James Coburn is looking for a few bad men who have A REASON TO LIVE, A REASON TO DIE on Kino Lorber's Blu-ray.
Union Colonel Ballard (José Suárez, TEXAS ADIOS) recognizes disgraced Colonel Pembroke (Coburn) among a pair arrested for looting a church. Ballard gives Pembroke an audience out of respect when he proposes retaking Fort Holman which he had surrendered to Confederate Major Ward (Telly Savalas, HORROR EXPRESS) without a fight, giving the South control of the Santa Fe territory. Dangling the likelihood of a promotion to general in front of Ballard, Pembroke requests a team of twelve men and is given the pick of a smaller number who are scheduled to be hanged the next day: among them looter Eli Sampson (Bud Spencer, FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET), deserter/mule skinner McIver (Guy Mairesse, THE CONFESSION), Pickett (Benito Stefanelli, CASTLE OF BLOOD) who murdered his commanding officer and raped the man's wife, horse thief Fred (Ugo Fangareggi, THE CAT O'NINE TAILS), black market profiteer Will (Adolfo Lastretti, SHAFT IN AFRICA), and half-breed Jeremy (THE PUMAMAN's Joe Pollini, also the film's assistant director) who murdered a soldier who sold whiskey to the Apaches. Sergeant Brent (Reinhard Kolldehoff, DON'T LOOK NOW) gets forcibly volunteered by Ballard when he is discovered wearing the jeweled cross that belonged to Pembroke's late wife. Away from the fort and the threat of imminent execution, the men are uninterested in helping Pembroke save face until he reveals that the real reason he wants to infiltrate the fort is to recover five hundred thousand dollars in gold buried beneath a sundial within the walls. Bonded together by a couple comic and horrific misadventures on the journey to the fort that costs them one of their number, all but Pembroke are nevertheless skeptical that Eli can infiltrate the fort disguised as a Confederate soldier to disable the alarm system in order to get them in before Ward receives word that Pembroke has escaped the Santa Fe prison. On the inside with his hours numbered when he is suspected of being a spy, Eli learns more about Ward's taking of the fort and another reason Pembroke may have to raid it other than restoring his reputation.
A REASON TO LIVE, A REASON TO DIE is less a spaghetti western than a war pic along the lines of THE DIRTY DOZEN set during the Civil War. Greenlighted to make use of (and thoroughly demolish) the massive Mexican fort set erected for John Guillermin's Almeria-shot western EL CONDOR, the film is a fairly straightforward and undemanding as it builds up to its impressively explosive and violent finale. Coburn provides the gravitas while Spencer does the humor with only one sight gag about his girth. Second-billed Savalas, presumably in between stints on PANCHO VILLA and HORROR EXPRESS (also shot by NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF's Alejandro Ulloa), has a glorified cameo and literally goes out with a whimper. There is some suspense as to whether the gold exists and Pembroke's true motivations and the ending gives us a subtle twist on the facts as presented during the text scroll of the opening teaser; yet it remains entertaining in spite of its overall predictability. Released theatrically by K-Tel International Corp. in a version over twenty minutes shorter, A REASON TO LIVE, A REASON TO DIE! was released on VHS by Video Gems under the film's British release title MASSACRE AT FORT HOLMAN (also a shorter version). The uncut export version showed up stateside on DVD courtesy of Wild East (running 113 minutes as a Pal conversion), but MGM's master is the shorter American cut (89:07) as released on two TGG Direct DVD-R double features (with DEATH RIDES A HORSE or SINS OF THE FATHER) and Kino Lorber's current Blu-ray and DVD editions. I have not seen the longer edition, so I cannot tell you if the extra scenes add additional character shadings or just take longer to say the same things.
While Kino has regrettably not included the longer cut as an extra (as they have on FACE TO FACE), the ninety-minute cut of the film is the only version with Coburn's voice dubbing his performance (he is dubbed by another voice actor in the English version of the longer cut). The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen transfer starts off looking softish, although this does not seem to be an effect of the 2-perf to 4-perf blowing up of the Techniscope frame so much as the substitution of pre-credits and title sequence from a different element. The image becomes sharper and more colorful after the credits while softening again for some text inserts and then again for the jittery end credits (they're all full of pseudonyms anyway). The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack does more justice to the dialogue and explosions than the undistinguished scoring of Riz Ortolani (THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG). The sole extra is a trailer for NAVAJO JOE. (Eric Cotenas)
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