DATELINE: Brothers Carradine, et al.
If you want a seminal rehash of all the big-time bank and train robbers of the West, you could not find a more succinct and intriguing film than The Long Riders.
Written partly by the Keach brothers, Stacey and James, it has as its basic catch-all hook the fact that sets of brothers play sets of brothers: Jesse and Frank, the Younger Boys, the Millers, and those pesky Fords.
It would seem the director Walter Hill wanted to showcase brotherly relations by finding siblings to play off each other. The family ties also go against each other, as if we are watching some movie history of famous family actors in heat.
The film came out in 1980 and has all the hallmarks of the Peckinpah violence of the era. These outlaws take a dose of slow-motion death throes from The Wild Bunch, etc.
If you want bravura acting, here it is. Without a doubt, the rivalry between brothers is almost as tasty as that between sets of brothers. As you might expect, the gang life of the young criminals and gunslingers is not idyllic, except in dime novels.
The script is episodic: seemingly finding moments, like family gatherings, dances, bordello bonding, and funerals, as the means to lead up to the disaster at Northfield, Minnesota, when they went off reservation and out of their metier.
It’s hard not to cite David Carradine and Keith as scene stealers, though the Keaches write themselves some good lines too. The Quaid boys, Randy and Dennis, seem extremely young, but it was forty years ago.
Macho preening and male bonding have not changed much since 1880 or 1980, and this film is a document to show that fact.