Friday, April 4, 2008

The Long Riders directed by Walter Hill

The Long Riders (1980). Screenplay by Bill Bryden, Steven Phillip Smith, Stacy Keach, and James Keach.

They was called long-riders, I guess, partly because they was in the saddle all the time, and partly because they done their jobs so far apart. They'd ride into Eldara and blow up the safe in the bank one day, for instance, and five days later they'd be 250 miles away stoppin' a train at Lewis Station....

Now and then a gang held together long enough to raise so much hell that they got known from one end of the range to the other. Mostly they held together because they had a leader who knew how to handle 'em and who kept 'em under his thumb.
— from Trailin'! by Max Brand

Walter Hill's 1980 Western The Long Riders (his first film after the 1979 cult classic The Warriors) starts out with a gimmick — the casting of famous Hollywood brothers as famous outlaw brothers — but ends up as a fair addition to the genre (and it reportedly began its life as a musical!).

The main reason most people will get curious about The Long Riders is the cast. But look at that cast! It is likely to be the only place you'll see such a parade of prominent Hollywood families all together in one film.

Here's the lineup: David Carradine as Cole Younger, Keith Carradine as Jim Younger, Robert Carradine as Bob Younger; Stacy Keach as Frank James, James Keach as Jesse James; Dennis Quaid as Ed Miller, Randy Quaid as Clell Miller; Christopher Guest as Charlie Ford, Nicholas Guest as Robert Ford. (Jeff Bridges and Beau Bridges were originally offered the Ford roles but were reportedly unable to clear their schedules.)

Among this band of brothers, I was pleasantly surprised that James Keach — whose work I was only passingly familiar with thus far and had found mostly unmemorable — was the real standout. He draws the eye every time he is on the screen, not least because his face seems to have been carved out of rock. There's hardly a rounded surface to be seen, which just serves to make every emotion more intensely expressed.

In retrospect, this should not have been too surprising, given that the film was originally conceived by the brothers Keach as a vehicle for themselves. The familial aspect does serve to make the interrelations of the characters more palpable (unless that was just my own projection), and it's certainly worth at least one viewing, but The Long Riders is unlikely to be seen historically as anything more than a minor contribution to Western film.


KentAllard said...

I've always enjoyed this one, and never thought it got the credit it deserved. Interesting (to me, anyway) trivia: This was one of Johnny Cash's favorite movies, and the reason James Keach got the rights to film his autobiography (Keach was an executive producer on Walk The Line, and has a small role).

Craig Clarke said...

Thanks for the trivia. I'm always interested in facts that combine Johnny Cash and Westerns -- two things that were made for each other but weren't combined nearly often enough.

KentAllard said...

In honor of this, I will give Johnny Cash Sings Ballads of the True West a spin tonight.

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