The Long Riders (1980)

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Walter Hill directs James Keach, David Carradine and Stacey Keach in a western following the dissolution of the real life James-Younger gang.

I’m a big Western fan. I’m a big Walter Hill fan. So The Long Riders should be mash potatoes and gravy. But when previously broadcast on telly late night I found myself twice giving up twenty minutes in over the years. I always put that down to tiredness so this week I pereservered. I watched it in four 30 minute rough chunks over six nights, not a perfect viewing experience I know. But there’s something about this slow, jerky blend of diluted Peckinpah style action (in a final escape everything slows to a wailing, howling grind that induces intended nausea among the spraying squibs, shattered sugarglass and endangered horses) and dull woodland set soap-opera that just doesn’t grip. There are things to like – costume design for one is simple but convincing, the hard cuts between scenes can be artful and Ry Cooder’s musical contributions fit. Some performances get lost in the edit but David Carradine’s Cole Younger stands out. It’s also a bit dissonant to see Pamela Reed playing his brazen whore love interest (nudity and all) when you consider she’s mainly known for playing the female foil in Arnie family comedies – for my generation it’s like seeing your next door neighbour in a porno mag. So when in one scene James Remar turns up dressed like Sonny Ladham to have a close quarters Bowie Knife fight to defend her honour you can’t help cheering him on. I guess you’d have to be a Walter Hill fan for that sentence to make any kind of sense… but if you are, then you already know this particular scene makes all that weaker stuff worthwhile.

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