Long Riders, The (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Apr 23, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Long Riders, The (Blu-ray Review)


Walter Hill

Release Date(s)

1980 (March 5, 2024)


Huka Productions/United Artists (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: B+
  • Audio Grade: B-
  • Extras Grade: A-

The Long Riders (Blu-ray)

Buy it Here!


The Long Riders was a historic film when it was released in 1980, in more ways than one. It was far from the first film to tell the tale of the James-Younger gang and their ill-fated 1876 raid on the First National Bank in Northfield, MN—in fact, Phillip Kaufman had mined similar territory eight years earlier in The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid. On the other hand, it was Walter Hill’s first true western, although as he has pointed out, it’s arguably more of a midwestern than a western, focusing on renegade farm boys instead of cowboys. Still, for a man who has long been influenced by westerns, it’s significant that this was the first time that he officially dipped his own toes into the genre waters. The Long Riders was also Hill’s first collaboration with guitarist Ry Cooder, and it ended up being the beginning of a beautiful friendship that would result in some extraordinary music over the span of nine different films. Considering the way that Cooder’s music has influenced Hill’s filmmaking, it’s one of the most fruitful collaborations between a director and a composer, rivaling that of Steven Spielberg and John Williams (at least in terms of quality, if not quantity).

All of that is true enough as far as Walter Hill fans are concerned, and yet there’s no getting around the fact that one of the biggest reasons why The Long Riders was such a historic film was due to the central gimmick of its casting. Four different sets of real-life brothers star as four different sets of real-life brothers: James and Stacy Keach as Jesse and Frank James; David, Keith, and Robert Carradine as Cole, Jim, and Bob Younger; Randy and Dennis Quaid as Clell Miller and Ed Miller; and Nicholas and Christopher Guest as Bob and Charley Ford. The unique nature of the cast is the elephant in the room with any discussion of The Long Riders, and it simply can’t be ignored. Yet it doesn’t really feel like a gimmick while watching the film, especially due to the elliptical nature of the story. Most of the background details regarding these outlaws has been completely elided in favor of dropping viewers into an already established milieu, so having real brothers in the main roles saves the film from having to take time to develop the relationships between them.

While Walter Hill may have been at the helm for The Long Riders, it wasn’t a project that he had developed for himself. The whole thing was actually the brainchild of James and Stacy Keach, who wrote the initial script and served as executive producers on the final film. Their script was reshaped first by Bill Bryden and later by Steven Phillip Smith, with everything eventually being streamlined into something suitable for the typically laconic Hill to direct. Despite being an accomplished screenwriter of his own, Hill has always preferred showing, not telling, allowing the action to define the characters as much as his terse dialogue does. Hill may not have written the script in this case, but The Long Riders is still a Walter Hill film through and through. It’s appropriate that the core conceit revolves around four sets of brothers, because The Long Riders is about the brotherhood of renegade man, and the women back at home need not apply. There are plenty of female characters on hand, most notably Pamela Reed as Belle Starr and Fran Ryan as the James matriarch Mrs. Samuel, but they’re still just background noise behind the male harmony that’s always been at the forefront of most of Walter Hill’s work.

That masculine camaraderie is the primary texture in The Long Riders, but it wouldn’t have been enough to make the film work without all of the other textures on display. The Long Riders isn’t historically accurate down to the last detail, but Hill understood that a film doesn’t really need to be authentic in order to feel authentic. It’s all about period flavor, not the actual details. The world of The Long Riders is a believable one, covered in appropriate layers of dust and mud. Yet it’s not just grit for grit’s sake; it’s all a part of making everything feel plausible and lived-in. Having the right faces certainly didn’t hurt, from the lead brothers to rugged supporting actors like James Remar, Edward Bunker, and Harry Carey, Jr. It’s all a part of building a world that feels like it exists not just in front of the camera, but outside the boundaries of the film frame as well.

Yet the single most important factor in the success of The Long Riders is still arguably the music by Ry Cooder. Cooder didn’t just provide an authentic-sounding score; he also supervised the various pieces of source music that are heard throughout the film. Hill took the time to show all of these songs being performed, in bars, at dance halls, and everywhere else. None of it serves to help build the characters who are at the forefront of the story, but it does help to build the character of the film as a whole. It’s part of layering on texture to in order create a tangible world for the James-Younger gang to inhabit. Regardless of the well-staged action scenes in The Long Riders, it’s still a leisurely paced film, and that’s partly due to the musical of digressions and other background period details that Hill put on display throughout its relatively brief running time. They’re all essential parts of building a mood. The western has always been a genre filled with poetic moments of beauty and equally poetic moments of violence, but the entirety of The Long Riders acts as a tone poem, using music and visual details in order to evoke a time and a place rather than dialogue or specific narrative details.

In other words, it’s a Walter Hill film.

Cinematographer Ric Waite shot The Long Riders on 35mm film using Panavision Panaflex cameras with spherical lenses, framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. This version uses the same 2017 4K restoration as Kino Lorber’s previous version, with the same encode. There’s some heavy speckling and light scratches during the opening titles, although the rest of the film is much cleaner. The colors are appropriately muted, and the contrast range tends to be somewhat limited. Many of the darkest shots look a little noisy, with elevated black levels. That may or may not be due to the gamma levels that Kino Lorber used when mastering the disc. There has been plenty of online discussion over the years about that fact, with some people claiming that discs like this one were mastered to a gamma level of 2.4 instead of 2.2. While I’ve rarely had issues in that regard, when manually changing the gamma setting on my projector to 2.4, the black levels do improve and some of the noise is less noticeable. Your own mileage may vary, but if you’re not satisfied with the black levels, try switching the gamma and see what you think. (Just don’t forget to switch it back later.)

Audio is offered in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. Both of these tracks are a little perplexing, but in different ways. The Long Riders was released theatrically in mono, so theoretically, the 2.0 track should be the original unadulterated mono mix, but it isn’t. It’s possible that some decorrelation has been applied to it, because the sound doesn’t decode cleanly to the center channel like it should. It’s still mono, but spread out over the front three channels. (That was true even with Center Spread switched “off” on my decoder.) Ironically enough, the 5.1 track actually stays anchored to the center channel and doesn’t really utilize any of the other channels. While there’s some bleed, it’s mostly just the mono track fed to the center channel. Some people may like the fuller sound of the 2.0 track, but the 5.1 is actually more faithful to the original mono theatrical experience. In all other respects, both tracks are adequate, with clear dialogue, minimal noise, and decent support for Ry Cooder’s music.

Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray release of The Long Riders is a reissue of their 2017 set. Most of their recent reissues have utilized the same master as the previous ones, but offered better encodes on BD-50s instead of the BD-25s that were used on the older discs. In this case, the old disc was already on a BD-50, so this is really just a repressing, with identical extras and a slipcover. It’s a two-disc set that includes the film on the first disc along with the commentary track and trailers, while the rest of the extras are on the second disc:


  • Audio Commentary by Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell, and Nathaniel Thompson
  • Trailer (HD – 2:27)
  • Death Rides a Horse Trailer (HD – 1:33)
  • The Mercenary Trailer (SD – 1:53)
  • Valdez is Coming Trailer (HD – 2:52)
  • The Hunting Party Trailer (HD – 3:01)

The Usual Suspects of Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell, and Nathaniel Thompson sat down back in 2017 to record this commentary for The Long Riders, and it’s their usual fine work. They feel that The Long Riders is a unique film in the history of westerns, not even qualifying as a revisionist western—quite the opposite, as a matter of fact. It’s a film that really flew against the grain of Eighties movies in general, and westerns in particular. The casting of the sets of brothers may have been a gimmick, but it never feels like one when watching the film, thanks in no small part to the authentic-feeling period details. They also discuss where the film fit into Walter Hill’s career, the influence of comic books on his style, the influence of Sam Peckinpah, and the rock star nature of Jesse James. They don’t necessarily offer much practical information about the making of the film, but that’s not really their bag anyway, and the analytical nature of their commentary nicely complements some of the other extras in the set.


  • The Brothers Carradine: Interview with Keith Carradine and Robert Carradine (HD – 16:14)
  • The Brothers Keach: Interview with Stacy Keach and James Keach (HD – 15:55)
  • Brother Randy: Interview with Randy Quaid (HD – 20:09)
  • I Shot Jesse James: Interview with Nicholas Guest (HD – 12:27)
  • Bound by History: Walter Hill on The Long Riders (HD – 20:40)
  • Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand: Interview with Ry Cooder (HD – 14:38)
  • Tim Zinnemann on The Long Riders (HD – 8:07)
  • Outlaw Brothers: The Making of The Long Riders (Upscaled HD – 63:08)
  • The Northfield Minnesota Raid: Anatomy of a Scene (Upscaled HD – 16:10)
  • Slow Motion: Walter Hill on Sam Peckinpah (Upscaled HD – 6:34)

Most of the rest of the extras consist of interviews that were produced by Kino Lorber for their 2017 Blu-ray release of The Long Riders, starting with the actors. Since David Carradine passed back in 2009, there was no way that they were ever going to get all of the original brothers together again, but they certainly did their best. Only Dennis Quaid and Christopher Guest were either unavailable or unwilling to participate. With all due respects to Randy Quaid and Nicholas Guest, that means the surviving Carradine brothers and the Keach brothers are inevitably the most interesting of the bunch. They’re a bit more lively playing against each other, and they help to fill in some gaps for each other as well. (Keith Carradine is even comfortable enough to go for a morbid “Dave’s not here” joke at one point.) Mind you, the fact that Randy Quaid appears at all is interesting enough, but his copious legal issues seemed to be winding down at that point. They all discuss how they became involved with the production and their love for the finished film (although the Keach brothers do bemoan the fact that the studio cut it down by about twenty minutes, and the missing appears to be lost). They also offer plenty of praise for Walter Hill, and a few impressions of him as well.

Speaking of Walter Hill, the crew interviews come next. Hill professes his love for westerns and the Robin Hood myth that many of them contain—he says that United Artists must have felt that the genre was going to have a resurgence, since they were also producing Heaven’s Gate at the same time as The Long Riders. His goal with his own film was to humanize this band of outlaws as a group, not so much as individuals. They were midwestern farm boys, not cowboys, with some substantial cultural differences between them, and they were anything but heroes for social justice. He also tells an interesting story about how a visit from Sam Fuller might have influenced the intensity of the knife fight between David Carradine and James Remar.

Ry Cooder talks about how The Long Riders wasn’t just his first collaboration with Walter Hill; it was the first full score that he had done of any kind. He wasn’t familiar with the process of scoring, so he and Hill established a working methodology that helped get the feel for the needs of any given scene. Interestingly, he points out how many films don’t have the editing in sync with music during scenes like the one at the dance hall, but Hill wouldn’t allow that to happen in The Long Riders. That’s an indication that the fact that the editing is in sync with the music in Streets of Fire was as much due to Hill as it was to the team of editors that worked on that film. Finally, the last interview is with producer Tim Zinnemann, who gives some background on his father Fred’s experiences with making High Noon, and then describes how he became involved with The Long Riders. It was a long path to bring everyone together.

The rest of the extras were all originally produced for the 2013 Region B Blu-ray from Second Sight in the U.K. While they’re all presented here in 1080p, they must have been produced in an interlaced HD format that wasn’t translated well here, because they’re filled with ghosting artifacts whenever there’s any motion on screen. Outlaw Brothers: The Making of The Long Riders is a behind-the-scenes documentary created by Robert Fisher, featuring interviews with Walter Hill, James Keach, and Robert Carradine. It’s divided into nine parts: Genesis, The Historical Facts, Families, The Look, Dobe, The Knife Fight, The Horses, The Music, Paying the Price, and Le gang des frères James (the French title for The Long Riders). Across all of those chapters, it covers how the project came together; the development of the script; the cast of brothers; the visual design; the presence of Harry Carey, Jr.; why the knife fight became so intense; the horsemanship of the actors and the skills of the stuntpeople; Ry Cooder’s involvement; the price that the members of the James-Younger gang paid for their activities; and The Long Riders being in competition at the Canne Film Festival. Hill says that he doesn’t believe in over-romanticizing anything, but there’s something about these men that captures the imagination (Carradine appears in a coda to say that all in all, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.)

The Northfield Minnesota Raid: Anatomy of a Scene features the same three participants discussing the filming of the disastrous robbery that resulted in the dissolution of the James-Younger gang. It was shot over the course of five days, and Hill says that there’s nothing in there that isn’t at least based on some kind of real truth—although he admits that he exaggerated all of it to his own tastes. Everyone also offers praise for real-life badasses Eddie Bunker and Tim Rossovich, who were added to the gang at that point to show how it had started to get rougher at that point. Finally, Slow Motion: Walter Hill on Sam Peckinpah feature Hill solo, discussing the Peckinpah’s feelings about his use of slow motion in The Long Riders. Hill feels that he was using it for the opposite reason that Peckinpah did in The Wild Bunch, although he had to work to convince Bloody Sam about that.

That’s nice slate of extras, and while there are a few question marks regarding the video and audio encoding, this is still an impressive release of The Long Riders. The only thing that’s missing from previous versions is the commentary with film historian Toby Ryan that was included on the Directed by Walter Hill set from Via Vision in Australia. That’s sold out at this point, so while this Kino Lorber Blu-ray is just a reissue of their 2017 disc with no new additions, it’s the still the one to own. And you should own it, too, even if you’re not a Walter Hill fan. (Just don’t admit to that fact in my presence!)

- Stephen Bjork

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