Review: The Long Riders

The story of the James Brothers, their outlaw cohorts The Youngers, The Millers, and The Fords, and their run from the law. James Keach is Jesse James, Stacy Keach is super-loyal Frank James, Randy Quaid plays loyal but messy-looking Clell Miller, with younger brother Dennis Quaid as the disgruntled Ed Miller, the Guest brothers play the Weasel-like Fords (the Bridges brothers were the original choice, and I think they’d have been better. Conflicting schedules torpedoed that idea, though), David Carradine is tough Cole Younger (co-leader of the gang with Jesse James), Keith Carradine is his more romantic brother Jim Younger, and a very young Robert Carradine is their younger brother Bob Younger (Does that make him a Younger Younger, then?). Reed plays the equally infamous Belle Starr, Cole Younger’s sometimes hostile, part-time lover, a real tough broad. Remar (a regular of the director’s films) is a guy she shacks up with, much to the chagrin of Cole.

Highly watchable 1980 teaming of several acting families as they portray well-known western characters, but this Walter Hill (“Streets of Fire”, “The Warriors”, “48HRS”) film is never quite as much fun as it should’ve been. It’s too serious, and Hill is amazingly uninterested in giving his talented and gimmicky cast anything to really chew on character-wise. Of the cast, David and Keith Carradine fare best (the former especially), Pamela Reed very nearly steals the film, and veteran Harry Carey Jr. is also in excellent in a cameo as a stage coach driver. On the other end of the scale, the Guest boys’ tedious turns make one wish scheduling conflicts didn’t prevent Beau and Jeff Bridges from playing the part. They’re just not up to snuff, I’m afraid and it’s glaringly obvious. Less of them and more from Stacy Keach and the Quaid boys would’ve been greatly appreciated. Dennis Quaid definitely scores as the kind of trigger-happy dipshit that even his own brother can’t and won’t abide. I’m not sure James Remar playing a Native American was a terribly smart casting choice, but he’s suitably menacing nonetheless.

The big problem is James Keach as a terribly uninteresting, unconvincing Jesse James. He is just too introspective and bland for what is essentially the film’s lead role. There’s a reason why no one remembers James Keach today, while Stacy has always been the far better actor in that family and he gets barely anything to chew on here. Still, with Hill being a master at violent action scenes, and all those talented actors up there, it’s hard not to be somewhat entertained. Scripted by Bill Bryden (mostly a director of the British stage), Steven Phillip Smith (a writer-producer of TV shows like “Tour of Duty” and “JAG”), and both Stacy and James Keach, it does seem to run out of steam post-robbery, but focussing on Jesse James so much, they kinda have to play that story out. So the last quarter is a bit rushed as a result. Typically fine Ry Cooder (“Southern Comfort”, “Streets of Fire”) score.

Definitely worth a look for some of the casting alone, but this is an entertaining western with an uninteresting lead performance.

Rating: B-


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