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August 05, 2015

A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die!

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Una ragione per vivere e una per morire
Tonino Valerii - 1972
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

I guess it says something less than encouraging when you find that a movie was distributed in the U.S. by K-Tel, that company famous for the compilation albums of various "golden oldies", hit songs from the past, sold through commercials that were a staple on late night broadcast television. K-Tel's cinematic venture was short lived, primarily from 1973 through 1974, with about half a dozen films, with a too late attempt to jump on the Euro-Western bandwagon, when interest in the genre was fading. Among the couple of titles of interest: Sonny and Jed by Sergio Corbucci, and Frenchie King starring Brigitte Bardot and Claudia Cardinale. As the titles were a couple years old by the time K-Tel picked them up, they were presumably at fire sale prices.

From what I have read, Tonino Valerii's original version of A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die! ran for almost two hours. The version we have from KL Studio Classics is the shortest version, at 92 minutes. On the plus side, this is the version that has James Coburn and Telly Savalas dubbing their own voices for the English language track. From what little I've been able to glean from online sources, what is mostly missing from this version are scenes establishing the relationship between Coburn and Bud Spencer. For those unfamiliar with Bud Spencer, his is one of the more famous American sounding names used by Italian actors who became famous appearing in Italian westerns. The burly Spencer, born Carlo Pedersoli, was frequently cast opposite the blond, blue eyed Terence Hill, born Mario Girotti. Hill would star in Tonino Valerii's next film, My Name is Nobody. This version also has most of the cast and crew credited with the kind of names that attempt to disguise that most of the talent was Italian, Spanish or German, as if most American viewers would be fooled into thinking this was Hollywood production.

The story takes place during the Civil War. Superimposed over war photos taken by Matthew Brady or one of his contemporaries is a text supposedly taken from a Missouri newspaper from 1875. The photos appear to be authentic. Everything else in A Reason to Live . . is not. Coburn plays a Union colonel who's been dishonored for surrendering his fort, located in the New Mexico Territory, to a Confederate major, without engaging in battle. Coburn convinces a fellow commanding officer to let him take a group of men, condemned to be hanged, to retake the fort. Not only do the condemned men like the option of living a bit longer, but Coburn tells them that there is gold hidden in the fort. I have to assume that Telly Savalas, who plays the major, experienced some deja vu with his experience making The Dirty Dozen almost five year earlier.

As if a not-true story about a half dozen criminals taking on a small army isn't fantastic enough, I'm not sure what to make of Savalas or his character of Major Ward. Savalas speaks in his familiar cadence, with absolutely no attempt at anything resembling a southern accent. More perplexing is: what is that nude male statue, Michelangelo's David, without a fig leaf, doing in Major Ward's office? Was there anything in the original cut that would have provided some kind of explanation, or was the viewer to draw some kind of conclusion regarding this unusual aspect of this otherwise brutal character?

There may be a reason to live and a reason to die, but is there a reason to see this film? Probably more for the more dedicated fans of Italian westerns, than for the more casual viewer. A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die! is entertaining, mostly due to the presence of Bud Spencer. There isn't the goofy charm of My Name is Nobody, or the intriguing concept of The Price of Power, in which the assassination of John Kennedy is recast in the old West.

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Posted by peter at August 5, 2015 07:47 AM