Monday, June 27, 2011
Walter Hill's excellent 1980 Western, THE LONG RIDERS, which chronicles the exploits of the James-Younger gang, legendary Missouri outlaws of the 19th Century, is now available on Blu-ray disc from MGM.
Hill's mostly-accurate post-Civil War adventure features some rather brilliant stunt-casting in that he chose real-life actor brothers to portray the various historical figures who made up the infamous outlaw band. James and Stacy Keach (who also co-wrote and co-produced the film) play Jesse and Frank James. David, Robert and Kieth Carradine play the Younger brothers. Randy and Dennnis Quaid portray the Miller siblings, while Christopher and Nicholas Guest assay the roles of Charlie and Robert Ford. Other cast members include Pamela Reed as Belle Star, and James Whitmore as the Pinkerton agent out to bring the gang to justice, at any cost.
THE LONG RIDERS treats its bank-robbing protagonists with considerable sympathy, but doesn't overly romanticize them. The episodic script doesn't really have time to indulge in much characterization, so the actors are charged with sketching out their characters through their performances - and they do so wonderfully. David Carradine's Cole Younger is particularly fascinating, especially in his unconventional relationship with prostitute Belle Starr. Director Hill (48 HOURS, LAST MAN STANDING, DEADWOOD) is a natural at this sort of two-fisted, manly action stuff, and his cinematographer, Ric Waite, gives the whole film a weathered, gritty look and feel. Ry Cooder provides the bluegrass-tinged score.
The MGM Blu-ray presentation of THE LONG RIDERS is virtually identical to the original standard DVD release, simply upconverted to 1080p high definition and Mono DTS-HD Master Audio. The 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is decent enough, but there appears to have been no restoration or remastering done. Details are not as sharp as one might expect on an HD release, and the source print is littered with dust specks and other detritus. Don't get me wrong - for a thirty+ year-old film, it looks quite good, and better than the DVD, but it's far from a showcase for the Blu-ray format. As with the DVD, the only bonus feature is the original theatrical trailer.
I'm a little disappointed in MGM's handling of this title, but the new Blu-ray is a decent catalog release. Sure, I'd love to see a fully-restored special edition, with a cast reunion and commentary by Hill, but that's not likely to happen. If you want to upgrade from your DVD, the price isn't bad, and the HD transfer is noticeably better. If you haven't seen it at all, I recommend you at least give it a rental.
BUY: Long Riders [Blu-ray]