Jesse James rides again along with his sibling Frank. And the Younger and Miller brothers. They rob trains and banks. The Pinkertons are on their trail. In Missouri "Yankee" and "railroad" are dirty words. Young men looking for adventure want to join the James gang. The women who love them want the robbers to settle down. But the blood boils and the old life beckons them to the strange place of Northfield, Minnesota and a bank with lots of money. There they are trapped and ambushed by righteous townsfolk Swedes and other establishment types. Jesse and his brother escape this bloodbath. But one of them is betrayed by friends and shot down. The other gives himself up and the legend turns itself over to us and becomes part of our dreams.
Walter Hill's The Long Riders evokes these outlaws or heroes (call them what you will) as if they were protagonists in a dream real but also larger than life. They are lines in a poem, expressive of the good and the bad in all of us. Or at least that's how we feel as we watch them rob a bank, shoot up a town, dance at a wedding, mourn at a funeral, escape a posse, or relax in the sun.
There must be something magical about the legend of this band of gunmen The Long Riders like The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid is bathed in beautiful cinematic imagery. The tale is a costume drama with visually rich environments, interesting clothing, detailed music which serves as a bridges between the film's alternating moods. And the faces of the main characters are revealing maps David Carradine's Cole Younger as a self-centered hedonist, James Keach's Jesse James as an austere leader with intense dedication to his work, Randy Quaid's Clell Miller as a grubby down-home guy, Pamela Reed's Belle Star as a tough tart with a hidden glint of vulnerability, and James Whitmore Jr.'s Mr. Rixley as a driven Pinkerton chief.