Long Riders (The) (Blu-ray) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Second Sight
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo & Samuel Scott (25th April 2013).
The Film

Walter Hill is one of those iconic Hollywood auteurs from the 70's who is responsible for writing & directing some of the greatest cult classics and mainstream hits of all-time. I’d rattle off a few titles, but ardent cinephiles should be well-versed in the man’s work. I’ll just say that if he were only responsible for “The Warriors” (1979) alone, that would be enough to make him a man-god in my book. Suffice it to say, the man makes what he wants – how he wants – and the end result is typically something worth seeking out. Anyone who has read an interview or biography of Hill, or had to pleasure to hear him speak (I did once at a screening of “Hard Times” (1975), one of his best films), you’d know that he writes and directs all of his films as though they were a Western. They might not always look it, but that’s just his modernization of the classic Western storyline. After spending much of his time in the 70's making his own interpretations of the model Western, Hill finally set out to make one proper with “The Long Riders” (1980), a fictionalized account of the James-Younger gang.

The film, playing almost like a series of vignettes, follows the gang – the Youngers consist of brothers Cole (David Carradine), Jim (Keith Carradine) and Bob (Robert Carradine), along with James brothers Frank (Stacy Keach) and Jesse (James Keach) and the Millers, Ed (Dennis Quaid) and Clell (Randy Quaid) – as they rob banks across the South. Fueled by revenge for their loss to the North, the gang decides to go on a crime spree as a method of payback. Similar to how they were perceived in real life, the men are painted in a favorable, larger-than-life light, almost making them into folk heroes of the era. Indeed, though it was a misconception, Jesse James was seen as a rebel Robin Hood, even if reports are that the money he robbed was never actually spent on anyone but himself. The film has a loose narrative of the Pinkertons coming South to find the gang and bring them to justice, but they end up having a much harder time bringing them in than they expected. This skeletal structure is the backbone to the film, which is made up of many scenes just showing the men as they might have been in life. How they interacted with each other, what they did to pass the time, women they loved, family they supported. And, of course, it all comes to and end once we’re introduced to the Ford brothers, Bob (Nicolas Guest) and Charlie (Christopher Guest), who were responsible for ending the life of a true American outlaw and legend, Jesse James.

I really loved Hill’s approach to the material here. Rather than pander to audiences with yet another bank robbery film and a typical plot structure, Hill eschews all of that for a looser feel, letting us drop into the lives of these men to learn how they lived. Bank robberies are at the forefront of their activities, of course, but there are many sequences were we see the gang dancing at local bars, trying to ignite a flame with some ladies and proving themselves to be more than the one-dimensional criminals they were made out to be. And it’s made all the better thanks to Hill employing not only acting brothers, but acting brothers who happen to be great actors. Having the three Carradine brothers alone would make this one worth watching (hell, I’d settle for just David!), but the inclusion of so many notable cast members really helps this picture stand out from the pack.

I’ve always been much more familiar with Stacy Keach’s acting, but I was pleased to learn his brother is just as formidable a presence in front of the camera. His portrayal of the outlaw Jesse James was presented a steely, cool-headed man who only wanted to do right by “his” country, and he held a great contempt for those Yankees who tarnished his proud South. The beard he’s rocking might look a bit fugazi, but his performance was among the highlights of the film.

Hill reeled me in with his keen casting and solid script, but what sent this film into absurdly awesome territory for me were the gunfights. An avid admirer of the great Sam Peckinpah’s work – Hill wrote the script for “The Getaway” (1972) – the shootout scenes are a full-on representation of what “Bloody Sam” would have done if he had directed. The editing of fast action intercut with slow-mo shots is classic Peckinpah, and every gun battle is full of these flourishes that made his films so popular and controversial. Not only does Hill liberally borrow editing techniques, but the shootouts are full of blood. Massive squib shots blast holes in the costumes so large and gaping it’ll make you question how anyone could be surviving these shots. I was immediately reminded of “The Wild Bunch” (1969), my favorite American Western. The town siege of the James-Younger gang by the authorities is lengthy, brutal, loud and exquisitely shot and edited. If I had any complaint, it would be that the guns sound a little too canned, but that’s to be expected from a film of this vintage. Truth be told, as much as I’d like something more realistic sounding, I find the archaic effects have some charm to them.

Sound! I can’t forget to mention the wonderful score here, courtesy of the legendary Ry Cooder. The instrumentation sounds plucked right from that era, with plenty of music endemic to the good ol’ South. We’re also treated to many songs that were sung among the Rebels during the Civil War, one of which comes courtesy of Randy Quaid’s character (he sure does hate Yankee classics). It doesn’t rank near the top of the best Western scores of all-time (a category Ennio Morricone has on lockdown), but it’s definitely one of the best I’ve heard in a long while. It’s just another prime example of what makes Hill’s film a true classic of the genre that, frankly, doesn’t seem to get the kind of recognition it deserves.

Video

"The Long Riders" makes its UK blu-ray debut with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and an AVC-MPEG4 transfer. MGM released the movie in a couple of localities in 2011 to mixed reviews in the transfer department. This release was delayed for a month by Second Sight so that they could make improvements to the materials they were given, such as the removal of some scratches, but as I have not seen the MGM release myself I cannot say how much better this transfer is over the MGM disc. Although a little soft throughout, there was no real damage to speak of and contrast was stable and good for the duration. Some scenes are sharper than others, and there seems to be a little murkiness during indoor scenes on occasion, but overall it is a marked improvement on the DVD releases and facial close-ups often look spectacularly good. Quite important, is the fact the movie hasn't been overly cleaned, avoiding the waxy look some catalogue have unfortunately been dumped with. Walter Hill fans will be happy.

Audio

There is a single audio option in an English LPCM 2.0 Stereo track that is solid throughout. There isn't a huge amount of seperation, but it is damage free, with all dialogue clear and concise. Of course, the shootouts might have benefited from an upmix to 5.1, but what we have is more than suitable and Ry Cooder's score is an absolute joy to listen to, suiting each moment down to a tee.

Unfortunately there are no subtitles available, something sure to upset the many movie fans who are deaf or hard of hearing. In 2013, this shouldn't happen and although it is likely a budget constraint, I would've hoped Second Sight could have licensed MGM's subtitles when they optioned the movie.

Extras

We start the extras off with the "Outlaw Brothers: The Making of The Long Riders" documentary (60:50, HD). The documentary is made up of footage from the movie which has been interspersed with interviews. The interviewees are director Walter Hill and cast members James Keach and Robert Carradine, all of whom are interviewed separately rather than together. At over an hour long, they manage to get through an awful lot of information from the casting to the knife fight. Informative but never dragging, it's an absolute pleasure to view.

Next up, we have "The Northfield Minnesota Raid: Anatomy of a Scene" featurette (15:29, HD). This featurette analyses the Northfield Minnesota Raid scene by way of interview footage with director Walter Hill and castmembers James Keach and Robert Carradine. They talk about using the steam vehicle, casting real bank robber Eddie Bunker and how they filmed the bullet wounds. Most interesting for me though, was hearing how it took over two weeks to prepare the scene where horses jump through a window and into a store.

The extras finish off with the "Slow Motion: Walter Hill on Sam Peckinpah" interview (6:17, HD). In this interview, Walter Hill tells us about his working relationship with Sam Peckinpah who directed "The Getaway", a movie written by Hill. He tells us how a month after "The Long Riders" came out at cinemas that Peckinpah phoned up and told him he'd enjoyed it and asked if rumours that the slow motion similarities to Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch" were because of him. It's quite an amusing little story and an enjoyable interview.

Overall

The Long Riders is an above average western from Walter Hill with one of the better shoot-outs of the genre. The picture and audio is more than sufficient but it's the extras package that Second Sight have put together that makes this release really shine. The only thing that could've topped it off, is an audio commentary.

Film reviewed by Anthony Arrigo. Technical specs and extra features reviewed by Samuel Scott.

The Film: B Video: B Audio: B Extras: B Overall: B

 


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