A Long Ride from Hell Review
From The Spaghetti Western Database
A Long Ride from Hell (Vivo per la tua Morte) / View Database Page
When the peplum genre had been ousted by the spaghetti western, Steve Reeves (‘the original Hercules’) had returned to his home country, but a few years later, he was back in Italy to try his luck with the new genre. A Long Ride from Hell was supposed to be his glorious come-back movie. He would not only star in it, but also co-produce it and contribute to the script, based on a western novel by Gordon Shirreffs, The Judas Gun . But instead of a glorious come-back, it became a disastrous goodbye. A Long Ride from Hell would be his swan song as an actor.
By 1968 the industry had become a bit reticent about making westerns with stars of the peplum era. Some of them, like Richard Harrison or Gordon Mitchell had made the transition to the spaghetti western rather smoothly, but others like Gordon Scott or Brad Harris had never been accepted wholeheartedly by western audiences. Manolo Bolognini, the producer of Django, showed no interest in the production and Alfio Caltabiano, the director of Pistoleros, rejected the offer to direct the movie. Both had little confidence in Reeves, who was thought to have the wrong walk for a western and couldn’t handle a gun properly (1). According to Mimmo Palmara Reeves was also far away from his best form physically. He was hindered by a painful shoulder injury that had already bothered him in his peplum days. But eventually a crew and cast was found, and the film was made. It was pulverized by critics, both in Italy and in the US, where it got a limited release in theaters on the east coast.
American critics usually knew only a limited number of Italian westerns – the Leones and a couple of outings starring Lee van Cleef – and were therefore very harsh on average, low-budget productions. Bazzotti is clearly no Leone, and Reeves no Van Cleef. However, this does not explain why critical reactions were so negative in Italy. I would call the film an above average genre effort. The story is a bit diffuse, with a subplot about stolen cattle that is mainly used to bring Reeves and his younger brother near the place of a train robbery, and to introduce Preston, an old friend of Reeves who’s about to betray their friendship (he’s probably the Judas from the novel’s title). Reeves and his brother are framed for the robbery and sent to the hell of Yuma State Penitentiary. Reeves first refuses to take part in an escape plan, but changes his mind after his brother is killed by a sadistic warden called Savage (they knew how to pick names in those days). When the warden starts provoking him with his brother’s death, he attacks the man, and subsequently uses the turmoil to escape and go after the men who have ruined his life.
The first half of the movie is quite good, with several furious gun battles, and a particular strong sequence in the Yuma prison camp, with Nello Pazzafini at his savage best as the warden. But in the second half things fall into a more predictable pattern, with the exception of the finale, in which Reeves does not kill Preston, but sends him to Yuma instead, because imprisonment seems a more appropriate punishment to him than death. I’ve never read the novel the film was based upon, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this finale was taken from it, because it doesn't sound Italian at all. Reeves may be more suited to he peplum than to the western genre, but the supporting cast is excellent. Preston and Palmara are amiable villains, and we witness a real plethora of familiar spaghetti western faces in often very brief parts. Rosalba Neri is the icing on the cake as a tart with a heart, called Encarnacion (Incarnation). The camerawork by Enzo Barboni is quite inventive, but also a bit arty farty, with many scenes shot into the sun, and a lot of back lighting effects during some other scenes, notably a shootout set in a mine-shaft.
- (1) Marco Giusti, Dizionario del Western all’Italiana - It is confirmed by Mimmo Palmara in an interview added as an extra to the Wild East release, that Reeves couldn’t handle a gun; most of all, he had trouble with cocking and re-cocking his gun quickly. It’s probably for this reason Reeves thought of Caltabiano as a director first; Caltabiano was known as one of the greatest ‘masters of arms’ in the business (see for instance how guns are used in Pistoleros)
- (2) Reeves had dislocated his shoulder during the filming of Gli Ultimi Giorni di Pompeï (co-directed by Sergio Leone!) when his chariot slammed into a tree. The injury aggravated because of the stunt work in every successive movie and would eventually make weight-lifting impossible and lead to Reeves' retirement from film making.