The Long Riders (1980) / Western-Drama
MPAA rated: R for strong violence, brief nudity, and some language
Length: 100 min.
Cast: David Carradine, James Keach, Keith Carradine, Stacy Keach, Dennis Quaid, Robert Carradine, Randy Quaid, Kevin Brophy, Harry Carey Jr., Christopher Guest, Nicholas Guest, Pamela Reed, James Remar
Small role: Chris Mulkey, Lin Shaye, Ry Cooder
Director: Walter Hill
Screenplay: Bill Bryden, Steven Smith, Stacy Keach, James Keach
The Long Riders is another entry (among many) in the Western oeuvre regarding the James-Younger band of bank-thieving outlaws, but also one of the more interesting efforts to cover the ground. Director Walter Hill (48 Hrs., Brewster's Millions) gives us one of his best efforts behind the camera, his first try at Westerns, with a Peckinpah-esque penchant (perhaps a little too close to keep accusations of stealing at bay) for capturing the brutal, bloody violence of the Western gunslinger.
Much of the film tells of the fall of the James-Younger band of outlaw brothers, as the Pinkerton detective agency would be out to nab them in their family homes in Missouri, while safes became harder and harder to crack. Most of the film comes in a series of vignettes centered on the theme of love and loss, family and friendship, and law and recklessness.
The cast of brothers on the screen are played by real-life brothers -- three Carradines (David (Circle of Iron, Death Race 2000) , Keith (2 Days in the Valley, The Californians) and Robert (Coming Home, Orca)) as the Youngers, two Quaids (Dennis (Caveman, Jaws 3) and Randy (Foxes, Midnight Express)) as the Millers, and two Keaches (Stacy (Up in Smoke, Fat City) and James (FM, Moving Violations) as the James brothers. Even the supporting cast has siblings in the form of Christopher (Death Wish, This is Spinal Tap) and Nicholas Guest (Trading Places, Christmas Vacation) as the Ford brothers.
Interestingly, the brothers are painted as neither good nor bad, as they do have respect for one another, but they do commit some heinous acts, including murder, that can only be viewed as reprehensible. However, the authorities on their tail aren't much better, as they also kill many innocents in the course of trying to take them down, sometimes on accident and others intentional. Their reputation for overstepping the bounds of decency have the adverse effect of making the bad guys look like folk heroes in the eyes of the public.
Although the action sometimes rides the line between history and legend, many of the events are told with a historical eye in mind, at least compared to most of the films of in the Western genre at the time. The sense of period is quite good, especially in the dialogue, costumes, facial hair, and many of the quaint mannerisms of the era. James and Stacy Keach also contribute to the writing of the screenplay, as well as executive producer credits. Many of the scenes don't deal with robbery or gunfights at all, mostly displaying the men's private lives, as the gang tries to have a sense of normalcy by courting women and spending time with their loved ones.
The stunt work is truly a standout, with Hill doing what he does best: capture people being punch, kicked, shot and riding through large panes of glass whenever possible. Many of the actors did their own stunt work during certain scenes, which does make for some pretty exciting viewing to see how they risked their necks for the good of the movie as a whole. Ry Cooder (Crossroads, Primary Colors) also contributes with the solid soundtrack.
The Long Riders is recommended for Western fans, even casual ones, and it is especially interesting for film buffs who enjoy the works of Walter Hill (or Sam Peckinpah's Westerns, especially The Wild Bunch) and any of the main actors on board. It is unflinching in its violence, unsympathetic in its characterizations, but quite riveting when it needs to be.
©2013 Vince Leo