A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die Review
From The Spaghetti Western Database
A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die (Una ragione per vivere e una per morire)
|A REASON TO LIVE, A REASON TO DIE (1972)|
A Union army officer, Colonel Pembroke (Coburn), is tasked with recapturing his Fort Hollman from his nemesis, Major Ward (Savalas). To do this, he recruits seven war criminals and prepares for the inevitable battle ahead.
This is another great Spaghetti Western from the equally great Tonino Valerii. He creates a well made and superbly acted action film which retains that title even with a slow pace. He creates a great character study and is severely aided by a top notch cast, great stuntmen, wonderful music, and a fairly large budget. However, the budget no doubt went to the cast and the wonderful action finale. The finale is the only action scene in the film and is what makes this an action film. The rest of the movie is rather slow in pace but a strong feeling of tension throughout makes the actionless sections very easy to watch. It is all a build up to the action scene but still tells a great story at the same time. Let me put it like this. The tension and acting are the rails of the train. The train being the movie. And the passengers of the train is the action scene. The rails keep the train movng until the train pulls into the depot which is the finale part of the film, the passengers get out and stretch their legs. This is where the real fun begins. In other words, the tension and acting keep the film moving along until we get to the great and long awaited action finale. I make a big deal about the action scene because this is quite possibly the best action scene of the whole genre. I can't think of any as action packed and well filmed as this one scene. It is what gives the film its reputation. But, as I said, this is not all action. What I would call this film is an epic. Epic because when it is stripped down to the bottom, there is only a simple revenge story. This tiny aspect combined with several large scale scenes is what makes this film epic. Once Upon a Time in the West was a simple revenge story but is definitely an epic. Speaking of Leone, this film's opening scene strongly resembles a scene from a Leone movie. It is simple and drags on for a while but is still a very well filmed scene. This is also where the main characters are introduced. Mostly the characters of Coburn and Spencer. Surprisingly enough, these two have chemistry. They seem to respond very well to each other and their acting with Valerii's direction make the relationship believable.
The acting is simply great. James Coburn has always been one of my favorite actors and does not disappoint here. He is tormented by revenge and a feeling of failure. Telly Savalas is also great as Major Ward. There are some problems with his casting though. He is of Greek descent and I doubt many Greeks were in America at the time of the Civil War. He also is bald. The fashion back then was to grow a big beard not to go completely bald. But he gives a strong performance and is even given a chance to redeem himself in his charcter's past sins. Spencer is great casting. He gives this film a little lightheartedness and is a good actor. Because of him, this very serious movie was marketed as a comedy in Germany. The audience must have been shocked when they got a revenge themed action film.
The music by Riz Ortolani is great. He uses a lot of fuzz guitar and a small scale orchestra. Although not really that memorable, still fits the film and manages to be very good. Ortolani always brought a little something different to the films he scored. His score here is more mainstream but still a little different.There is some evidence that this is a reused score. Maybe only in some versions. The trailer uses the Day of Anger score.
The directing is absolutely great! Valerii puts in all the right ingredients to make a good dish of pasta. Here we have drama, action, tension, emotion, and revenge. As you might have guessed, he is excellent with the action scene. This scene is great. With his remaining budget, he creates a wonderful action piece full of gatling guns, dynamite, lots of shooting, and the grandiose fortress of El Condor. Great directing.
This film is not liked by all. They call it a rip off of The Dirty Dozen. But it is so much more than that. If you think about it, the action scene is so small compared to the story of revenge. The finale scene could have been done a lot more cliched. But, it stays true to its spaghetti roots and satisfies you. Great film. Highly recommended. A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die.
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