The Long Riders is a 1980 western film directed by Walter Hill. It was produced by James Keach, Stacy Keach and Tim Zinnemann and featured an original soundtrack by Ry Cooder. Cooder won the Best Music award in 1980 from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards for this soundtrack. The film was entered into the 1980 Cannes Film Festival.
During the years following the Civil War, banks and trains become the targets of the James-Younger gang, outlaws who terrorize the American Midwest. The band of robbers is led by Jesse James and Cole Younger, along with several of their brothers.
A detective named Rixley from the Pinkerton's agency remains on their trail. By the time the James-Younger gang rides far north in September 1876 to rob a bank in Northfield, Minnesota, word is out about them and the town has been warned.
The holdup goes wrong in every way. The bank's vault has been set on a timer and cannot be opened. A cashier and another citizen are shot and killed. While trying to escape, the gang is fired upon by the townspeople, who have barricaded both ends of the main street. Two outlaws are killed and all of the Youngers are badly wounded.
Jesse and Frank James are forced to leave the Youngers behind when they return home to Missouri. An attempt is made by Rixley to make the Youngers reveal where the Jameses can be found by offering them a more lenient sentence, but the Youngers remain loyal. Former gang members Bob and Charlie Ford, however, go to Jesse James' home and shoot him in the back. Frank James turns himself in to Rixley, but only on the condition that he can first attend his brother's funeral.
The Long Riders is a notable film in part due to Hill's decision to cast four sets of actor brothers as the real-life sets of brothers:
- The Keaches: Jesse James (James Keach) and Frank James (Stacy Keach)
- The Carradines: Cole Younger (David Carradine), Jim Younger (Keith Carradine) and Bob Younger (Robert Carradine)
- The Quaids: Ed Miller (Dennis Quaid) and Clell Miller (Randy Quaid)
- The Guests: Charley Ford (Christopher Guest) and Robert Ford (Nicholas Guest)
It also features an uncredited appearance by Ever Carradine, daughter of Robert Carradine and niece to David and Keith Carradine. Additionally James Keach's son, Kalen Keach, is cast as Jesse James's son Jesse E. James. Savannah Smith Boucher played Zee, or Jesse James' wife,Zerelda Mimms.
- James Whitmore, Jr. as Rixley
- Kevin Brophy as John Younger
- Harry Carey, Jr. as George Arthur
- Shelby Leverington as Annie Ralston
- Felice Orlandi as Mr. Reddick
- Pamela Reed as Belle Starr
- Lin Shaye as Kate
- James Remar as Sam Starr
In 1971 James and Stacy Keach played brothers in a TV film called The Wright Brothers. This gave James the idea they should play Jesse and Frank James in a movie together. Stacy financed James to write a country musical about the brothers which was eventually produced in Pennsylvania and New York. The Keaches then decided to turn the musical into a feature film screenplay in which both could star.)
In 1974 James Keach was acting opposite Robert Carradine in the TV movie The Hatfields and McCoys and mentioned the project to him; Carradine suggested he and his brothers play the Younger brothers. The idea that all the brothers in the story be played by real-life brothers expanded, and Jeff and Beau Bridges also became attached to the project to play the Miller brothers. Keach sough financing but this proved difficult because Westerns were not in fashion. However James Keach succeeded in attracting the enthusiasm of producer Tim Zinnemann while both worked on The Hurricane (1979) together. Zinnemann took the project to United Artists, who were interested in funding the movie if a suitable director could be found. Zinnemann showed it to Walter Hill who agreed to direct. However by this time the Bridges brothers had become unavailable. Joseph Bottoms had discussed the project with James Keach but wanted him and his brothers to play the Youngers - parts already reserved for the Carradines.Eventually Randy and Dennis Quaid were signed to play the Miller brothers, and Nicholas and Chris Guest played the Ford brothers.
In order to make the movie, David Carradine forfeited his customary profit participation and the Keach brothers gave up their profit percentages as executive producer in order that the Carradine brothers got the same amount of profits. When the film went over its $7.5 million budget, the Keaches forfeited their executive producer fees. "The Long Riders has been made on faith and idealism," said Keach.
Walter Hill later said his "code" for the film was to keep "the jokes funny and the bullets real. It is about moral choices. I think people who object to violence shouldn't go to the movies."
"The use of all the brothers can be perceived as a gimmick but I wanted a family feeling to the movie," added Hill.
Hill called the movie a "strange piece";
Instead of the logical conclusion being at Northfield, it then goes on to another phase of a spiral downward, and ends with Jesse's death. It's very hard material to give the proper dramatic curve to. It doesn't lay out in a classic three-act structure. It's almost a four-act piece with Northfield and the aftermath being the culmination of the third act. The fourth act is almost epilogue: How They Went Down... There's a line from a Jean-Luc Godard film: "The jokes are funny but the bullets arc real." That's really what this movie is about. These were big, reckless, high-spirited guys that were unaware of the ripples they caused.
Walter Hill later argued the best movie that had been made about the Younger-James brothers prior to this was The Return of Frank James. "In the historical sense it was also the least accurate, but it had a real sense of character truth," he said. Some of the movie, especially the Northfield scene, was shot in Parrott, Georgia.
The music for the film was composed, arranged, and performed by Ry Cooder. Some of the songs were released as an album, The Long Riders. It was the first of several soundtracks Cooder would write for Walter Hill.