When you have the opportunity to make a western, you have a problem,” says director Walter Hill. “So many have been made, how do you make it special?”
Released in 1980 by United Artists, six months before the studio’s $44m flop Heaven’s Gate gut-shot the genre, The Long Riders was Hill’s first foray into the land of six-shooters and horses after making urban westerns-in-disguise like The Driver(1978) and The Warriors(1979).
Casting four sets of real-life brothers (the Carradines, Keaches, Quaids and Guests), Hill carved out a niche for himself.
Everyone thought they knew the Jesse James story until The Long Riders gave it a fresh spin. It’s a ‘mid-western’ set in the rolling greenery of Missouri that presents Jesse (James Keach) as a Robin Hood figure.
“They were thugs,” confesses Hill, “but there’s no point in making a movie about thugs, even if that was the literal truth. I’m not much interested in films that say these people were less than the legend.”
Printing the legend is what The Long Riders does best. Clad in iconic ankle-length dusters and sporting bushy facial hair, the James-Younger gang aren’t Leone’s loners. They’re blood-kin and Hill spends as much time on the weddings, hoe-downs and funerals that bind them as on the brutal gunfights.
The stunt casting gives the kinship and camaraderie an added intensity. Every look between the Youngers (David, Keith and Robert Carradine) carries familial baggage. These are real brothers.
Blu-ray captures the contrasts in the landscape beautifully underscoring Hill’s eye for the epic framing of John Ford and Howard Hawks.
There’s a decent hour-long Making Of, a riveting dissection of the movie’s big set-piece (the robbery of the Northfield, Minnesota bank) and a chat with Hill that amusingly recounts an awkward conversation with his friend and mentor Sam Peckinpah about The Long Riders’ Wild Bunch-esqueuse of slow-mo.