Long Riders, The (1980)

The Long Riders (1980), directed by Walter Hill.

Another telling of the James and Younger gangs, history and mythology that has been popular since the moment they were robbing banks, coaches and trains.

We have gotten past the "revisionist western" era where the emphasis was on anti-heroic cruelty and contemporary political parallels, and returned to more classical themes of honor, family and romance. And yet it retains the realism and blood and grittiness of the late 1960s and early 70s.

Sam Peckinpah is the obvious influence on the action scenes and the slow motion and blood splatter effects immediately suggest The Wild Bunch (1969) and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1971). The costumes, props and locations all look authentic.

Hiring acting brothers to play character brothers sounds like a gimmick, but they don't force it and the strategy works. We have:

The Bridges brothers were also considered.

James Keach is less well known than his brother but gets the role of Jesse James, which I think was fine casting. He is their leader because he is quiet, serious and inscrutable.

Relations between the sets of brothers and between men and women is the foundation of the story and gets most of the time. A great little subplot is the long breakdown between Cole Younger (David Carradine) and dangerous prostitute Belle Starr (Pamela Reed in her film debut).

The only bit I object to is a knife fight between David Carradine and James Remar. Two men holding a strip of cloth between their teeth seems like unrealistic nonsense to me.

Some of the horse stunts look cruel.

Ry Cooder score. A lot of music in the saloons and dances here.

Available on Blu-ray from Kino. The film source is very grainy. Three film writers provide an excited, enthusiastic commentary track. One takes up most of the time and talks over the others.