The Long Riders (1980) Poster

User Reviews

Review this title
85 Reviews
Sort by:
Possibly THE most underrated western of all time...
Raidar8 August 2004
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 Bill.

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…
58 out of 66 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Hill almost elevates cinema violence into an art form...
Nazi_Fighter_David8 April 2004
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…
50 out of 59 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
This is my favourite Western
efjay-131 January 2006
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.
19 out of 21 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
'The Long Riders' is a strong contender for the most underrated western of all time.
Infofreak3 June 2004
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.
50 out of 62 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
One of the best westerns made
n8218179 June 2006
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!
24 out of 29 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Atmospheric and refreshing take on well known story
Slime-326 July 2003
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.
18 out of 21 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
The Soundtrack- Worth the price of admission
jimpenson3 October 2006
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.
24 out of 30 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
The True Story
Steve Bradfield11 November 2004
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 the pinkertons.

Not the best western ever, by a long shot, but almost certainly the best movie on the subject.
42 out of 56 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
My Favorite Western
Philaura17 February 1999
Bravo! Great fun. The idea of actual brothers portraying the James', Youngers, Millers and the Fords was fabulous - but then the Keachs, Carradines and Quades are so outstanding they really took it all the way. It felt like a genuine moment out of an American West history book. And Pamela Reed as Belle Star - what a tough, sexy "whore". Loved it.
4 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Damn Yankee!
Noir-It-All23 November 2006
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.
15 out of 21 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A Very Different Western
Claudio Carvalho5 December 2004
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')
22 out of 34 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Walter Hill's best film...
Samoan Bob9 February 2002
...a definite classic that should be seen more than once to truly appreciate it. Very similar to Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch" (the best film of all time...Western or otherwise) in the sense that the characters aren't romanticized outlaws that only steal to support the poor and only kill bad people (if you want crap like that see the piece of excrement known as "American Outlaws"). The way the violence is filmed is also similar to that of "The Wild Bunch" and the film's final shootout is quite similar to the opening of Peckinpah's opus. But who cares? If you're going to steal, steal from the best.

Anyway, if you're a fan of Westerns (or just good movies) see this film. Walter Hill needs to make more Westerns.
5 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
The Best Western Ever Made?
Matthew Robillard2 January 2001
In my opinion, yes. Why? Because it's real right down to the last detail. The dirt on the faces of the lead actors as they thunder through the back woods of Missouri. The music, rough and pure, underscoring a period when a man with a gun was the law, and if you didn't have one, he had you. Brutal, terrifying and absolute.

The James-Younger Gang, as portrayed in "The Long Riders", are real people who made their own choices and dealt with the consequences. The older men of the gang are Confederate veterans, bitter about their defeat, but defiant and proud to their last breath. Actions and their Consequence underlie every scene in this picture. Responsibility to your family and fellow outlaws drives the plot.

The film itself is remarkable at every turn : the acting, the photography, the soundtrack, the script; all blend into a perfect representation of a different time and place: the poverty of Missouri after the war; the drudgery of every day existence, broken only by the occasional wedding when everyone can get cleaned up to look their Sunday best and dance and eat and drink and forget about getting up the next morning to milk the cows.

As portrayed in "The Long Riders", the James-Younger Gang came from this world, but are removed from it. They robbed banks and trains for a living, got up late in the day, and spent their idle hours romancing whores and talking about their already legendary exploits. They also lived and died by the gun, a rare thing in the real West. Walter Hill and his production team go to extraordinary lengths to portray this reality by delivering in every frame of film the details of this period in the America after the Civil War : the locations, the costumes, the sets all have that threadbare and hard scrabble look, feel and smell of what I imagine Missouri must have been like after the war. The side arms long muzzled, the shot guns and Henry rifles heavy, well worn and loud! The roads : more like wide trails, dark and tree lined, hacked through the wilderness.

And the action. A great Western is ultimately great action, and "The Long Riders" is the definitive Western because it's able to convey something true. The scenes are heart pumping in that they're real : fast, unpredictable, dangerous, violent, and loud. You shoot at a man, you're either going to kill him or he'll kill you. And God help you if you get wounded.

In one scene, the Gang is trapped in a barn surrounded by Pinkerton men. We've seen the situation a hundred times, but in "The Long Riders", it's no longer a scene out of a movie, but something very real, very dangerous, and ultimately, very tragic. Spectacular in a real life kind of way, atypical of most Westerns. The thump of a shot gun slug blasting through one inch thick barn board - violent and dangerous as wood shrapnel just misses the face of Cole Younger, whose head is down reloading. The outlaws fight for their lives, their escape unpredictable and spectacular. Tragic in the camera shot of McCorkindale, a dead farmer, victim of the crossfire, lying back down in the mud of his hog pen, eyes open, stiff arms beside his body reminiscent of the Matthew Brady Civil War photographs. A dead sow lies beside him, steam rising around them as the morning sun warms the mud. The shooting has stopped, the outlaws having escaped. A dead calm now, only the birds chirping, the beginning of a warm sunny day. The consequences: one dead farmer. For his family, a total loss. Who'll work the farm now? What's going to happen to them? Only a five second shot, but these thoughts flood my brain every time I see it. Now that's film-making.
8 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
We played a rough game. We lost.
hgallon22 December 2004
"The Long Riders" is a Western which lacks many of the directors' clichés associated with the genre.

The casting is of course impeccable; with four sets of brothers playing the real-life Jameses, Youngers, Millers and Fords. The women too are quite believable. The homely foot-tapping score by Ry Cooder, played on no more than half a dozen assorted instruments, is both authentic and memorable.

Finally, the stunts are far better than in most films. They are made more spectacular and believable by being few and far between, and quite unexpected.

As regards the plot; the true history of the Jesse James gang is fairly closely followed, but lacks the development which explains how they came to combine together and embark on their lawbreaking career. Historically, several of the leading gang members fought in guerilla bands against the Union armies in their native state of Missouri during the American Civil War and presumably learned their contempt for the law there, but in this film they spring onto the screen already established as outlaws in a staid and sober society.

To a non-US audience, this also makes some of the references to music popular with the Union and Confederate causes in the Civil War, and some of the attitudes and insults, rather puzzling.

However, the plot does develop through the film, and does show how some of the gang become better characters through marriage, the influence of families and changing fortunes, while others degenerate over time.

Overall, this is one of the most likable Westerns I have watched.
10 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
First getting shot, then getting married - bad habits.
lastliberal10 June 2007
Deadwood director Walter Hill knows how to put a western together, and he gives a good band of brothers flick in this story of the James-Younger gang. It doesn't hurt that the film features the original music of Ry Cooder, who gave us the great Buena Vista Social Club, As to the brothers; the Younger brothers were David, and Robert Carradine; the James Brothers were Stacey and James Keach, who also did some of the script; The Ford brothers were Christopher and Nickolas Guest.

It also featured John Wayne favorite Harry Carey Jr.

Great adult western showing the impact of the gang's life on the families, the failed efforts of the Pinkertons, and the eventual break-up in the Great Northfield Missesote Raid, and the murder of Jesse James by the Fords.
4 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
one of my favorite Westerns
Ajtlawyer24 July 2002
This is a great Western, although since almost all of the action takes place in Missouri or Minnesota, how "western" can it be? Be that as it may, the central hook of this movie is the casting of actual brothers as the different groups of brothers in the story. The Carradines are the Youngers (David Carradine's best film performance; he dominates all the other actors), the Quaids as the Millers, the Keatches as Jesse and Frank James and the Guests as Bob and Charlie Ford.

The movie has a very handsome look and you really get a feel for what frontier Missouri must've been like. The soundtrack is just right and so is the lighting. The movie has a very natural look and the interiors at the saloon and cathouse seem to be lit only by fire and kerosene lamps---none of the glaring lit interiors of some of the old Westerns (Clint Eastwood got the same authenticity in "Unforgiven"'s tavern scenes).

I never get over the irony of how the poor common people seem to look up to the James-Younger gang when all they do is go around robbing payrolls from trains and robbing people's savings out of banks. This half a century before federally insured deposits---so when that money was stolen, the depositors really suffered. The shootout at Northfield, Minnesota is well done and far more authentic than other Western shoot-em-ups. Most of the settlers on the post-Civil War frontier were war veterans, North and South. These were not men who were just going to meekly sit back and let a gang shoot up the town. What usually happened is just what happened in Northfield---the war veteran townspeople, Reb and Yank alike, got out their rifles and shot the gangsters to pieces.

"The Long Riders" deserves to be on any list of top Westerns.
4 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A history buff's feast.
k_rkeplar16 November 2004
Some call this film revisionist history...anyone who understands and loves history knows that any retelling of anything is "revisionist" to start with. The James-Younger gang have long been a part of American myth and folklore. Only recently has more serious digging into the facts and evidence taken place. Jessie James in particular has become an American icon, and as with any icon the truth and the legend swing wildly around, swirling like a firestorm. It's easy to understand why the stories keep being retold over and over. I think this is one of the best films ever made on the subject. Call it a "Western" or "Period Piece" or whatever, it's just a damn good movie. I can only count on one hand the inaccuracies I spotted, and for a "Jessie James" movie that fact alone is incredible. The acting is very low keyed and the atmosphere is flawless. These characters are men whose destinies had been forged in Hell's furnace. Some artistic moments are slipped in of course but most of those are perfectly in tune with the film's look and feel. One of the most striking is when the core of the gang ride out of the night mist to confront the Pinkertons who had chucked the bomb (flare?) into the James' home. It probably didn't happen that way, but anyone who knows the story of the James brothers can picture it happening that way and could never doubt that it may have. These characters are neither heroes or villains here, they are what all famous men of history are...victims...of both time and place. It is just as easy to justify their actions as it is to condemn them. A history film can't take a side and still be good history. This one comes damn close...and in Hollywood that's a real rarity in itself.
6 out of 9 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
I Hates The Yankee Nation And Everything They Do / I Hates The Declaration Of Independence Too ...
ShootingShark23 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
After the Civil War, the James-Younger gang commits a series of daring robberies of banks and trains in and around Missouri. The Pinkerton Detective Agency is called in to try and deal with these notorious outlaws.

I love this western for many different reasons. Chief amongst them is simply that it looks and sounds gorgeous, full of authentic period detail, beautiful costumes, rich traditional music and expertly staged action. I also love the cast, all of whom are tremendous; some may dismiss the idea of casting four sets of real life brothers, but it works beautifully because they are all great players. David Carradine and Stacey Keach as Cole Younger and Frank James in particular are two of the few actors I can think of who could pull off these larger-than-life roles and not look ridiculous. Everyone is great though and special mention has to go to Reed as Belle Starr, who sizzles up the screen and matches the machismo shot for shot. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of it though is its detached political stance - one view of Jesse James is as a heroic fighter who refused to bow to the North and stole from wealthy Yankee businessmen, whilst he and the gang can just as easily be labelled as bigoted cut-throats and killers. The movie doesn't preach either way, but it does emphasise the protagonists' army bushwacker pasts and their sense of disbelief and resentment at the Confederate defeat, whilst making no apologies for their actions. This tension builds towards the excellent finale at the infamous disastrous bank raid in Northfield, where I'm caught between satisfaction that the bandits have finally met their comeuppance and sheer horror as they are trapped and shot to pieces. The slow-motion sequence with the horses jumping through the windows as they desperately try to escape is one of the most powerful and visually arresting moments in all western cinema. The movie was obviously a labour of love for director Hill and co-writer/co-producer/star James Keach, and they've created a rich, mythic depiction of the end of the Old West, balancing the traditional gunfights and saloon scenes with pensive moments, square dances and rural landscapes. Its trump card is the fabulous music by Ry Cooder, which mixes a contemporary score with period instruments, traditional songs and moody interludes and enhances all the key sequences, becoming an integral part of the story (the Rally 'Round The Flag recital the boys object to, Jim and Bob singing and playing the Jewish Harp on the train) and completely immersing the viewer in 1870's America. A sensational and thrilling western, not to be missed, for both the tremendous direction and the pleasure of watching the Carradine, Keach, Quaid and Guest brothers in action. For other cinematic versions of the James-Younger gang's exploits, check out Nicholas Ray's 1957 The True Story Of Jesse James or Philip Kaufman's 1972 The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Brilliant Casting in a Very Underrated Outlaw Western Film That De-mythologizes the James-Younger Gang
classicalsteve7 October 2010
A lot of films in the 1940's through the 1950's idealized the "Old West". Certainly there were the outlaws sporting black hats (often played by Jack Palance) but the farmers, ranchers and shopkeepers were depicted as very straight-laced honorable folk trying to make a decent living in quaint simple towns. In reality, the Old West, which I guess could be roughly characterized as the geographic area from about Ohio to California was truly "wild", a culture that could be characterized as the American equivalent of the Middle Ages. Robbery and murder were as common as ordering pizza today; vigilantes hunted down outlaws as well as innocents; and hard drinking was just the tip of the iceberg at a typical bar/saloon. You might buy guns on Friday, kill people that night and Saturday, and go to church on Sunday. Everybody carried guns like people carried swords in the Middle Ages and Renaissance of a few centuries earlier. Sometimes guns were in fact the only equalizer available, although many innocent bystanders paid an enormous price.

"The Long Riders" depicts this very peculiar period of American history that lasted from roughly 1840 until about 1900 through the stranger story of one of the most notorious of outlaw mobs: the James-Younger Gang. The James-Younger Gang began as a kind of vengeance for the defeated South care of the North in the American Civil War. They were comprised primarily of southern veterans and sympathizers. This revenge evolved into a reign of terror which lasted from about 1866 to 1880 and plagued Missouri and surrounding areas with hits on stage coaches, banks, and moving trains. For 15 years they plundered, brawled and murdered until posses and vigilante groups had had enough and began a concerted effort to destroy them. The posses ended up killing and maiming innocent members of the James and Younger families. After their demise around 1880, Jesse James and his colleagues were somewhat idealized, particularly Jesse who was dubbed the Robin Hood of the Old West. This film dispels many of the idealized myths that may have been fabricated in the wake of Jesse's death in 1882. These guys were unsentimental killers who make the likes of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid seem like cultured gentlemen by contrast, and that's the way they're portrayed in "Riders" which may be why the film has not been as recognized as it should be.

One of the most interesting aspects of this film is a brilliant casting move that may have never been attempted before or since. In real life, four sets of brothers were involved in the Gang: the James's, the Younger's, the Ford's, and the Miller's. The filmmakers opted for casting each of these family groups with real siblings: the Keach brothers Stacy and James play Frank and Jesse James; David, Keith and Robert Carradine play the Younger's; Randy and Dennis Quaid play the Millers, and newcomers Christopher and Nicholas Guest play the Ford's. The stand-out of the film is no question David Carradine as Cole Younger, the most blood-thirsty of his clan, and second only in ruthlessness to Jesse James. Honorable mention goes to the Keach brothers as the James's, Randy and Dennis Quaid as the Miller's and the Guest brothers as the Ford's. Some of the lesser-known sibling actors keep up with their more famous brothers stride-for-stride. There is not a weak link in the entire line-up.

This is a rather bleak film, portraying the cut-throat ruthlessness of outlaws in an unromantic landscape. The Old West was tough, dirty and rather unforgiving. Disputes were settled not in courtrooms but in barroom brawls and along dusty streets where enemies made their respective cases with knives and guns. Sometimes I wonder if the average American male during this period and living in these geographic areas would have had on average a few kills in his lifetime, even if he was not an outlaw. This era was not about the likes of John Wayne cleaning up a rough and tumble town. The Old West was more about kill or be killed. And the James-Younger Gang made this argument with lots of blood and booty to go with it. Rather than being 19th-century American Robin Hood's, they were really the Old West equivalent of Spanish Pirates, sporting horses instead of ships. Knives and guns were still standard equipment.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
nice shooting and camerawork
piste7 February 2002
Brothers playing brothers is good idea but acting was sometimes quite poor and the script was a bit boring and too traditional. Bank robbery was the best part of this film and I was really amazed with the camerawork. This movie is worth of seeing,one of the best western made in the 80s
3 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Best Jesse James film ever!!
f-u-b-a-r-126 February 2006
This movie really captures the way the James/Younger Gang really was. The acting brothers was brilliant in my mind and will probably never be seen again. All actors are great in the film. Stacy Keach is a very underrated actor. However, David Carradine steals the show as Cole Younger and Keith is quite good himself. It is quite accurate and all characters are very realistic. The atmosphere is great and the film really captures what the James/Younger Gang had to go through. The North Field Raid is probably one of the best western movie shootouts if not the best shootout scene of all time. I am very interested to see The Assination of Jesse James...and see if it is up to par with The Long Riders.
4 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
The life and times of the James-Younger gang
pwfinch13 February 2007
Nice backdrops and occasional dollops of historical authenticity can not distract from what is otherwise a tribute to a band of killers.

The horrors of the Civil War and the deprivation of the South afterwards are given as the sole reasons for the violent activities of the James-Younger gang, who rob and kill their way across the Mid West.

It's difficult to know where to start with a movie like this, because though there is much to applaud - pleasing cinematography, likable performances (from some of the cast), and Hill's trademark, a climactic, balletic gun-battle - the whole enterprise is morally flawed. In any study of outlawry, it's necessary to show both sides of the argument, to present the main protagonists as being ordinary people as well. But when a movie shows its peace-officers as callous villains, and its crime-victims as people who somehow deserve to be humiliated, robbed and then, maybe, shot, it's loading the dice irresponsibly. In any case, the main characters here are not fully developed. While the Carradine brothers give sympathetic performances as the Youngers, presenting them as rational men who perhaps could lead normal lives in another time and place, the Quaids are boorish, brutal and unpleasant seemingly for the sake of it. As the James boys, Stacy Keach is unusually wooden as Frank, and though his brother James's depiction of Jesse as a lean, dead-eyed individual may hint at the emptiness of a murderer's soul, I suspect it is more to do with the lacklustre script. Either way, it's an ultimately unsatisfying package.

To be fair, this isn't the entire story. The film does briefly mention the fact that the gang are primarily terrorising those they're claiming to protect - i.e. poor southern farmers, while the betrayals and mistrust that lead to their eventual collapse are nicely characteristic of real-life thieves and hoodlums (their excuse-making is also exposed, to some extent). But overall, I find it worrying when any film as well-made as this takes a distinctly 'understanding' perspective on mass slaughter.

Baddies and goodies may be an old-fashioned concept these days. But baddies presented as goodies? I think I prefer the former.
4 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
The score
Pamsanalyst21 October 2004
My mother sang me to sleep with the Jesse James song when I was little; Jessie was her name too so I guess she heard it many times. What I take most from this wonderful film is the foot tapping score of Ry Cooder. It holds the film together far more than the use of actual brothers to play the gang members. Truth be told, the Keach brothers have too much gravitas to be the outlaws and it is hard to believe that the Carradine/Youngers are their cousins. Somewhere deep into the film, after the Northfield raid, Jesse takes on an almost Christ-like aura. Only David Carradine as Cole and Stacy Keach as Frank seem to bond as they should. But this is mere quibbling for one of the best westerns of any time.

What a difference between the wedding dance scene shot here and the dance in the leaden Heaven's Gate of the same year. Part of this is the score, and part is from Hill's choice to emphasize the country people coming out for the nuptials. Hill devotes the same attention to the side characters at the fete as Rembrandt does in his Biblical paintings of Christ preaching.

As I finish this comment, the sound of the boys playing in the saloon in Fort Worth comes back to me. Dead silence follows the end of the fight between Cole and Sam Starr; Cole spits out a line, Belle stares at him as he walks toward the door. He departs and the band picks up the tune again and I set my foot down and begin humming.
4 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Antique western classic from Walter Hill.
Spikeopath4 March 2008
Gritty and shot with genuine passion for the genre, The Long Riders is a sharply detailed Western that seems a mile away from the year it was released. Telling the story of the James-Younger gang, it's writing is matched by some inspired casting of real life acting brothers to put a cherry on the already stylish cake. It's evident that director Walter Hill and his colleagues really delved into the outlaw gang's history to craft an honest story, a story that is lifted to greatness by a number of things. The violence is crushingly gorgeous, yes I said gorgeous because it's elegant and hits home without glorifying the protagonists, while the cinematography and overall tone of the film is nailed on period perfect. As for the cast? They all come out with major plaudits.

Take a bow the Keach, Carradine and Quaid brothers because they play their respective roles with classy restraint and no histrionics. Thus drawing the viewer into the period piece to engage fully in and around the thematics of gang life back in the day. To complete the antique feel of the film who better than Ry Cooder to score the film? A wonderful score that rounds out a modern day Oater that to me sits nicely after the best of John Ford, Leone, Hawks and Eastwood's classy Unforgiven. See this if you are remotely interested in stylish violence framed in a classic Western veneer. 9/10
3 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
An easily acceptable Jesse James movie with plenty of Western action
TheUnknown837-18 June 2006
And it's all relative in this movie. The Caradine brothers, the Keach brothers, the Quaid brothers, and the Guest brothers all star in this movie. I'm glad the director made a good decision with that. Because I personally get kind of tired of seeing so-called "brothers" who look nothing alike. And they all did fine. Stacy Keach was top-notch as Jesse James. And David Carradine excelled as Cole Younger. After them, Randy Quaid was the best.

Moving over to the movie itself, it is very well-made. There is no shortage of Western-style violence that very much reminds you of Sam Peckinpah's movies (with all of the slow-motion shots intercepting each other). And it does show why the James-Younger gang turned from just bank and train-robbers to murderers and the types of struggles they had to go through. The shootout at the Northfield scene was magnificent.

Overall, a good 80s-style Western.
3 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews