The Long Riders

First Impressions:   A very interesting study in suspicion and loyalty with more than a dollop of conflict.

The Story:   Jess and Slim are on a mustang roundup to get stock for the ranch. They've been working on Sioux treaty ground, which Slim seems hellbent on reminding Jess every half-hour. This becomes a recurring theme. Not the Sioux, but the bickering. There is lots and lots of bickering. "You been eatin' bear lately?"; "No, I ain't been eatin' bear lately!"; "Well you been actin' like one!". And so it goes.

They have a good bunch of horses, but Jess wants to take just a bit more time to try to catch a black stallion they've seen. Slim is surly because he doesn't like to have to round up horses to make ends meet. They get ready to ride out, when the black stallion makes an appearance and Jess high tails it after him. Some excellent flat out riding here. Slim pursues, but it's Jess that gets a rope on the sucker, who promptly pulls Jess, saddle and all, right off his horse and proceeds to try to stomp him. Slim pulls up in time to scare it off with some air-shots. Jess has eaten a bit of dirt but is unhurt. Not so his cinch, which is broke clean in half.

Bicker McBickerson continues to berate Jess as he gives Jess a new cinch and Jess proceeds with repairs. Slim has certainly got a burr up his butt about something, "Well, what's takin' ya so long?".
Later as they're on their way back to camp, a rider, being chased by a bunch of Indians arrives. Slim and Jess naturally step in and start shooting without asking questions. The stranger turns out to be Dan Duryea. Oh yeah, that's trouble. He's friendly and charming and introduces himself as Luke Gregg, traveling down from Deadwood. He invites himself back to camp with the boys for some coffee. Slim cautions that they have to moving pretty quick, especially now that the Sioux know they're there. Since Luke was heading to Laramie, Slim offers to let him go with them because they could use an extra hand with the horses.

Back home, the boys come riding in, driving their heard, and Andy greets them. Luke ingratiates himself right away, complimenting the spread, buddying up to Andy and generally making himself prime for hiring. Jess sits back and watches, oozing suspicion and, dare I say it, jealousy? Nah. Andy likes him and Slim is just a hair too quick to hire Luke and Jess is not liking it.

At supper Luke entices Andy with stories of his adventures and gives him a Blackfoot medicine bundle. He remembers Slim from some past vigilante work he did in Adobe Wells, Kansas, giving a man named Ed McKeever what for and breaking his strangle-hold on a county. Slim's not too proud of the vigilante-ism, but Luke gushes all over him like he's a hero. It's Jess' turn to be surly. After Luke and Andy leave to go get the medicine bag, Jess talks to Slim.

Jess wonders how Luke knows so much about Adobe Wells. The men who cleaned up the McKeevers were supposed to be a secret, but turns out all of them are dead, except Slim and Mort Corey. All of the others died of accidents or some other unrelated way. Slim argues it's nothing to worry about, but Jess counters that Ed McKeever is still alive and he hates every man on "the list". Jess thinks it's suspicious that Luke happens to show up and mentions Adobe Wells, which was supposed to have been kept quite. Slim thinks Jess is sore because he asked Luke to stay. Jess says they need the help and The Bickersons are at it again. Jess leaves to go check the new horses.

Andy is thrilled with his new medicine bundle. Luke says it's good luck and advises him to keep it in a real safe place. Slim reiterates his offer to Luke to stay at least until the new horses are broke. Andy offers that after that it will be round-up time. Luke wonders if the job might become permanent.

Luke has some business in Laramie the next day, but after that, much to Andy's delight, he'll come back to stay.

In Larame, Luke spots Mort Cory's name on the Sheriff's office, then goes to send a letter. The letter is addressed to Ed McKeever in Coffeeville, Kansas.

Back at the ranch, Jess is repairing fence when he hears shots. He hops on his horse and investigates. He finds Luke teaching Andy how to target shoot. More specifically he's teaching Andy how to hit a target by shooting from a draw. Jess comes up and questions whether Luke should be teaching Andy "a trick like that" without Slim's permission. He asks to see Luke's gun which Luke jovially hands over. After examining it says he doesn't know many cowhands that carry a .45 with a filed down something-er-other and a flattened hammer. Luke offers no explanation. Jess wonders if he shouldn't be working but it's none of his business. Andy tries to get Jess to stay but he leaves saying "I got work to do."

After Jess leaves, Andy wonders what's bothering Jess, but then asks Luke if he'll be staying. Luke allows as how sometimes a man has obligations, things that he promised to do a long time ago. He's vague, but sometimes it ain't easy (or healthy) to back down on an obligation. He tells Andy he has to keep his word.
Back at the house, Jess comes in and wants to talk to Slim. The air is thick with tension. Slim doesn't understand why Jess won't be friends with Luke. "He's a nice fella as far as I can see."

Jess tells him Luke is teaching Andy "gunfighting" and tells him about Luke's gun. "You ever hear of a cowpoke wore a gun like that?" "Just one," says Slim and proceeds to the fireplace where he pulls out Jess' old gunfighting gun from its hiding place. Slim compares Jess, when he first got there to Luke now, even as far as "advising" Andy. He thinks that now that Andy is older he has to learn one way or the other (oh, brother).

Jess wants Slim to give Luke his pay and have him move on. Slim is not inclined to do that and asks if it's the "McKeever thing" that's spooking Jess.

Jess says yes, and if he had any sense it'd spook him too. Jess comes out and says it. "He's a gunfighter, Slim." Slim counters with the fact that Luke has been there for 2 weeks and he's still alive and so is Mort. He thinks Jess is imagining things. He thinks that Jess is jealous because Andy is so fond of Luke. Jess leaves saying "explain it any way you like."
That night, Jess confronts Luke. He asks how one man can work for two bosses at the same time, Slim Sherman and Ed McKeever. Luke dismisses his fool notion. Jess tells him to leave but Luke says only Slim can tell him that. They square off and the fight in the barn is on. Andy runs in and sees Jess beating the snot out of Luke (or rather a poorly doubled stunt man). Andy runs off for Slim and Slim breaks up the fight.

Slim tells Jess he's fed up with his accusing and the fighting. Luke placates him and defends Jess by saying they finally have it out of their systems. Jess asks if Slim wants him to draw his pay. Slim wonders if that's what Jess is trying to do. "You trying to make me fire you?" Jess says he's just trying to make sure he has a live employer.

In the bunk room Andy comes in while Jess is cleaing up and asks why he fought with Luke. Andy wants to know why Jess doesn't like Luke. Jess says it's because he doesn't trust Luke. Andy says he does trust him and he needs a friend. Jess says, "I need a friend too."

Andy's afraid he's going to lose one of his friends and he's eventually going to have to take sides. Jess pushes the issue and says "Who's it going to be? Luke or me?"

Andy won't say one way or the other, only that Jess is down on Luke and can't tell him why. He says Jess is in the wrong. Jess says maybe he's the one that ought to move on. Andy didn't mean that but wants Jess to get along with Luke. Jess says he's sorry, he can't do that.

Exasperated, Andy says he hopes next time Luke gives him "worse than that" pointing to Jess' battered face.

Slim comiserates with Andy after Jess leaves. He thinks Jess will come around and can't hold a grudge too long. Oh, poor disillusioned boys.

Later Slim is working on paperwork when Luke comes in. Luke apologizes about the trouble and procedes to tell Slim how much he wants Jess to stay, Andy thinks the world of him etc. His charming and disarming way has Slim blaming everything on Jess.

Luke says that Jess is right and confesses that he's been a gunfighter since the war was over. His folksy charm sucks Slim in with their mutual war background. He says how much he likes it here, Jess included. Slim asks him point blank if Luke hired out to kill him. Luke tells him directly that he did not. Suck...uh, Slim believes him. To cap off the humbleness, Luke asks for his pay. "It's probably better this way."

Slim refuses to accept his resignation. He says to leave Jess to him and it'll all work out.

The next morning Jess is saddling up in the barn. Slim comes in and wonders if Jess is leaving. Jess says he's just going into town. He's going to see what he can find out about Luke and McKeever and to warn Mort Corey.

He tells Jess of Luke's confession last night and it's the first job he's ever liked. Jess doesn't buy it. Slim says "didn't anyone help you out when you needed it?" Hurt Jess says "you really reached into the celler for that one, didn't you." Jess says that Luke is trying to divert suspicion by confessing to part of it, and Slim fell for it. Jess warns Slim to keep his eyes open while he's gone.

A moment later Mort's deputy rides up with news that Mort has been shot. He's been wounded badly but he's alive. Mort has asked for Slim to come to town right away. Jess says "do I have to spell it out for you?" Slim still stubornly resists saying that Mort being in gunfights is part of the job and his asking for Slim is probably only because they need a posse.

Slim asks Jess to come too, but Jess won't leave Luke alone with Andy. Slim and the deputy ride off to town leaving Jess alone with Luke and Andy.

Jess asks Luke what McKeever looks like. Luke professes to only have seen him a couple of times and describes him the best he can, but wants to know why Jess is asking. Jess says he just wants to know in case he shows up around there looking for Slim. Luke wants to know if Jess is trying to pick up where they left off last night. Luke doesn't want to fight but Jess has to drop the McKeever business.

Jess finally says he believes Luke, however it's quite obvious that he doesn't. Andy apologizes about what all he said last night and Jess does too. Andy says he'd never take sides against Jess. He says he wishes that Jess would settle things with Luke all the same. Jess ominously says, "I think they'll be settled pretty quick now."

Three men arrive at the ranch and meet Luke in the yard. It's McKeever and two other men. Luke is a little surprised to see him and tells McKeever maybe he should wait, maybe this isn't the right man. McKeever says he was sure when Luke wrote to him, what changed his mind?

Luke says he just ain't sure and he wouldn't want to make a mistake. McKeever describes Slim to a tee and is sure he has the right man. Luke is hedging now. He tells McKeever that Slim isn't there. McKeever knows Slim will be back eventually and they'll be waiting for him.

McKeever asks who else is there and Luke says another man, a "pretty good fighter, and he suspects me."

McKeever tells Luke to call Jess out. Luke agrees to but asks McKeever to not hurt Jess. He calls Jess out and Jess comes to the porch. Luke gets behind him and slugs Jess with his gun. Luke suggests McKeever goes back to town to save time as Slim might not come back for days. Luke tries several ploys to keep McKeever out of the house but McKeever isn't buying it. Luke hoists Jess over his shoulder and they all go into the house.

Inside Andy is setting the table all of a sudden, he knows Jess was right the whole time. Luke has collected all of the ammo in the house. McKeever intends to wait as long as it takes. Even if Slim comes back with a posse he wants to be sure Slim goes down first.

Later Jess and Andy are tied up in the kitchen. Luke is assigned to watch the back window and seems genuinely concerned about Jess, asking if he's feeling better. Andy is angry and says he should have known Jess was right about him. Luke agrees that he should have.

Luke assures Jess and Andy that they won't be killed. He goes to Ed to tell him that he has to promise to let Jess and Andy go "after". Ed doesn't promise anything. They get in an arguement and McKeever has one of his men tie up Luke and put him with the others. Luke tries to get McKeever to say he at least won't hurt the boy, but McKeever says they'll do what they have to do.

Luke, now sitting on the floor with Andy and Jess points out the medicine bundle he gave Andy earlier. Andy says he doesn't want it anymore. Luke tells Jess there is a sharp flint arrowhead in it. Meanwhile Slim is riding up outside.

Jess manages to get the bundle and Andy gets the flint out. He and Luke manage to cut Luke's ties, and in an unintentionally funny take, they are sitting back to back when McKeever and one of his men look at them. They freeze and look innocent, when of course a moment ago they were sitting facing forward. McKeever and his guy think nothing of it and turn away. I giggle every time.
Outside, Slim is suspicious and has brought several men with him who have taken positions around the house. Inside Luke is the first to get free and he runs out to warn Slim. McKeever shoots him in the back. The posse makes short work of the other men, and McKeever is shot in the front yard, but is alive. He spews his hate at Slim to the end.
In town, Andy is dressed for traveling and Jess and Slim are with him. McKeever's two men are escorted past them by deputys. Andy wishes he could stay for the trial but Slim says he has to go back to school

Andy says that Luke was his friend, and Jess agrees that he was, at least at the end when it counted. Slim agrees. They rehash what went down at the ranch. Slim had come in with help because Mort had told him about McKeever. He didn't know where Andy and Jess were so that's why they didn't come straight in.

The stage arrives and Andy begs again to be able to stay for the trial. Slim won't have any of it. He says, "you're going to become a smart man," as he hoists Andy onto the stage, "make something of yourself."

Andy says plaintively, and this is good, "But I don't wanna be smart! I wanna be just like you and Jess." They wave goodbye as the stage rolls away.

Annie's Favorite Moments:  In a show full of good juicy conflict and divided loyalties, my favorite moment is that "I wanna be just like you and Jess" line at the very end. The look shared between Jess and Slim at that moment is priceless. Otherwise, I love the beginning with the chase of the stallion and Jess getting dragged off his horse, saddle and all.

Notes of Interest:   We find out that Mort and Slim have a history together in Kansas before the Shermans settled in Wyoming.    

The Owie Factor:   Jess gets a good whollop on the head, then gets slung over Luke's shoulder (with his hands tied behind his back) like a sack of potatos. Flexible that one.

Annie's rating:I give this one 4 stars. All is not well at the ranch. There is conflict between Jess and his little buddy, between Jess and his big buddy, between Jess and Luke. Heck, Jess is at odds with everyone and the slings and arrows started with Slim even before they met Luke. Conflict makes for good storytelling and this one was good storytelling. Dan Duryea was able to make Luke sympathetic at the end. Slim was a blockhead. Sometimes he's thick as a plank. Just sayin'.

  • Dan Duryea as Luke Gregg
  • John Anderson as McKeever

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