The Long Riders – A family affair

The Long Riders – A family affair

The Long Riders is a western directed by Walter Hill in 1980. His most famous film was 48 Hrs, but he also directed other cult films such as The Warriors and The Driver.

This film is particularly noteworthy in one respect. Incredibly, it features four different sets of real life brothers in the main roles. Starring in these parts are Stacy and James Keach, Dennis and Randy Quaid, Christopher and Nicholas Guest, and Robert, Keith and David Carradine. They play the James, Miller, Ford and Younger brothers respectively.

The film follows the James-Younger gang, who are mostly veterans of the American Civil War. They frequently rob banks and trains to sustain their gambling and their next jobs. They are very successful at these exploits for a time. Unfortunately for them, they attract the attentions of the notorious Pinkerton Agency. This heightened interest in their endeavours requires them to take a lower profile for a while. After the Pinkertons inadvertently kill the younger brother of the James boys, the gang declares war on the agency. Of course, this being a story about Jesse James, it inevitably features his demise at the hands of Robert Ford.

The film is quite strange in that Jesse James is portrayed as a rather weak character. The fact that James Keach is a poor actor has much to do with it. He is acted off the screen by his brother Stacy, and also by Randy Quaid, Keith Carradine and David Carradine. The latter Carradine brother plays Cole Younger, who seems to be the most dominant character in the film. For those of you who don’t know David Carradine, he is forever immortalised as Bill in the Kill Bill movies.

The soundtrack and songs in this movie are really fantastic. The music is provided by frequent Hill collaborator and virtuoso slide guitarist, Ry Cooder. He is probably most famous for providing the very memorable slide guitar on the classic Rolling Stones track “Sister Morphine”. He also played on the song “Memo From Turner”, which featured in the film Performance, that coincidentally featured Mick Jagger. The film’s title track is a joy and the slide playing at the funeral scene is spine tingling. The wedding scene also contains some great songs.

Being a western, the film has a lot of guns, and as a consequence is quite bloody. There is an extended scene towards the end that is filled with squib effects and is very realistic. It also has some great stunt work. It really reminded me of the famous opening and closing scenes of classic western The Wild Bunch. 

I would not call this film a classic, but it is highly entertaining and is certainly worth watching. The novelty of seeing nine brothers in one film is definitely an attraction. I really enjoy Walter Hill’s movies and will definitely be doing a piece on Southern Comfort in the future. This one rides tall in the saddle for me.