Directed By: Walter Hill
Starring: David Carradine, Keith Carradine, Robert Carradine, James Keach, Stacy Keach
Tag line: "'All The World Likes an Outlaw. For Some Damn Reason, They Remember 'em' - Jesse James"
Trivia: The film stars four sets of actual brothers: The Carradines, The Keachs, The Quaids and the Guests
About 20 years ago, The Long Riders ranked right up there as one of my favorite films. Every few months, I'd pop the tape into the VCR and kick back with director Walter Hill's tale of familial loyalties, punctuated by a handful of thrilling actions scenes. These days, I can spot a few imperfections that escaped my notice back then, but that's not to say I don't still adore the damn thing.
The Long Riders follows the exploits of the James / Younger gang, an infamous band of outlaws who raised a whole lot of hell in the years following the Civil War. Led by Jesse James (James Keach), the gang of six, including Jesse's brother, Frank (Stacy Keach), the three Youngers (David, Keith and Robert Carradine) and Clell Miller (Randy Quaid), robbed everything from banks to stage coaches, always one step ahead of the Pinkerton agents trying to bring them to justice. Blazing a trail that stretched across several state lines, their reputations as outlaws transformed them into legends... until the day they walked into the wrong bank.
The film's casting, with four sets of actual brothers playing on-screen siblings (along with the Carradines and Keachs, Dennis Quaid plays Ed Miller, Clell's brother, and Christopher and Nicholas Guest appear as Bob and Charlie Ford), may seem like a gimmick to some, but for me, it's a gimmick that works. I liked the chemistry the various brothers brought to the film, which only served to strengthen the central theme of family loyalty. That said, The Long Riders does have a tendency to over-sanctify it's lead characters. As portrayed by James Keach, Jesse James isn't so much a criminal as he is a freedom fighter, Missouri's answer to Robin Hood, delivering the down-trodden from their Northern oppressors. I understand that's how many in the south viewed Jesse James in those days, but I would have liked to see a more honest portrayal of the outlaw, one that, at the very least, let the halo slip off his head from time to time. In fact, most members of the James / Younger gang remain honest and forthright throughout, even when they're robbing banks (when Ed Miller, who was part of the gang at the outset, murders a teller in cold blood, Jesse tosses him out on his ear). On the other side of the fight, the Pinkerton agents, under the leadership of Mr. Rixley (James Whitmore Jr.), are bumblers who manage to kill a handful of innocent people (including Jesse and Frank's 15-year-old half-brother, Archie, played by R.B. Thrift). Their pursuit of the gang never generates any real tension because it's obvious early on they don't have a snowball's chance in hell of catching them!
But The Long Riders has its strengths also. Along with a fine cast (highlighted by David Carradine, whose rough and rugged Cole Younger is the closest the film gets to an anti-hero), the cinematography is, at times, stunning, and the final shoot-out in Northfield, chock full of blood and awesome slow-motion, is one of the most thrilling ever committed to film. Even with its flaws, The Long Riders remains a movie I can't help but love.