• Long Riders, The (2-Disc Special Edition)

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics
    Released on: September 26th, 2017.
    Director: Walter Hill
    Cast: David Carradine, Keith Carradine, Robert Carradine, Steacy Keach, James Keach, Christopher Guest, Nicholas Guest, Randy Quaid, Dennis Quaid
    Year: 1980
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    The Movie:

    The best Sam Peckinpah movie that Sam Peckinpah didn’t make has to be Walter Hill’s The Long Riders. Made in 1980, the film stars David, Keith and Robert Carradine as Cole, Jim and Bob Younger respectively and tells of their exploits riding alongside infamous outlaw Jesse James (James Keach) and his brother Frank (Stacey Keach). Along for the ride are Ed and Clell Miller, played by Randy and Dennis Quaid respectively. It might all seem like novelty casting but it works and it works well.

    If you’re at all familiar with the story of Jesse James, his gang, his exploits, and his eventual demise than you know the basic story that the film covers. When it begins the gang is in the midst of a bank robbery and when Ed Miller winds up killing a man without proper reason, he’s kicked out of the group. The gang heads home to take it easy for a while and Cole heads to the great state of Texas for a spell to hang out with his girlfriend, a hooker named Belle Starr (Pamela Reed). They all know it’s only a matter of time before they get back together, however and once they do they head to Northfield, Minnesota, to take down a bank they’ve heard is quite flush with deposits. What should be an easy job turns out to be a horrible mistake, and when things really hit the fan it’s only a matter of time until the James Gang’s days are numbered.

    Like Peckinpah before him, here Hill is taking on the stereotypes of the old west and not so much romanticizing them as exploring them in a more realistic fashion. The film doesn’t glamorize the outlaw lifestyle, instead it paints the different members of the James Gang as all too human and prone to make mistakes just as anyone else is. As is common with Hill’s films, there’s some stylish violence, much of it in slow motion, but here the violence carries with it some solid emotional impact thanks to the fact that the script does a great job of fleshing out the characters enough that we get to know them, if not necessarily like them or sympathize with them (these are career criminals after all).

    Fairly grim in its take on the story, but rightfully so, the movie is tense and slick and only as violent as it needs to be. It’s a tough film to be sure, but the performances are strong from start to finish from all involved and the movie isn’t without periodic moments of tenderness which help to humanize the characters. The novelty casting of the real life brothers in the role of their historical counterparts succeeds where it could have seemed goofy and corny, the film winds up having a very palpable sense of camaraderie to it, with the themes of friendship, kinship and loyalty climbing like vines throughout the narrative. Nice attention to detail and rock solid production values help the film to looks its best while a fairly minimalist soundtrack lets the story speak louder than any trumped up emotional impact the score could possibly hope to provide. All in all, it’s a pretty damn impressive picture and one of the more sorely underrated westerns of its day.


    The Long Riders arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1.85.1 1080p high definition widescreen transfer taken from a ‘new 4k restoration’ on a 25GB disc. There’s definitely some softness inherent in the source material and this is quite noticeable at certain times throughout the movie, but the disc is well encoded and the image is very clean and colorful – there’s virtually no print damage here to complain about. Aside from those softer scenes, detail is pretty strong here and there’s good depth and texture to the image. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and there are no noticeable issues with any noise reduction or edge enhancement.

    Audio chores are handled by your choice of a new DTS-HD 5.1 mix or the original DTS-HD 2.0 mix, both tracks in in English, with subtitles provided in English only. The quality of the lossless tracks is fine. The 5.1 mix, as you’d expect, spreads out the effects and the score a bit and uses the rear channels more often than not in the action scenes. The dialogue stays mostly up front. The 2.0 mix also sounds pretty decent, offering powerful gun shots during the shoot outs and a nice sounding score alongside well balanced dialogue. There are no noticeable issues with any hiss or distortion to note.

    Extras on the first disc include the film’s original theatrical trailer and a new audio commentary featuring film historians Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson. The track opens with some discussion of the score and Ry Cooder’s contributions to the film, before then talking what makes this movie unique not just in Hill’s filmography but in the western genre in general. They then discuss Hill’s penchant for ‘comic book’ style writing, how this movie sort of predicts some of what we’d see later in the director’s career, influences that worked their way into this picture, the contributions of the different cast and crew members on the film, the calm pace of the first part of the film and how the reflects some of Hill’s influences, Pamela Reed’s sex appeal and how that was atypical of a lot of her other roles, the ‘definite and high’ homoerotic tension and ‘sexual complexity’ of Hill’s pictures (the big example here being the fight between James Remar and David Carradine – not sure I buy this but they make the case), just how damn good most of the cast members used in this film really are and how the movie mirrors a lot of what we see in The Godfather. Those looking for a history lesson won’t necessarily appreciate what they commentators do here (we’ve got the second disc for that, so it would be unnecessary anyway), as this is more of a dissection of the film’s themes and morality, but having said that, it’s an interesting and well thought out discussion worth listening to.

    And then there’s disc two, which features a load of new interviews starting with a sixteen minute piece with Keith Carradine and Robert Carradine. They talk about where they first heard of the film via James and Stacy Keach in the mid-seventies and how the project would ‘surface and then go away.’ They then talk about getting involved with Hill after meeting him at a film festival in Dallas where Alien premiered, how Heaven’s Gate was being made at the same time The Long Riders was being made (and some studio related difficulties that ensued because of that), shooting locations that were used in the picture, having to come back to do pickup shots, complications that occurred because of the weather and what it was like working with the different sets of brothers used on the film and of course, Walter Hill himself.

    After that we spend sixteen minutes with actors/writers Stacy and James Keach who did this film after working together on a film about the Wright Brothers and how they did a stage version of the James Brothers’ story that was then turned into The Long Riders. They then talk about gathering the different groups of brothers together to work on the film, how they convinced the studio to back the movie, the involvement of the Bridges brothers early in the film’s development and how it took nine years to get the movie in front of a camera. They then talk about director’s that were considered, how Hill wind up becoming the one, how Bill Bryden and Steven Smith came to be included as writers on the film, research that went into the picture and how ‘nobody tells Walter what to do, especially the studio.’

    From there, Randy Quaid (who is sporting a massive white beard and may or may not have been interviewed over Skype after indulging in… something) gets in front of the camera for twenty-minutes. He talks about how he loved westerns as a kid, grew to appreciate Peckinpah and films like High Noon and how he loves the themes that movies like this tend to explore. He then goes on to talk about how proud he is to have been a part of The Long Riders, the influence of The Wild Bunch, the importance of historical accuracy to the project, Hill’s insistence that things be ‘real,’ how Heaven’s Gate caused issues with the studio, the star power of David Carradine and a fair bit more.

    Nicholas Guest speaks for twelve minutes about how he and his best friend growing up loved western movies as kids, getting cast in the film and having to provide some of the film’s comic relief along with his brother Christopher Guest, meeting with Hill to prepare for the film, getting comfortable with the horses used in the film, researching the character he was asked to play, the importance of getting the accents right in the film, and how the entire time he was working on this film he was ‘in a state of bliss’ because of how great Hill was to work with.

    Hill himself is up next, speaking for twenty-one minutes about trying to make a western in 1980 when they’d fallen out of fashion with audiences and how, again, Heaven’s Gate brought a bit of awareness to the genre which allowed United Artists to double down and finance this picture as well. He then talks about seeing the script for the first time, how the box office success of The Warriors helped him land the directing job, the ‘legendary’ status of Jess James and some of the other characters featured in the film and how important it was to make this film stand out when there were so many other films made about the James Brothers. He then offers up his thoughts on the film, the performances and more, noting that he still feels that ‘we lost it a bit in post’ because they had to make it more conventional in terms of its running time.

    Composer Ry Cooder then gets in front of the camera for fifteen minutes to talk about landing the job working on the music for the film after attending a meeting where he wasn’t dressed properly and almost couldn’t get on the lot. He notes that things went well while working on the film, how he and Hill talked about how scenes would have a specific feel. Hill also made some suggestions to Cooder to help get the score right, how he ran into some trouble with studio by using an untried candidate like Cooder, how the music has abstract qualities to it, the importance to having the music in synch with what’s happening on screen and how he learned so much by working with Hill on this first of their multiple collaborations.

    The last of the new interviews is with producer Tim Zinnemann, an eight minute segment wherein he discusses how he got into the film business after his father had a career as a director at MGM, eventually coming to fame directing High Noon for Stanley Kramer’s company. After that he talks about the Keachs’ script, the trickiness of getting a western made without an A-list cast in an era when the genre was not at all popular, how he got Walter Hill to direct, why he went to United Artists with the project, where the film was shot and why, weather problems that caused many delays on the project, Cooder’s contribution to the movie and how well received it turned out to be, and how this film was a highlight of his career as a producer.

    Also included here are a few featurettes that first appeared on the UK Blu-ray release from Second Sight in 2013. First up is the hour long documentary Outlaw Brothers: The Making Of The Long Riders. This is essentially a selection of interviews with the cast and crew intercut with different clips from the film. Topics covered in this piece include how and why the movie takes the approach that it does towards the way that the gunfighters are depicted, attempts to really nail the realism that plays a big part in the movie, thoughts on the different characters that inhabit the movie as well as the film itself and quite a bit more.

    Up next, the fifteen minute long The Northfield Minnesota Raid: Anatomy Of A Scene featurette that includes interviews with Hill as well as James Keach and Robert Carradine. Here they talk about what went into nailing down this memorable scene from the film, including how a real life bank robber named Eddie Bunker was used, the detail inherent in the sets and props and the difficulties of getting horses to jump through store windows!

    Last but not least, we get a six minute piece called Slow Motion: Walter Hill On Sam Peckinpah. As you’d probably expect given the title, this segment allows Hill to talk about what it was like working with Peckinpah on The Getaway (which Hill wrote) and then a phone call he got from the storied director about The Long Riders after it hit theaters.

    Both discs in the set have animated menus and there are chapter stops provided for the feature on disc one. Kino has also supplied some reversible cover art for this release – always a nice touch!

    The Final Word:

    One of Hill’s finest and criminally underrated films gets the deluxe treatment from Kino Lorber’s Studio Classics line. This two disc set offers up a very nice upgraded presentation and loads of new extras. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!