A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die Review (Scherpschutter)
From The Spaghetti Western Database
One year after Duck You Sucker! James Coburn went back to Almeria to shoot another spaghetti western. A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die (View Database Page) is a sort of The Dirty Dozen in western form, with a few pinches of Where Eagles Dare, The Wild Bunch and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
The film opens with a written statement:
“Today I walked through the ruins of what was once Fort Holman. 10 years ago, this Civil War fortress, thought to be impregnable, was destroyed by a wild bunch of marauders. Eli Sampson, a survivor of that massacre, revealed in an interview that the raid was the result of a blood feud between two bitter men: Colonel Pembroke, a Union officer, thought to be a traitor and a coward, led the mission to recapture the fort he had once surrendered. Major Ward, a ruthless "Mad Genius," who joined the Confederacy solely to gain command of Fort Holman, so that he could rule the vast surrounding Santa Fe territory after the war. But what motivates these two men and what caused this incredible blood bath, was explained by Eli Sampson in the story that follows”
While the text rolls over the screen, we watch Colonel Pembroke and Eli Sampson, overlooking the dead bodies of the men who were slaughtered during the massacre of Fort Holman. Sampson says that today he has killed for the first time in his life. We then move back in time, to the events that have led to the arrest of Pembroke and Sampson for looting. After the arrest, Pembroke tells the Union officer in charge that he could win back the fort he had given up earlier without a real fight, if the army would only give him twelve decent men. All he gets, is seven dirty convicts, who get the chance to choose between Pembroke and the gallows …
So far I had only seen a truncated version of the movie and I didn’t like it at all. The longer version has some twenty minutes of extra scenes in the beginning of the movie, among them the scene in which Pembroke and Sampson first meet and are arrested for looting. The new scenes seem essential, deepening the relationship between the two protagonists, and - above all - illustrating the contrast between these two men, the frustrated, introspective Coburn (who has lost both his honor and son to the war), and the ebullient Spencer (a good-for-nothing who uses all his wit and guile to survive in wartime). With these two central characters better defined, the entire first half works better, alternating dramatic with more lighthearted scenes, and transmitting some of the absurdity of war. In one scene we have Spencer running through the streets of a small town, shouting that the war is over, immediately turning the main street into the scene of a party. There are a couple of intriguing moments, such as the scene with one of the convicted men refusing Pembroke’s offer: a religious zealot who had protested against the war and categorically refuses to compromise in the face of death.
James Coburn is first-billed, but Bud Spencer has more screen-time. According to Valerii, the first choice for the Spencer part was Eli Wallach (1). The part seems indeed written with Wallach in mind, but the producers decided to replace him with Spencer, who had become a true star thanks to the Trinity movies (note that his character is called Eli). Telly Savalas as the ‘mad genius’ has a good death scene but is otherwise wasted. His character almost becomes ridiculous when Valerii has him light his matches on the genitals of a classic sculpture. The other characters are rather basic (there’s the looter, the vagabond, the rapist, etc.) and they are played by actors who were – so it seems – primarily chosen for their looks. Among others we get Ugo Fangareggi, the guy with the longest face in the world, while Benito Stefanelli once again is numero uno in the wonderful world of whiskers.
If the first half of the movie works well, the second half, with the elaborate plan to get into the fort, falls flat. Things only pick up in the grand finale, with a lot of explosions, Gatlin-guns, a few graphic killings and a lot of stuntmen falling from great heights. According to Jo on the French spaghetti western forum, Valerii had only five days to shoot the entire sequence. The fort was built for the movie El Condor, and used for spaghetti westerns and non-spaghetti westerns as well. The crucial ‘hanging scene’ was shot in another fort, Fort Bowie, built for another spaghetti western, The Deserter. The fort was refurbished for this movie, but the prison we see, consists of only a façade and a few props of wood (2).
Director: Tonino Valerii - Cast: James Coburn, Bud Spencer (Carlo Pedersoli), Telly Savalas, René Kolldehoff, José Suarez, Ugo Fangareggi, Adolfo Lastretti, Benito Stefanelli, Guy Mairesse, Paco Sanz, Angel Alvarez - Music: Riz Ortolani
Some additional notes on the different versions
Thanks to Phil H
The film was released at various lengths in different countries. The shortest version, with a running-time of no more than 79 minutes, was the German Klamauk version (a special version with a fun dub, to cash in on Spencer's popularity and sell it as a comedy). The longest version was the Italian edit (96 minutes, some sources say 98 minutes). In most other countries , among them UK, US and the Netherlands, it had a running time of a little over 90 minutes. Since then other, so-called composite versions have been released, and the longest version available, released on DVD by Wild East (3), has a running-time of 112 minutes (118 minutes in PAL). For some reason or another, Coburn’s voice was dubbed in this version, but there’s a fandub floating on the net in which his voice was re-inserted. It also has a different score by Riz Ortolani. This 112/118 minutes version is the longest available, but not the longest possible: the shorter version(s) include a few shots that are missing in the longer one.
- (1) Marco Giusti, Dizionario del western all'italiano