A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die review by JD
Review of A Reason to Live... A Reason to Die (1972) aka Una Ragione per Vivere... Una Ragione per Morire
American actor James Coburn is on of those actors that managed to have a decent career in both the American and Eurowestern films. He starred in such notable American westerns such as the legendary The Magnificent Seven, Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, as well as a few in the Eurowestern Genre, such as Sergio Leone's Duck You Sucker and Tonino Valerii's A Reason to Live... A Reason to Die (aka Massacare at Fort Holman)
Valerii you may know from his other films in the genre, such as Price of Power, Taste for Killing, the exceptional Day of Anger, and the Leone-produced My Name is Nobody. RTLRTD, from 1972, although not as well known as his other films, is still a pretty decent film, reminicent of the American commando film, "The Dirty Dozen". Bud Spencer, who usually stars in the slapstick westerns (such as the original Trinity films), also stars and plays it reasonably straight with a touch of lightheartedness.
Coburn stars as Colonel Pembroke, a former Union colonel who walked away from Fort Holman and gave it up to a crazy Confederate Major named Ward, oddly cast by Telly Savalas. We later find out that Ward had and killed Pembroke's son, and that's why Pembroke gave up. Anyways, Pembroke gets hauled in with Sampson (Spencer) over some gun and theivery charges, and is just about to be hanged, when the Union guy in charge takes up Pembroke's offer to recapture the fort. He recruits the other six ruffians about to be hanged that day, and they set out to sneak into the fort. Pembroke promises them a bunch of gold he has stashed there
Along the way, after several near mutinies, they make it inside the fort, and thanks to some sneaking around by Sampson, they eventually manage to take over the fort in a huge bloodbath, with only Sampson and Pembroke left standing. And of course, Pembroke avenges his son's death, too, with a sword to the guts.
I have to say, although at times there was some questionable acting, and Savalas was miscast (I mean, who's gonna take this bald, Greek guy with a NY accent as a Confederate Major?), I enjoyed this one, but I'm also a big Coburn fan, so that may have something to do with it. There were a few things that stood out as a bit odd, such as the electric alarm system in the fort... this is during the Civil War, and I highly doubt something so elaborate existed, and the very fort itself looks a bit too Spanish. And the idea of seven people wiping out an entire fort full of soldiers is a bit of a stretch, as well. Of course, the ruffians that Pembroke brings along are quite one-dimensional, and prone to overacting at times, but there was some great camera work in the film, a decent story, and a great soundtrack by Riz Ortolani. The opening scene of the film is really powerful: we see Pembroke with a sad, disgusted look on his face, and Sampson looking completely shellshocked, as he solemnly says, "Today I have killed for the first time.' The camera then pulls back for a slowly expanding aerial shot and we see that they're the only ones alive, surrounded by hundreds of bodies
So, it's a bit different than the usual genre plots, Coburn's fantastic as always, and Spencer shows that he knows how to do something other than comedy quite well. Wild East did a great job on the restoration, it looks and sounds pretty good. Although it's a mixed bag for several reasons, I'm still recommending it..
This article is part of the A Fistful of Pasta archive