoid detection, as well as conceal the money, and escape the tight net of law enforcement that has descended on the area, is impressive. Through some quick investigating, one person who is on to Meade, thanks to confirmation of a photograph by an eye witness, is his former army sergeant, Bill Gruen portrayed by Oscar winner Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies). Since he left the army, Gruen has become an insurance investigator, and has been assigned by his company to retrieve the $200,000 dollars given to Meade during the hijacking. Further complicating matters for Meade, is Remson (Paul Gleason). He is someone who served with Meade in the army, that is living in squalor in Mexico. He remembers that Meade spoke about hijacking a plane, and is convinced that Meade is D.B. Cooper. He manages to get a plane ticket and two hundred dollars cash, and goes in pursuit of Meade, and the money.

As it turns out, one of the main motivating factors for Meade attempting the hijacking was to get enough money for him, and his wife Hannah (Kathryn Harrold) to live comfortably. Hannah runs a white water rafting business, and while it does okay, it brings in nowhere near the kind of money that Meade has absconded with. The problem is, simultaneously, as Meade is getting in touch with Hannah to arrange a place to meet, Gruen is already at her business asking her questions about his whereabouts. He uses a ruse of potential employment, so as not to tip her off. 

Hannah decides to join Meade, and attempt to escape with him and the money to Mexico. Although he’s angry with what he’s done, his father, retired Brigadier General Meade played by three time Emmy winner Ed Flanders (St. Elsewhere), helps to aid in their escape. The getaway will not be easy. Gruen and Remson are always one step behind them. Gruen desires to reclaim the money, in order to gain respect and prestige from his employer. Remson also wants the money, so he can escape the poverty he finds himself in. Will Meade and Hannah get away?   

Trivia buffs take note: The original director of the film was four time Emmy winner John Frankenheimer (George Wallace). When the movie was being released Universal Pictures offered a one million dollar reward to anyone who provided information that led to the capture of D.B. Cooper. Emmy winner Henry Winkler (Barry) was originally cast to play Meade. Additionally, two time Oscar nominee Roy Scheider (All That Jazz) was originally cast to play Gruen, and Oscar winner Kim Basinger (L.A. Confidential) was cast to play the role of Hannah. On February 10, 1980, an eight year old boy, Brian Ingram found $5,800 dollars of the money that had been given to Cooper, five miles west of Vancouver, Washington. On July 8, 2016, the F.B.I. officially closed the D.B. Cooper investigation.  

“The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper” was directed by Emmy nominee Roger Spottiswoode (And the Band Played On). Additional direction was done by six time Emmy nominee Buzz Kulik (George Washington), but was uncredited. The screenplay was written by Jeffrey Alan Fiskin (Cutter’s Way). The source material for the screenplay came from the book “Free Fall” written by J.D. Reed. The book was published by Delacorte Press on January 1, 1980.  Kulik, as he did with the directing,  also contributed to the writing of the screenplay, but again did not receive credit. In addition, Oscar nominee Ron Shelton (Bull Durham), and Oscar nominee W.D. Richter (Brubaker), worked on the screenplay, but also did not receive credit. Two time Oscar winner James Horner’s score synchs up well with what is transpiring on screen. The cinematography done by two time Oscar nominee Harry Stradling Jr. (1776), and BAFTA winner Charles F. Wheeler (Tora! Tora! Tora!) moves seamlessly from one scene to the next. The film premiered on November 13, 1981. Parts adventure, crime, drama, and thriller, the movie has a runtime of 100 minutes.     


“The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper” might be pure speculation, but it is an entertaining film nonetheless. The performances, especially by Duval and Williams, are spot on. What really happened to Cooper remains a mystery. Given how much time has passed, and with the exception of very few pieces of evidence, such as Cooper’s skinny black tie with mother of pearl clip, that he took off before he jumped, his true identity might never be revealed. As of the writing of this post, the film is available to stream for free with advertisements on Tubi.






About robbinsrealm

I was born in Smithtown, New York, and grew up, worked, and lived in various areas of Long Island before moving to Boca Raton, Florida where I now make my home. In addition to being an aspiring writer, I am also an English teacher. I have a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master’s Degree in Education, both from Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. In my spare time you will find me engrossed in books, watching movies, socializing with friends, or just staying active.
This entry was posted in Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper (1981)

  1. kgbethlehem says:

    This was my first book report I had to write about in the 3rd grade.

    • robbinsrealm says:

      Wow, I would have liked it if my teacher had given me something fun to write about. If memory serves me correctly, the stuff I was given to write about in elementary school was dull.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s