Nineteen-eighty was a good year, if for no other reason, than it was the year the Walter Hill-directed film The Long Riders was released. It’s one of my favorite films, and I think it works on several different levels. At its most basic, it’s a tale about the notorious James-Younger Gang, which is pretty damn good in and of itself. (That’s Jesse James for the outlaw-deprived. You know, robbing banks/trains, and raising hell.) They sided with the South during and after the American Civil War.
The gang members and actors were both literally brothers-in-arms. Walter Hill cast James and Stacy Keach to play Jesse and Frank James while the Brothers Carradine portrayed the Youngers. (That’s David, Keith, and Robert Carradine as Cole, Jim, and Bob Younger. Randy and Dennis Quaid play fellow outlaws Ed and Clell Miller.) As if the cast isn’t enough, the soundtrack to this film is amazing. The Long Riders marked the first of many collaborations between Hill and musician’s musician Ry Cooder. It’s a bright sounding folk/roots/Americana album, but that doesn’t really do it justice.
It’s just insanely good music. In addition to the obligatory song “Jesse James”, there are Civil War-era songs like “I’m a Good Old Rebel”, and some fantastic Ry Cooder-penned instrumentals which add tons of atmosphere to the film.
Getting back to the story, the least you need to know is David Carradine makes the character of Cole Younger come to life as a TOTAL BADASS. Do knife fights, cat houses, and whiskey sound “outlaw” enough for ya? In Hill’s version, the dude did it all. James Keach is great as the steely-eyed equally badass Jesse James. I could say more about the story, but it is well told with a macho vibe. Real life brothers Nicholas and Christopher Guest play Bob and Charlie Ford as well.
I think this was the first film where I learned the name of the director. If you’re not familiar with the name Walter Hill, there’s a good chance you’ve seen films he’s directed or produced. There will be more about him.
Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!
p.s. Where is Cole Younger buried?