In the years immediately following the Civil War, seven Texas cattleman, led by Col. John McElroy (Brian Keith), try to drive their cattle into Missouri. The terrains proves treacherous and the local Pawnees refuse to allow the cattlemen to pass through their land without paying a hefty fee for the right. McElroy and his followers go to Fort Hays and demands that the local railroad magnate, Huntingon Lawford (Addison Richards), extend his line into Texas. When both Lawford and martinet Calvary officer Capt. Benton (Alfred Ryder) refuse to help, McElroy and his man start sabotaging the railroad’s western expansion.
This brings them into conflict with Wild Bill Hickok (Robert Culp), Buffalo Bill Cody (Jim McMullan), and Calamity Jane (Judi Meredith), all of whom are working for the railroad! Hickok is an old friend of McElroy’s and Cody is sympathetic to McElroy’s cause but will they be able to broker a peace between the two sides? When Captain Benton plans to lure McElroy into a trap where he and his friends will fired on with a Gatling gun, it’s up to Cody and Hickok to try to prevent a massacre.
The Raiders starts out as a downbeat look at a cattle drive in the years when America was still trying to rebuild from the devastation of the Civil War. Brian Keith was one of those actors who was always ideally cast in westerns and war movies and he’s convincing as the tough but fair-minded McElroy. If the film had just been about McElroy, it would have been a good B-western. Instead, it brings heavily fictionalized versions of Wild Bill Hickock, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Calamity Jane into the story. Robert Culp, Jim McMullan, and especially Judi Meredith all overact in their roles and a lot of time is wasted on subplots like Calamity Janes being in love with Wild Bill and Buffalo Bill trying to prove himself to the older man.
The Raiders started out as a made-for-TV movie and it appears that it was a pilot for a proposed TV show about Calamity Jane and the Bills. (Brian Keith is even listed in the credits as being a “special guest star.”) When the pilot wasn’t picked up, the film was given a theatrical release but The Raiders still has the flat look and unimaginative editing of a television show. No matter how authentic Brian Keith’s performance might be, he can’t make up for the fact that the majority of the film was clearly shot on a studio backlot.