A Long Ride From Hell - Code Red, Blu-Ray Review
A Long Ride From Hell (Viva per la tua morte),reviewed by Michael Hauss
Many times, what at first has given us a bad reaction to a film, is the very reason or reasons after repeated viewings (if given that chance), that foster our new-found appreciation of the film! My initial issue with this film was the fact that the film was still an American Western at heart and was more of a hybrid than a bone-fide Italian western (The film is based on an American novel called the Judas Gun, written by Gordon Sherreffs). Another issue included Steve Reeves' appearance in the lead, he appeared more of a clean-cut hero as opposed to the dirty, shadowy anti-heroes the genre had made a staple of ever since Clint Eastwood first dawned his poncho in Fistful of Dollars. Reeves also appeared stiff and inflexible in the role, slow and lethargic in his bodily movements and awkward with the use of his colt. So why the change of heart you may be asking yourself! Well, I think one thing that initially gave me a dislike of this film is the reason I enjoy it so much today, after seeing hundreds of these films, a bit of an American western mixed into the proceedings was not such a bad thing after the repetitious glut of films in the (1968) time frame that this film was made. Also, when the men in these films were super-human in their use of weapons, and smooth as silk, a man who struggles a bit with his weapons is unorthodox in his handling of those weapons, is most assuredly a welcome exception.
Mike Sturges (Steve Reeves) runs a ranch and when his horses are stolen and most of his hands shot dead, he along with his younger brother Roy (Giovanni Ivan Scratuglia) and ranch hand ex-con Bobcat (Spataco Conversi), head out to get the horses back. The horses are their whole fortune. His mother who is administering to the injured ranch hand Tracy (Remo De Angelis), who made it back to the ranch, tells Mike to “please take care of your brother Roy,” to which Mike promises to. The three men decide to camp near the water supply of the Southern Pacific railroad line and during the night a man named Marin Mayner (Wayde Preston) arrives and is an old friend of Mike’s from Mexico way, Mayner is one of the men from the ambush and horse thieving earlier in the film. Mike says when asked why they are there, "chasing down a herd of horses stolen from them… figure the thieves passed by there for water." Mayner tells them to leave because the Southern Pacific railroad has been hit two or three times lately. The robbers have taken $20,000 and killed three agents. So now the railroad is keeping an eye on the right away. Mayner reveals that he is a special agent for the Southern Pacific railroad and tries to coax them into leaving the area. After Mayner leaves, Mike rides off to investigate and finds the Dragon Pass coach station in disarray from a dynamite explosion, when he returns he is lassoed off his horse and shot in the leg and is spared his life because as Mayner says behind his bandana, “he’s more good to us alive.” The gang led by Mayner attacks a train carrying $80.000 in gold coins, killing all the guards and crew, after after absconding with the gold coins, the car that had carried the gold to pieces is blown to smithereens.
The next morning the vicious sheriff Max Freeman (Mimmo Palmara) arrives and accuses Mike and Roy of being part of the robbery, beating first Mike and then Roy, until Roy passes out. Mike says that Mayner can vouch for him, but when one of the sheriff’s men asks the chief inspector of all the agents of the Southern Pacific railways, who has come to the site, he says he knows of no such man named Marlin Mayner in the railways employ. Freeman tells Mike, “You might survive a few years in that hellhole (Yuma prison), but he won’t, remember that,” referring to the smallish, underdeveloped Roy. Mike tells Freeman, “I’ll remember Freeman, I’ll remember everything, and one day I’ll kill ya! Remember that!”
At Yuma prison, which is a back-breaking hellhole indeed, Roy is subject to continuous torture, possibly an attempt to try and get the stoic Mike to break. Roy howls in constant pain. The sadistic guard Bill Savage (Nello Pazzafini) tells Mike, “You’re a tough critter to break, one day you’ll scream like your brother does!” The cellmates of Mike are planning an escape, led by Mason (Franco Balducci), but Mike tells Mason, he is Loco. If they would escape, they would have to get past the guards, the desert and then the bounty killers. During the night after another beating of Roy, by Bill Savage, Roy dies, and the next day while working the hills, Mike finally snaps after a guard tells him to dig a hole deep to suppress the smell of his brothers rotting carcass. The inmates spurred on by this, attack the guards and after an exciting vicious confrontation, only two inmates escape and are on the run from Bill Savage and his men. Mike Sturges makes it to a small Mexican village and goes to see a prostitute named Encarnation (Rosalba Neri) he knows, and she tells him the guards are looking everywhere, going from house to house. A knock on the door reveals none other than Bill Savage and after manhandling Encarnation, he is stopped in his tracks by Mike, who emerges, and after fisticuffs, Mike kills Savage with repeated blows to the heart with his fist. Mike escapes the town, and is chased by the guards and must take a plunge into a river as the guards pursued him to the edge of a cliff, a guard proclaims after the Mike's leap into the roaring river, “We can report Sturges dead.”
After surviving the plunge into the river, Mike must walk through the desert, which he eventually does accomplish after much tribulation, just as he reaches the surrounding hills, he walks on to his friend Mason, who is being accosted by a group of Mexican’s who are going to take Mason back to Yuma for the reward. Mike helps free Mason, but in the ensuing shootout, Mason is shot dead, while saving Mike from being shot. Mason tells Mike, that he would rather die than go back to Yuma, which he does in the arms of Mike.
Mike makes it to his hometown and runs into a female friend of his named Ruth (Silvana Venturelli), who tells him that his mother had died of a broken heart, and the ranch is now deserted. Ruth provides him with food and bullets, so he can make it to Naco to extract his revenge. Ruth who is obviously in love with Mike, tells him not to go and in another non-Italian western moment, Mike tells her to “wait for him” and they part with a kiss as Mike rides off to extract his revenge against the men who robbed the train,along with Max Freeman and Marin Mayner.
Now I’m not going to gloss over the inefficiencies this film has, one of which includes that magical endless supply of bullets into a gun that never appears to need to be reloaded and a bit of choppy editing, among other things. The movie does has its moments of bog and the score by Carlo Savina, is good, but uninspiring, excepting a good opening vocal theme song, sung by Don Powell. The camera work is excellent for the most part and the direction by Camillo Bazzoni (as Alex Burks) is assured and the only issue on the technical side was the vastness of some shots into the sun-bleached hills where this was filmed, it gives a bit of eye strain and makes the scene appear to be too wide in scope and over powers the visual senses. The revenge while somewhat fulfilling is ultimately empty as the building up of the antagonists are very limited, with the sheriff Max Freeman and Bill Savage getting the most screen development, while the others are empty vessels, the characters Baldy and Shorty only introduced during Mike’s revenge. The Marlin Mayner character is also flimsy and only pops in and out of the proceedings and is never overly villainous or developed enough, just another antagonist in cahoots with the corrupt sheriff.
The film though as a whole is above average and like noted above still has more of the American westerns mythology attached to it, but the law being crooked and the ample shootouts and bloodshed is all Italians. Reeves is a bit too uptight for the role and has a very limited acting range and a real shortage of emotions. This film though calls for the stoic hero and Reeves fits that part perfectly. The movie is aided by a fantastic cast of spaghetti western veterans which included Mimmo Palmara, Guido Lollobrigida, Nello Pazzafini, Franco Fantasia, Enzo Fiermonte, Aldo Sambrell, Rosalba Neri, Franco Balducci and Spartaco Conversi. Nello Pazzafini as the sadistic guard Bill Savage steals the scenes he is in and his demise takes a bit of the angst out of the flick.
Per the Spaghetti western expert Tom Betts, Steve Reeves had injured his shoulder severely during the early days of his Peplum career and always had issues with the use of the shoulder, which shows in his fight scenes and his use of a gun. The film has its Greek tragedy/Peplum devices firmly in place as the protagonist must go through many trials and tribulations to get to the hard fought, but emotionless end. The film uses some of the common plot devices from the Italian westerns, but with its point of origin in an American western novel, it avoids some of the more overused cliches. It does present the sheriff in the piece as corrupt and part of the evil fraction, which was most famously used in Fistful of Dollars when Joe, pulls the star off the sheriff and proclaims “You people need a new sheriff.” Another Italian trait the film has is its locale, which is another Southwestern town, near the Mexican border. This film is Reeves’ only Italian Western and it also marks his swan song film appearance. This reviewer only wishes that Reeves would have appeared in a few more of these films, and see where it took him, in a genre noted for “wooden” performances from the lead anti-heroes, he’s no more Unanimated then countless others. Reeves had purchased the rights to the book Judas Gun and had co-written the script along with Roberto Natale.
The Code Red Blu-Ray release is a beautiful presentation of a near flawless print, excellent audio and some wonderful special features provided by Wild East Productions, including a fascinating, informative interview with the late Mimmo Palmara. In the interview Palmara speaks at length about his career overall and his spaghetti westerns.
- Brand New 2k HD scan of the Original InterPositive
- On Camera interview with Mimmo Palmara
- At Home with Steve Reeves!
- Theatrical Trailer
Thanks as always to the spaghetti western expert Tom Betts