Made in 1980, shortly after what was essentially the death of the Western in cinemas, Walter Hill’s The Long Riders proves to be an interesting film indeed.
Whilst the story is hardly original, it was one of many films to follow the exploits of the James / Younger gang it does two things that make it stand out from the pack. Firstly all the historical siblings on screen are represented by real life brothers. Standout performances come from the Keach and Carridine brothers as the James and Younger family members but look out too for the Quaid and Guest siblings representing the Millers and Fords respectively. Whilst this may seem gimmicky to some, it really does add some authenticity to proceedings and gives the film a more realistic feel than some earlier Westerns covering the same subject matter.
The outfits need a mention too, one of the first things that strikes you when watching The Long Riders is the look of the characters. The clothing used here is not what one would associate with a traditional genre look, the gang look a lot smarter than your average Hollywood cowboy, this is intentional and in fact more historically accurate than earlier genre work. It’s little touches like this make The Long Riders stand out from the overcrowded pack.
So it’s more historically accurate and has some interesting casting choices but is it entertaining? Thankfully Walter Hill doesn’t disappoint in this department. The story rattles along at a decent pace and The Wild Bunch inspired gun fights are suitable bloody and used sparingly enough to have a decent impact. The finale is also fantastic with some great horse riding scenes. The action is enhanced by a fantastic and deservedly award-winning soundtrack from the legendary Ry Cooder, once again proving that Hill’s faith in his long time collaborator is more than justified.
If there are any problems then the amount of characters rammed into the story is the only one that stands out. All of the characters have historical significance (even if some are more infamous than others) so it’s a shame that more screen time couldn’t have been afforded to the Ford and Miller brothers and their motivations. It doesn’t detract too much from the film though but is a point worthy of mention.
Overall The Long Riders is a very entertaining film and will certainly have a lot to offer genre fans; it’s not quite a classic but to stand out in a genre that is littered with some truly outstanding films is an achievement that should not be underestimated.