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Back in the glory days of 1980, Michael Bay was just a fifteen year old lad
with a love of movies who would soon begin his enrolment at Wesleyan
University. Bryan Singer too was a mere child, probably admiring films like
The Long Riders with his buddy Ethan Hawke. It would take a further six
years for John Mc Tiernan to carve his name in the Hollywood ladder and John
Woo was still finding his directorial roots in Southern China. The man to
watch when it came to extremely stylised action was one Walter Hill, the
creator of such awesome gun-totting avalanches as Extreme Prejudice, The
Warriors and Johnny Handsome. Long since categorised as the' director for
choosing style over content, Hill started out his career as a screenwriter.
He penned The Getaway for Sam Peckinpah, who was obviously his idol, and in
almost all of his movies he adds visual flourishes that are unsubtly
reminiscent of Peckinpah's accomplishments. (Check out Extreme Prejudice
where Hill almost out Peckinpahs Peckinpah!) Like all of cinema's greatest
achievers, Hill had an unbridled love for the western. Over the length of
his career, he would return to the genre again and again, giving us
offerings that ranged from the large-scale excess of Geronimo: an American
legend, to the smaller, but just as historically accurate Wild
By far the best of his Western work, The Long Riders tells the tale of the James/Younger legacy, a slice of history that has been adapted for the silver screen on countless occasions. Perhaps the film's strongest and most alluring attribute is the fact that the cast contains real life acting siblings in the shape of the Carradines, the Keaches, the Guests and the Quaids as the band of outlaws. It's also one of the finest and most attractively crafted movies of its kind, equally as beautiful as Heaven's Gate and as tirelessly entertaining as Tombstone.
I doubt that fans of the genre will need any introduction to the exploits of Jesse James, so I won't bother to list a plot synopsis. But reportedly, this is one of the more accurate descriptions of the adventures of the infamous anti-establishment crusader. Frankly, if outings like Frank and Jesse and the dismal American Outlaws are anything to go by, it's also one of the best of the colossal bunch.
The thespian brothers hold up their ends with finesse, and without taking anything away from the Keaches who don't fail to entertain from start to finish, one can only wonder how the film could have turned out if Jeff and Beau Bridges would have been available to accept the leads. David Carradine gives a scene stealing performance, making the most of his relationship' with an incredibly sexy Pamela Reed as Belle Shirley. Props are certainly due to Randy Quaid for not over cooking his threats against the singer in the bar scene at the beginning, he comfortably makes those few short lines the best of the whole damn movie. It's a shame that James Keach could never make his star shine brighter on the Hollywood A-list. Even so, he still has one or two great performances to look back on with enough pride to show that he was once a force to be reckoned with on the tinsel-town ladder.
Being as this is a Walter Hill joint, all the flashy trademarks are rooted firmly in place, including the use of his ever-dependable cast alumni such as James Remar. Surprisingly enough, for a director that's famed for his love of stylised violence, there are very few gunfights throughout the runtime, which somehow makes them even more powerful when they do finally occur. The Northfield Minnesota ambush is perhaps one of the greatest shoot-outs of western history, utilising a great use of sound to make each bullet hit home with a stark sense of realism that's almost nightmare inducing. Co-ordinator Craig Baxley should take a bow for his constant but never over-excessive use of jaw dropping stunts. Bodies literally fly through the air with an exquisite force that manages to bring home the impact of a gunshot with adeptness. Long Riders also boats more than its share of accurately realised set locations. But unlike Michael Cimino, Hill never over indulges or looses the plot to period preciseness, so the sheen is never overpowering or unwelcome.
Although Long Riders may not hold the masterpiece status of such often-touted westerns as The Wild Bunch, Unforgiven or even Dances with Wolves, it's still a five star movie. It's superbly acted, impressively casted, flawlessly directed and it boasts some of the greatest music that you're likely to find this side of an opera. Many people often consider Tombstone to be the all time great popcorn western.' Well, I can only presume that's because they haven't actually seen this long forgotten classic slice of storytelling. If you're a fan of the Wild West and you've let this slip you by, then you need to be asking yourself why
As Sam Peckinpah's 'The Getaway,' Walter Hill's 'The Long Riders'
almost elevates cinema violence into an art form
Visually, 'The Long Riders' contains much that is stunning, even mesmerizing: the green Missouri scenic landscapes; the train robbery sequence; the stagecoach heist; the crossing of a wild river; but there is no question that it is the scene of the gang's disastrous foray into Northfield, Minnesota - that highlight this film These specific episodes give 'The Long Riders' its rhythm, power, spectacle, and excitement
With his slow motion 'terror shootout,' Hill seems to impress his viewers by showing them an inventive montage of high-level gory violence But Hill's most wonderful sequences are those that were the most reserved: the wonderful moment when Frank is cutting the hardest wood with a forest ax and his brother Jesse, walking with his fiancée, attempting to settle down and raise a family
Hill may have a reputation for being a tough guy, but his best screen moments (in "Hard Times", "The Warriors", "Streets of Fire") are the ones in which he allows his romantic tendencies to slip through, when he gives his characters the dignity that means so much to them Hill tries to debunk the American myth that Western gunfighters were "heroes," and to show these embittered guys for the 'rough men that they really were.'
Hill's real intention is to present us with a gang of four families of brothers, and get us to accept them on their own terms, in their own brutal world The men of 'The Long Riders' are at their most dastardly at the beginning of the film when Ed Miller (Dennis Quaid) indiscriminately shoots an innocent clerk, but for the rest of the film - one by one - Hill reveals their better, more 'human' sides We further get to appreciate them as we compare them to the awful men around them; next to the Pinkertons killing a simple-minded 15 year old boy, they come out best, the 'good guys.'
To Hill, good and bad aren't on opposite sides of the coin; they share the edge
Walter Hill is surely one of the most underrated American directors of all time. His output since the popular success of '48 Hours' has been variable to say the least, but his run of 'The Driver', 'The Warriors', 'The Long Riders' and 'Southern Comfort' is difficult to beat. Each of those four movies is an overlooked classic, especially 'The Long Riders', which is a strong contender for the most underrated western of all time. The idea of casting real life brothers David, Keith and Robert Carradine and Stacy and James Keach (as well as Randy and Dennis Quaid and Christopher and Nicholas Guest) was an inspired one and really helps make this something special. Stacy Keach (as Frank James) and David Carradine (as Cole Younger) give the two stand out performances. Both of them are superb. David Carradine is finally getting some attention since working with Tarantino on 'Kill Bill'. His career has spanned forty years, and over 120 movies, working with everyone from Martin Scorsese to Ingmar Bergman to Hal Ashby to Robert Altman to (yes) Fred Olen Ray. He has made many (too many) lousy movies but also several very good ones. This could well be his very best role. Stacy Keach is another actor who has made some dubious career choices over the years (eg 'Mountain Of The Cannibal God', 'Class Of 1999') but when he's good he's not only really good, he's GREAT. Just watch him here and in 'Fat City' and 'The Ninth Configuration' and tell me I'm lying. Keach's brother James plays Jessie James and almost steals the movie. I also enjoyed both the Quaid brothers, and the memorable cameo by James Remar, one of the stars of Hill's cult classic 'The Warriors'. The real surprise for me here was Pamela Reed who plays Belle Starr. She's very sexy and tough and acts well, and she and David Carradine display some genuine chemistry. Their scenes together were my favourite moments in the movie. Why Reed never became a big star is difficult to fathom. I highly recommend 'The Long Riders'. It's a great movie and every Western fan should see it.
I know, calling it "the true story" is a bit much for any film, but I
have my reasons. There have been dozens of films about Jesse James,
before this one and since, but as a history buff I choose this one as
my favorite. Most movies on the subject either make Jesse a
misunderstood hero or the villainous target of some (usually fictional)
lawman. This movie was called "revisionist" by some critics when it was
released, but the great thing about it is that it just tells the story.
It uses a series of lovely little vignettes, each one of them
historically verifiable. There are failings, to my mind the slow-motion
shootout being the biggest, but on the whole it captures the feel of
the period, the dress, the idioms ("I would toss the shotgun away!"),
pretty much everything. It doesn't make them good guys, far from it,
but it does take pains to show why their neighbors loved them and hated
Not the best western ever, by a long shot, but almost certainly the best movie on the subject.
I watched this movie for the first time last night, and I've been completely blown away!!!! When you think about the fact that it was made back in 1980, it was WAY before it's time. The special effects are amazing and so real. The fight scenes are incredible and you don't want to take your eyes off the screen for fear you'll miss something great! And what a brilliant idea to cast all true-life brothers to play these roles. I've grown up watching these actors, and I think that their acting in this movie is the best performance each one has ever had. I'm extremely impressed and can now say that "The Long Riders" is one of my all time favorite movies. I will recommend this movie to anyone and everyone!
Much attention is given to the unique casting of this movie, but what drew me to it was the music. I've been a bluegrass and mountain music fan and performer for decades, and was told before the film was released to listen for the music. Not only is it very period accurate in terms of how it's played and on what instruments, but even the dancing has not been "hollywood-ized". There is actually some real "flat footing" going on to "Jack of Diamonds" which is a rural Southern dance that not many people in Hollywood would recognize - sort of an antecedent to porch dancing, or (dare I say it) "clogging". This is one of those movies like "Jeremiah Johnson" and "Oh, Brother" where it's worth the price of admission just to hear some very accurately portrayed period music. Music played a very vital role in the lives of men and women of the West and South in this time period, and there were no radios, so it was all done live, either in churches or (more secularly) for the purpose of dancing, and the movie reflects that. Hollywood gets 'Old West' and "Southern" music wrong so often this movie stands out by contrast.
Admittedly, the Western is not my favourite movie genre, which is partly why I like this film so much, as to my mind it is unique in several regards. For a start, none of the usual Western icons are present, which I find refreshing. There is no leading man either, no "hero", none of the usual "good guys" fighting the "bad guys" scenario. Another outstanding feature is the unique soundtrack(slide guitar, and traditional tunes), which makes a pleasant change to the usually obligatory orchestral soundtrack for Westerns. This movie is short and sweet and never drags or goes off on a romantic subplot. The slow motion option for the shoot-out scenes was a wise choice and it adds a lot of impact. Even a "minor" detail like the grey dusters worn by all members of the gang serves to enhance the overall aesthetic appeal of the film. The Northfield ambush and escape sequence near the end of the film is compelling and I find myself re-watching that scene repeatedly whenever I watch the movie. And, lastly, I just happen to like the actors David and Keith Carradine, and James and Stacy Keach.
Using real-life acting brothers for the various sets of sibling characters in this movie might be seen as a cheesy PR stunt or an inspired move. I prefer the inspirational viewpoint. The Carradine's are superb as the Younger Brothers and the Keech's portray the James boys with considerable restrained menace, depth and stage presence. Jesse James' as played by James Keech is part humble farmer, part cold psychotic killer. Considering what the gang got up to in 19th century post-civil war Missouri, one tends to think this is just what the man himself was probably like. While Brother Frank appears to have the charisma and logic, Jesse has the steel within him and the cold detachment required for the outlaw life. However both are upstaged by David Carradine as Coleman Younger, the long haired, flamboyant, world weary star of the film. Carradine is quite superb throughout; laconic, quick witted, cool and surprisingly likable. Director Walter Hill certainly manages to bring out the contrasting and distinct characters of the gang members and wraps them up in unusual locations (for a western). This produces some wonderfully atmospheric moments and scenes of sheer cinematic poetry. All that is visually arresting about a good "cowboy " film is present here but in a stylish and individual way. The script has some dark comedy, some deep pathos and never sounds so well crafted that a bunch of country outlaws wouldn't say any of it. Some of the supporting cast stand out in their own right; Cole's fiesty whore, Belle, The James' brother mom and a young Dennis Quaid as wild but rejected former gang member, Ed Miller. All give good performances in what is a great piece of ensemble acting topped by moody photography, great stunt work and a view of these famous outlaws that doesn't paint them as quite the Robin Hood heroes of popular myth, nor totally amoral hooligans. A worthy film from an era not noted for many good Westerns.
This film was historically correct in how it showed the attitudes of the times. I saw this film finally after reading a book attempting to explain why American history, including the Wild West years, has been so violent. I was amazed how accurately the film showed those reasons in the Wild West. Mostly men, few women, lived in that part of the country then. The West was spacious and spectacular but also boring, leaving men with little to do but get drunk and play a mouth harp. Also, many of the tough guys hailed from the post-Confederate South. In the film, after taking the long, boring train ride north to a town in Minnesota (to the tune of a mouth harp,) they encountered well-dressed, prosperous Scandinavian-Americans in the streets. These people were barely intelligible as they mocked the long riders. When our anti-heroes arrived at the bank, they discovered what the townsfolk were saying. What they said to the lone teller revealed they were from the South. I was mesmerized by this part of the film and hope others were, too.
In the Missouri, after the civil war, the James & Younger gang steals
banks and trains, and are chased by the Pinkertons. This movie is a
very different western, showing the outlaws as human beings, having
families, raising children. Walter Hill uses the Carredine, Quaid and
Keach brothers in real life to perform the former bandits and it is a
great attraction in this film. The music, arranged and composed by Ry
Cooder, fits perfectly to the story. However, the characters are not
well developed, maybe because of the quantity of lead actors versus the
running time, and the story loses the explanation of the motives for
the behavior of the bandits, being cruel while robbing and very close
to their families, being good sons, husbands and friends. Anyway, the
performance of the cast is excellent and the movie does not disappoint.
My vote is seven.
Title ('Brazil'): 'Cavalgada dos Proscritos' (Ride of the Proscribes')
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