The Long Riders
Produced by Tim Zinneman
Directed by Walter Hill
Written by Bill Bryden, Steven Smith, James Keach & Stacey Keach
Walter Hill has long been one of the most dependable directors working in Hollywood for more than thirty years now. Even though you don’t hear his name as much as some others, he’s always there, turning out excellent, entertaining movies with such ease and regularity that I don’t think people know exactly just how good he is. Most people are familiar with “48 Hours” and “Another 48 Hours” the two movies that made Eddie Murphy a movie star. But I knew Walter Hill long before that from movies such as “Streets of Fire” “Trespass” “Johnny Handsome” and “Extreme Prejudice” and who could forget “The Warriors”?
Walter Hill is also a major fan of westerns and many of his modern day movies are actually westerns. “Streets Of Fire” is a rock and roll version of “The Searchers” and “Extreme Prejudice” with Nick Nolte as a hardass Texas Ranger up against gunrunner Powers Booth is very much a modern day western with a climatic shootout that is clearly inspired by Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” Walter Hill knows his way around westerns as he proved with THE LONG RIDERS which still holds up very well I think as a superior example of the genre and I consider just as much a classic as “The Warriors”
The movie recounts the fabled exploits of the James/Younger Gang who robbed trains and banks in post Civil War Missouri. The twist in this movie is that brothers in the gang are also played by real life brothers. So we’ve got Stacey and James Keach playing Frank and Jesse James. David Carradine, Keith Carradine and Robert Carradine play The Younger brothers. Dennis Quaid and Randy Quaid play The Miller brothers while Christopher Guest and Nicholas Guest are Bob and Charlie Ford. It’s an interesting acting experiment that I think pays off extremely well. Having real life brothers play these roles gives them an intimacy the actors didn’t have to work at. Scenes between the actors have warmth and a feel that doesn’t have to be forced. You believe right from the start that these guys are brothers. And their natural resemblance helps greatly as well. Don’t you get annoyed when movies try to pass off actors that have absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to each other as family?
The movie doesn’t actually have a solid plot or story. We follow the members of The James/Younger gang as they go about their day job of robbing and stealing and then they return to the safety of their Missouri home where everybody treats them like heroes. Jesse James (James Keach) is making plans to get married that Cole Younger (David Carradine) thinks is a bad move. Mainly because they’ve got the tenacious Pinkerton Detective Jacob Rixley (James Whitmore, Jr.) on their trail and he’s vowed to bring in the gang dead or alive. The problem is that Rixley’s men are bungling incompetents who manage to kill everybody else except the men they’re supposed to be after. But Rixley gets his chance when he gets word that that the gang is planning to rob the bank at Northfield, Minnesota. It’s a robbery destined to end in horrifyingly blood-soaked carnage and after it’s over, the James/Younger gang will never be the same.
In between we’re treated to some pretty cool shootouts and great acting. David Carradine steals the show as Cole Younger who is wonderfully badass in this movie. He has a terrific knife fight with Sam Starr (James Remar) the husband of Belle Starr (Pamela Reed) a whore who Cole is more in love with than he’d like anybody, especially Belle to know. Pamela Reed is also so good in this one you wish she’d had more screen time but trust me; she makes the most of what she’s got to work with. It also doesn’t hurt that she’s flat out gorgeous to look at. James Keach does some interesting things with his characterization of Jesse James where he sometimes comes off as not being quite human in his dealings with other people. Stacey Keach is the better actor of the two and I think it was generous of him to step back and let his brother play Jesse, who has more lines and more screen time than Frank. Dennis Quaid doesn’t have much to do in this movie so don’t look for a lot of him but his brother Randy carries the load for them both. He has a terrifically funny scene where he sits down next to a group of musicians playing “The Battle Cry of Freedom” and with a big friendly grin and an even bigger gun advises it would be better for their health if they play “I’m A Good Ol’ Rebel” instead.
So should you see THE LONG RIDERS? Chances are if you’re a fan of westerns and/or Walter Hill like me you’ve already seen it. But if you haven’t and you’re wondering what you should put down on your list of movies to Netflix, add THE LONG RIDERS to that list. It’s a terrific western with great shootouts, outlaws who look damn cool in ankle-length dusters, train robberies, a grimly wry sense of humor and wonderfully authentic looking atmosphere. Enjoy.