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  • 1 Theatrical trailer

The Long Riders

MGM/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 95 mins . M15+ . PAL


The son of an industrial builder, screenwriter, producer and director Walter Hill’s first aspirations were to become a cartoonist, which led him to study art in Mexico City, before accepting a position in the journalism department at the University of Michigan. Honing his formidable talents as a writer for small independent documentary features and gaining valuable experience as an assistant director on major successes such as The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) and Bullitt (1968), Hill received Hollywood recognition as the screenwriter for Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway (1972) and The Drowning Pool (1975).

The Long Riders (1980) was Hill’s first directorial stab at the western genre, preempting the spate of revisionist western films which seemed to proliferate during the mid 1980s and the early 1990s; some of his more recent works included the ambitious Geronimo: An American Legend (1993) and Wild Bill, his much-maligned 1995 epic about the notorious outlaw, Wild Bill Hickok. Although it is literally worlds apart from the gritty, often surreal, urban dramas (Hard Times, The Warriors, Streets of Fire) which dominated his career from the 1970s, Hill’s The Long Riders continues the director’s preoccupation with high-level violence.

An accomplished western film in its own right, it is difficult to view The Long Riders as a separate entity and not just as an artistic extension of Peckinpah’s notorious 1969 magnus opus The Wild Bunch. Hill’s film shares an inseparable cinematic lineage with Peckinpah’s classic for its uncompromising, non-judgmental characterisation, unflinching portraits of “beautiful bloodletting” and an inventive montage of real-time and slow-motion photography. The James-Younger gang’s escape from the township of Northfield is, in many ways, reminiscent of the massacre situated near the beginning of The Wild Bunch; the similarities between the two films are inescapable.

In this pivotal scene, Hill uses tight, rhythmic cuts to devastating effect. Punctuated with chaotic camera angles, ferocious parallel editing, and an almost gleeful, voyeuristic approach to graphic violence, he creates an ethereal maelstrom of carnage as horses careen through store-front windows, their riders writhing in slow-motion as bullets tear through them, producing arterial sprays of blood upon impact. With a virtuoso’s skill, he successfully orchestrates this gun battle and others like it as though it were a miniature ballet, assaulting the viewer with images which continue to resonate long after the film has passed.

In response to constant criticism about the violent content within his films, Hill had remarked: “I have three daughters, two of them very small. I have a stake in this country being a good and decent and safe place just like the people who are screaming and hollering. But I think at some point there are several other things that have to be talked about. If a million people see your work and one is influenced badly and does something terrible, should we manufacture dramas that will not offend that one human being? To make dramas that don’t deal with violence is just artistically dishonest... What are we pretending?”

According to Hill, three elements are fundamental to the successful realisation of a film: the cinematographer, the production designer, and the film editor, all of whom are tempered by the director’s personal vision. “Every creative decision in a motion picture, ultimately, is made by the director, so the movie is an extension of the director’s imagination. The director approves every set even though the production designer may have suggested it and certainly built it and certainly added the details. But the director approves it. To that you add the lighting, staging, camera angles and, even though everyone know how to do their job, it would be chaos without the director. So, finally, the film is the director’s creative vision.”

"You got a safe in here some place. Tell me where it is or I’m gonna put a bullet in your brainpan. "

The Long Riders is set in Missouri, following the defeat of the South to the superior military might of the Northern Union in the American Civil War, and focuses on the almost mythological exploits of the James-Younger gang. Based on historical events, if slightly altered for the sake of dramatic license, the film begins immediately with the hold-up of a Northern bank, which results in the unnecessary murder of an innocent clerk, courtesy of a bullet from gang member, Ed Miller (Dennis Quaid). Livid at the senseless act and the fact that it nearly resulted in his death, Jesse James (James Keach) decides to cut Miller loose from the unit.

Jesse and his brother Frank (Stacey Keach), in conjunction with the Youngers (the Carradines) and Ed’s brother, Clell Miller (Randy Quaid), view their criminal activities as nothing more than justified acts of retaliation against the Northern states for having won the war. Adopting a “Robin Hood” policy, the James gang quickly attract the admiration of their fellow Southerners and the ire of the Pinkerton detective agency, headed by the tenacious Jacob Rixley (James Whitmore Jr.). A series of swift hit-and-run raids on Union Railroad trains and numerous banks eventuates in the Pinkertons fire-bombing the James’ cabin and the tragic death of Jesse’s 15 year old half-brother, Archie (R.B. Thrift).

The skirmishes between the Pinkertons and the renegade outlaws reaches its climax when the James-Younger gang target a bank located in Northfield, Minnesota. Lured by the prospect of heisting a lucrative amount of Northern booty, the gang are encircled in a cleverly-designed ambush which succeeds in decimating its ranks, leaving most of its members mortally wounded. Demoralised and aware of their imminent demise, Jesse and Frank decide to escape over the border, attempting to elude Rixley’s relentless pursuit; however, some of the James’ closest colleagues, seduced by the promise of financial gain, negotiate a deal with the Pinkertons to assist in flushing out their prey.


The Long Riders is presented in its correct screen aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and is anamorphic.

Black levels are solid, but on occasions seem to be a bit too dark. Detail is quite sharp, providing some good definition; on the other hand, shadow detail is quite poor. There are no discernible MPEG artefacts, although there is visible evidence of film artefacts which remain at a minimum and are not that noticeable, with the possible exception being the opening scene and credits. Minor grain is detectable throughout the film, seen mostly in the aforementioned opening and in dark and dimly-lit environments, but it cannot be deemed intrusive; indeed, it is of an acceptable level, considering the relative age of the film itself.

Due perhaps to the Technicolor process, saturation is somewhat muted, resulting in a colour palette that is considerably washed-out during exterior location scenes. Keeping in theme with its western content, the film’s principle colour scheme consists of rustic browns and, with the numerous interior shots, the palette adopts a more organic look which is serviceable, but not spectacular. There is no evident bleeding. Aliasing and moiré is at an absolute minimum, and does not warrant any specific mention.

The layer transition occurs at 54:29 in Chapter 10, during a conversational exchange where there is little on-screen activity or sound, and is barely noticeable.


There are five audio selections available: the English Dolby Digital 2.0, the German Dolby Digital 2.0, the French Dolby Digital 2.0, the Italian Dolby Digital 2.0, and the Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0.

Dialogue is mostly clear and easy to understand, with the notable exception of a brief verbal interchange at 24:22, where it is quite inaudible and difficult to comprehend without the aid of subtitles; elsewhere, there is a tendency for dialogue levels to be rather soft. Sound, too, is clear but seemed to be lacking somewhat in dynamic range, particularly during the film’s numerous gunfights; whether it would make a great degree of difference is debatable, but it would have been interesting to see how this film would benefit from a 5.1 mix.

Positioned within the front soundstage, there is no activity or support from the rear surrounds and the subwoofer. There appeared to be no discernible distortion.


Theatrical trailer. Presented in a screen aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and featured in Dolby Digital 2.0, this non-anamorphic trailer exhibits an abundance of moderate grain and film artefacts. Running for a length of 2 minutes and 18 seconds, it is of insubstantial value.


The major distinction of The Long Riders lies not with its similarities to Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, but in its inspired casting of the Keach, Carradine, Quaid and the Guest brothers as the members of the renegade James-Younger gang. Considered by many to be nothing more than an innovative gimmick at the time of its release, the casting decision adds to the film’s sense of authenticity, making it far more easier for the audience to believe the emotive connection between the brothers and further understand their agendas. Another strength of Hill’s motion picture is that it refuses to impose judgment on the gang members themselves, neither glorifying or demonising them.

If there is a bone of contention with The Long Riders, then it lies in the numerous historical inaccuracies prevalent throughout the film. For example, when the Pinkertons launch the bomb into the James’ household, it is lobbed through the front window and not the back door; Jesse’s half-brother Archie is portrayed in the film as a simplistic-minded 15 year old, and not as a 9 year old boy; and rather than meeting his death after supper, Jesse, in actuality, died within the morning. Perhaps more significantly, the train robbery and the ride through the store window did not occur, despite its depiction in both Henry King’s 1939 film Jesse James and The Long Riders; it is solely artistic license.

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      And I quote...
    "Stylish, artistic, violent... Jesse James meets The Wild Bunch..."
    - Shaun Bennett
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