Randy Quaid: THE LONG RIDERS
It’s a Western often left out when people palaver about their favorite movies from the genre. Maybe it has something to do with how there’s no deep dives delving into the minds of the Riders to provide a tidy “Why?” to their predilection for crime. Truth was the outlaws in the James-Younger Gang did what they did because they were good at it. Until they weren’t.
On the surface, THE LONG RIDERS sounds like a gimmicky flick: the cast is made up of real life actor brothers playing the gunslinging siblings. It’s brilliant casting anyway it’s looked at. We get James and Stacy Keach as Frank and Jesse James. A trio of Carradines by way of David, Keith, and Robert as the Younger boys Cole, Jim, and Bob, respectively. Filling out the gang as Ed and Clell Miller are Dennis and Randy Quaid.
Dennis gets dismissed from the gang early in the picture, leaving brother Randy to represent. Considering how the James-Younger gang get bushwhacked by townsfolk while attempting a brazen yet doomed daylight bank robbery, Ed Miller fares better than big bro Clell.
It’s Clell who convinces the gang to hit the bank, which required them to take their brand of talent out of state for the first time. He’s also the one who gives the world’s shortest pep talk when the James-Younger gang sit saddle ready on the outside of Northfield and they all have an unspoken uneasy feeling.
The best (and bloodiest) moment is the depiction of the James-Younger gang’s shoot-out with the armed citizens of Northfield, Minnesota. The gang’s attempt to flee from the botched bank robbery turns into a gory getaway as they find themselves caught in the crossfire from every which way. Turns out trying to take a bank right smack in the center of town wasn’t such a great idea. Combined with overconfidence and under-planning, it all proves to be the doom of the outlaws.
Director Walter Hill stages a spectacular shoot-out in a mode that’s an obvious ode to Sam Peckinpah. Visually, it’s pure Peckinpah, complete with slow motion cross cutting. However, Hill managed to bring something fresh to this staple of the genre, elevating material from the familiar and lends THE LONG RIDERS its most memorable moments.
By tweaking the sound design – reversing the sound of incoming rounds hitting the gang suddenly under siege and the slo-mo echo of the horses braying – the daylight robbery gone wrong takes on a nightmarish experience. It’s the incoming round sounds in particular that create an unnerving feeling because it’s never tipped off who’s going to get it and how bad. It’s this element that easily puts this scene in the Top Five Western Shootouts.
After catching a bellyful of buckshot in the melee, what gives Clell Miller’s meeting-his-maker moment so memorable is how his disdain for the Northfield “squareheads” gets worked into a call back. Randy Quaid, at the top of his game, sells it. It’s bitter irony at its best.
What’s interesting about the way Clell shuffles off his mortal coil is how his head lays on a canteen. As his last dying gasp passes, water spills out from the spout. Walter Hill is a precise director. There’s no way it’s some happy accident Randy Quaid’s closed eye happens to be just above the flowing water, transforming them to tears.
It’s pure poetry and cinematic symbolism at its finest.