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It's an exciting SW with breathtaking final showdown between the protagonists and their enemies full of explosions , machine gun and deaths . James Coburn is very fine, he ravages the screen, he steals the show as Union colonel seeking revenge . Telly Savallas as a cruelly baddie role as confederate officer is terrific , subsequently the would play similar roles in other Spaghettis . Furthermore, appears usual secondaries of Italian/Spanish Western as Benito Stefanelli , Francisco Sanz , Jose Suarez and of course special mention to Bud Spencer in a serious role . The film blends violence, blood, tension, high body-count and though the first part is slow moving , however is quite entertaining. There is plenty of action in the movie , guaranteeing a shootout or stunt every few minutes. There are many fine technicians and nice assistant direction and excellent production design with a magnificent scenario plenty of barren outdoors, dirty landscapes under a glimmer sun and a fine set on the final scenes . The musician Riz Ortalani composes a nice Spaghetti soundtrack and well conducted ; it's full of enjoyable sounds and emotive score . The film is well shot in Texas Hollywood-Fort Bravo, Almeria, Spain with a breathtaking set design at the impressive fortress which was made by Julio Molina for ¨the Condor ¨ movie , one of the best ever created and where were posteriorly filmed several Spaghetti as ¨ Blind man ¨, ¨ A man called Noon¨ and ¨Conan the Barbarian¨. Nevertheless, today the fort has been partially crumbled and only remain some ruins .
Tonino Valeri's so-so direction is well crafted, here he's less cynical and humorous and more inclined toward violence and too much action especially on its ending part . Colorful and evocative cinematography by Alejandro Ulloa , reflecting marvelously the habitual Almeria outdoors . The picture is well directed by Tonio Valeri , an expert on Western as proved in ¨The hired gun ¨ , ¨My name is nobody ¨ with Fonda and Terence Hill , ¨The price of power ¨ with Giuliano Gemma and Van Heflin , ¨The day of anger ¨with Lee van Cleef and ¨ Taste of Killing¨ with Craig Hill and George Martin .
Inspired by The Dirty Dozen with a bit of Where Eagles Dare and The Wild Bunch thrown in, this is an entertaining Italian western/Civil War movie that makes good use of the massive sets previously built for the film El Condor.
Generally worth recommending, Massacre At Fort Holman (also widely known as A Reason To Live, A Reason To Die, with Coburn dubbed by someone else and Bud Spencer apparently by character actor R.G. Armstrong!) sags some in the middle but things pick up and the final battle is fairly exciting.
There's a great performance by the always cool James Coburn, while that of the supposedly insane Telly Savalas is actually more subdued than usual. He was much more zesty in Pancho Villa and A Town Called Hell, though this is still a better movie.
Like most films of this ilk, it's systematic with its staples as the theme of vengeance and redemption looms prominently. There's no real change of route, as it keeps it gritty and the straight-forward narrative never loses focuses, especially that of the character's motivations with it to throw up a sudden revelation (which my DVD synopsis' spoiled). The expandable characters are clichés, but workable as they serve their purpose with it ending on a bang. It actually starts with the end, to only retell the story from Spencer's character's point of view. This gives it like a mythical tale-like quality. It's well shot with a commendable music score. Valerii does a serviceable job behind the camera letting it move at a fair pace while constructing few intense scenes and cracking action sequences, like the delirious climatic showdown at the hillside forte (with it vivid locations), which had me thinking of "The Wild Bunch" (in which case Coburn would star in Peckinpah's "Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid" the following year), but in the end you feel like there just wasn't enough going on. Some moments should have been much stronger than they were, like the personal battle between Coburn and Savalas.
Contrived, but tough and dirty entertainment.
Joplin Gazette, Joplin Missouri, April 10, 1872
---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---
It's a written opening that grabs the attention straight away, it has all the promise of a spaghetti western done Peckinpah style. Then early in proceedings a grizzled James Coburn walks along a line of men about to be hanged, being introduced to them and calmly wondering if said scum-bags would like to stave off execution by accompanying him on a suicide mission? OK, it's derivative of The Dirty Dozen five years earlier, but if this is blending Peckinpah with Robert Aldrich at his best then it will be worth every second spent with it. Sadly it doesn't come close to living up to that particular promise. But it does have points of worth within.
If you are willing to invest some patience with the slow narrative and get to the carnage finale unscathed? Then it's actually worth the wait as regards action. There's also some fine photography from Ulloa around Almeria in Spain, while Ortolani's soundtrack score blends well in context to the story. However, away from Coburn the acting is sub-standard, especially from Savalas who is miscast, while some suspension of disbelief is needed once the group reach the fort. But all in all it's a safe recommend to fans of Westerns, spaghetti or otherwise. And certainly a must for Coburn fans. 6.5/10
Footnote: The full cut of the film now runs at just shy of two hours in length, film buyers should ensure that they buy home format discs that run at around the 113/114 minute mark.
Colonel Penbroke (James Coburn) is trying to redeem himself after losing a fort to the rebs, and, like The Dirty Dozen, gathers condemned men to take a fort. He only has six or eight, not a dozen, but they manage to get to the fort anyway. Getting in is another matter.
This is where it changes from a western to a commando flick, a la WWII. The condemned all die thinking they would be rich off the gold supposedly buried in the fort, and Coburn gets his chance to once again face Maj. Ward (Telly Savalas).
Lots of dead Rebs and only Pembroke and Eli (Bud Spencer) survive, but his honor is restored.
The script by Rafael Azcona, Ernesto Gastaldi, Jay Lynn and Tonino Valerii is hardly original, amounting to nothing but a "Dirty Dozen" rehash, but it is adequate: during the American Civil War, the disgraced Colonel Pembroke (James Coburn) tries to retake a heavily defended fort that was taken by the Confederates from him without a shot fired, a mystery that helps drive his character, by using twelve recruits who he has saved from death sentences.
Despite the lack of originality in the screenplay department, the spirited direction makes the story rattle along at a breathless pace to the expertly staged, wholesale carnage at the end. Throughout, the the three leads fare remarkably well and are the only ones who are given any sort of more than superficial examination of their past. The music by Riz Ortolani, all powerful horns, is masterly, compensating for uninteresting photography.
The fast pace and direction help raise this Spaghetti Western into a higher plane, turning it into a very, very enjoyable film.
This heterogeneous and satisfying western is an odd proof that Valerii was an underachiever and that he should of been one of the most respected western directors ever. The movie is, as I said, very heterogeneous; but it also shows a flawless gusto and an unfailing taste for what an action film must be, and has an admirably pure line, there is this purity of the narration that makes it especially likable.
In a few words, it is the Dirty Dozen set during another warin 1862, I think.
It has been noticed that there are some WW 2 action films that are essentially westerns. Well, here we got the symmetrical situation: the Coburn western is essentially a commando flick.
A commando of only eight men, all evildoers (Coburn and B. Spencer are the most familiar faces ) is sent to conquer a fort; the fort is ruled by Major Ward (i.e., Savallas). Savallas and his soldiers are Southerners.
In a too small role, Savallas makes yet another of his outstanding villains.
Coburn's character isn't a lowlife, but a Colonel that wants to conquer the fort that he surrendered to Major Ward.
Most of the film is made in a humorous key. B. Spencer is the protagonist of all sorts of bodily jokes, there are discussions about buttocks, urinating and umbilical region. If you allow me an impious thought, who could imagine Wayne, G. Cooper or Mitchum forcing unsuccessfully to urinate, simulating vainly that they urinate, and complaining about their asses being inflamed by horse-ride? I guess it somehow depends on your particular sensibilities, yet this comic is never displeasing or misplaced or disgusting. It is simply Gargantuan joking.
The very long fight scene is particularly pleasingonce the commando enters the fort, a long battle begins. The movie's end is somehow a twistfor me, it was a twistI expected a duel, etc.. Anyway, Savallas is very good. These three actorsCoburn, B. Spencer and Savallasgive the film a particular charm.
The fight scene is indeed an interesting one, though on another level than the rest of the movieit's like the film suddenly changesthe feel, the style change suddenly, and we get one of the finest fight scenes, like an ultracompact Dirty Dozen!
During this last part of the moviethe fightthe tone becomes intensely and convincingly , seriously dramatic. One could define the film in its entirety as a very funny, comical western, excellently played, and with a long very dramatic fight scene. Coburn meeting Savallas is really chilling and thrillingand Savallas indeed looks as if he was dying when Coburn pierces him with the sword. I dislike disclosing here the endyet Savallas' death was of course foreseeable and on the other hand and much more important Savallas' death scene is so important and finely done and interesting that it of course deserved to be explicitly mentioned here.
A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die is rather short. B. Spencer has most of the screen time. Everything seems to happen very quickly; Eli's (B. Spencer's) sabotage techniques allow for many funny things to be played. Eli and the Colonel are the only two good guys in the film; Eli is as intelligent as the Colonel, and sides with him on every occasion.
The humor is of course manly and also very unsubtle; the naturalness gives charm to the comic strips story, while B. Spencer's sometimes aggressive humor is amusing in his usual buffoonish way. This '72 western comes towards the end of B. Spencer's career in the westernsin '73 he'll launch his Piedone. He alternates placidity with aggressiveness ,having already found the formula of his action roles.
On the other hand, I have to say that, with all its merits and qualities, A Reason to Live remains a modest thrilling funny likable action western, and it's in no way the equal of a film like The Dirty Dozen (where everything was infinitely better, worked much better, etc., there was plenty of action and suspense, the characters had their individuality and the finest actors abounded!).
With five outlaws saved from the gallows, and a soldier thrown in for good measure by the Major, Pembroke makes his way back to Fort Holman, dangling a five hundred thousand dollar promise of hidden gold to his rag tag band. Curiously, it seemed to me that once the bullets started to fly, Pembroke lost more men than he started out with, but then again, I wasn't counting. In what looked like the complete reverse of the situation at the end of "Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid", it appeared that Pembroke's bunch had the entire Rebel garrison at Holman surrounded, managing to destroy everything in sight while picking off a swarm of soldiers who never seemed to be seeking cover from all the gunfire. Holman's commander, General Ward (Telly Savalas) must have figured that being this close to the end of the flick, he might as well take Pembroke's sword to end it all. The set up seemed to suggest that Ward and Pembroke were mortal enemies, but if they were, I'm not going back to find out why.
The print of the film I viewed probably didn't help matters any, it was a cheap DVD I picked up for a buck, and was quite dark and muddy throughout. I will give credit though to Pembroke's military ally Eli Sampson (Bud Spencer), he got an awful lot of mileage out of the old, hey the War is over gimmick. As for the half million in hidden gold - nope, it never turned up.
** Una ragione per vivere e una per morire (1972) Tonino Valerii ~ James Coburn, Telly Savalas, Bud Spencer
Interestingly, although neither the director nor the writers drew any parallels to history, "A Reason to Live; A Reason to Die" sounds something like the siege of Vicksburg. At Vicksburg, on the bluffs of the Mississippi River, Pennsylvania born John Pemberton commanded the city and forted themselves up against the Union Army and U.S. Grant. Eventually, Grant starved the Confederates out of Vickburg and Pemberton was branded as a traitor for surrendering the city. When the Union Army captured Vicksburg, they cut the Confederacy in half, severing the Eastern Theater from the Western Theater. The officers in "A Reason to Live; A Reason to Die" depicts Fort Holman as a stronghold for the Union. When Pembroke gave up the fort, he was branded as a traitor like Pemberton for losing Vicksbug. Of course, events have been changed throughout the film, but you can see the dregs of history percolate up to the surface. In this respect, "A Reason to Live; A Reason to Die" isn't strictly a western
A REASON TO LIVE,A REASON TO DIE is one of my favourite Spaghetti Westerns,the highlight of the whole film has got to be the climatic battle inside Fort Holman.The whole sequence was spectacular, exhilarating,absolutely riveting and shot in a fun, exciting way.As with every other Spaghetti western, the stunts in this sequence are awesome, the shots of masses of soldiers being gunned down by Gatling Guns and pistols and furiously flinching, falling down steps and off of walls as they got shot were fantastic and sent my pulse pounding and adrenaline surging through my veins. The massive explosions were mind blowing and the shots of the wagon sheds angrily exploding with flames tearing them apart blew me away, I was completely awestruck by how I could feel the thundering impact of every explosion as the camera shook violently every time something was blown apart. Pembroke and his men kick ass and raise hell in rollicking Spaghetti western fashion as they throw packs of Dynamite over the fort walls and into the fort, destroying the entire place and taking out dozens of men and tearing up buildings. One part in this sequence which made me laugh was when Eli grabs two soldiers manning a Gatling Gun, bashes their heads together and throws them off of the fort wall. I was extremely impressed by the Fort Holman set and awestruck just by how vast and huge it was and how expertly designed and built it was.This final battle is the only action scene in the whole film and the director does a great job in building up to this explosive, ear shattering, all-guns-blazing finale.
The cinematography was incredible, with stunning shots of the rocky, sun baked mountains, as I've already stated, the excitement and energy of the final battle is captured magnificently. The shots of the Steam Engine chuntering down the track early in the film were also excellent. I thought Colonel Pembroke was a strong character and was portrayed excellently by James Coburn, even though he gets very little screen time, Telly Savalas absolutely superb as the crazed Major ward, I loved the part during the battle in which he shoots a deserting soldier before screaming "There'll be no time for court martials, EXECUTION ON THE SPOT". Bud Spencer was magnificent and the guy who played the brutal union Sergeant also gave a decent performance, I also thought the dubbing was terrific, although the voices of James Coburn and Telly Savalas sounded genuine, I thought the rough, deep voices of the characters were cool/The storyline was appealing, interesting and marvellously gritty and the pacing was satisfactory with the men constantly getting closer to the fortress. The final scene between Colonel Pembroke and Major Ward was chilling, taut and really nail biting and shot in a mind blowing, gut wrenching way, I sensed a brief anti war comment at the end of the film when Colonel Pembroke cuts down the confederate flag, then throws down his sword and takes off his gun belt and throwing it on the ground. I had no fingers left after the men scaled the cliff face, the shots here were amazing too.Riz Ortolani's score was exceptional, the title music was beautiful, it reminded me of the music in the American westerns of the 40s and 50s.The hairs on the back of my neck stood up prior to the battle as Pembroke and his men emerge on a ridge and shoot two guys before Pembroke screams "GO GET EM" and the men charge towards the fortress and begin hurling dynamite over it's walls as the epic soundtrack plays in the background.
A REASON TO LIVE,A REASON TO DIE is a flawless Spaghetti Western,it has an engrossing, intriguing and intelligent civil war storyline,fantastic script and characters, stupendous and brisk camera-work, a tremendous soundtrack which sounds magnificent in the film, dozens of intense and exciting scenes which are well directed, shot and paced and an electrifying,out-of-this-world action sequence to top it all off.10/10.
In beginning with the fallout of the all out warfare, the film reveals to us its hand in regards to precisely where it's headed; a tactic we do not necessarily mind, and have indeed come to quite enjoy under varying guises from throughout cinema's long history. Some of the better instances, and the range of examples can be rather vast, arrive in the form of De Palma's Carlito's Way or Billy Wilder's classical era noir Double Indemnity; as two films with the eerie ability to snare us into proceedings and still have us as involved as much as we are by the time the conclusion arrives in exactly the manner we saw or heard during the opening beats. Valerii's film follows that of James Coburn's disgraced colonel Pembroke, and his propulsion from such a state into the messy world of suicide missions and open warfare in which he is the leader of an array of troops one would be a fool to not label the underdogs as to where they're eventually to head.
When we first come across Pembroke, it is when the man is scraggly and worn in spite of his rank. He is a thief; a man on his way to jail, that is until he is identified by another official of a more gracious ilk and called into his quarters for a talk. An appreciator of fine wine and enjoying the high life that comes with having gone through the system, a life including armed guards; respect, it seems, and the ability to be so eloquent in one's multi-tasking when speaking of the wine and the mission in equal balance, Pembroke's saviour and his sitting opposite the bedraggled Pembroke displays, in sharp contrast, the deep difference between what a colonel should be and what Pembroke is. Pembroke has proposed to him a mission, a mission to try and recapture a fort for this, the side of the Union Army, from that of the Confederates whom took it under the command of Telly Savalas' Major Ward – a recapturing, it is deemed, that is best preordained by that of an underground tunnel which needs to be taken first. As the gallows outside are readied, and Pembroke contemplates his situation, he begrudgingly accepts and proceeds to round up a disparate array of Apaches; Mexicans; fanatics and rapists from the death roll for this dangerous mission.
Pembroke, indeed the majority of the clan, are effectively on a quest for redemption; a quest surmised by the fact the nickname for the large fort they're due to take is that of the "Pulpit", in regards to its situation on that of a mountain, but a highly religious nickname neatly encapsulating the redemptive element of their mission as they attempt to do good for a change, and get the commanding officer back at the base whom sent them away the promotion he feels he deserves. People will be quick to point out the ties to The Dirty Dozen, but Valerii's piece owes so much more to Leone's game-changing Spaghetti Western The Good, The Bad and the Ugly; an apparently knowing point of inspiration inherent with the fact Pembroke initially brushes off enquiries to the rest of his crew with the promise of enemy gold buried out there in the region of where they're headed.
Alas, the rest of the film is not up to the standard of Coburn's grizzled, underplayed performance of which he instills within his character and unloads into the film; the man playing the material in a fashion that is better than what the film deserves and is a performance which belongs in a better film. There are skirmishes with those they come up against; disagreements within the band of proverbial brothers as one or two of them express their desires to flee, the bedding down for a night's sleep ought to being a good source of tension as Pembroke's no-nonsense attitude clashes with cut-throats wanting to flee, but it mostly falls flat. One occasion witnesses the stumbling across of a secluded farm, a set piece that, again, ought to rack up a fair degree of tension what with the group of bandits and rapists Pembroke has in tow being forced into sharing the same space as decent civilian folk, but it fails to induce much in the way of effective drama and instead leaves rather-a nasty taste which feels misplaced in an otherwise guilty, old fashioned romp which is a deeply underwhelming experience on the whole.
Most of the characters are sidelined in favour of the big hitters, but small wonder when this film features James Coburn and Telly Savalas as protagonist and antagonist respectively. Coburn is stoic, sardonic and a fitting hero, while Savalas plays it subdued throughout. There's also a major role for spagwest stalwart Bud Spencer. Throw in some wonderfully filmed explosions (that put anything Michael Bay's done since to shame) and an epic-feel climax and you have a film that's never less than entertaining.