A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die (1972)
aka Massacre at Fort Holman
Like many of the so called “tough guys” of the era, James Coburn found himself following Eastwood and Bronson to Italy to work with Sergio Leone. While Clint returned home, Coburn and Bronson hung around for some other Euro flicks which brings us to Coburn appearing in this Dirty Dozen themed western.
Starting off as if it’s the second act (apparently there is a longer version) we find Coburn and spaghetti regular Bud Spencer brought into a Union prison during the American Civil War. Coburn is a former officer and friend of the prison commander. Our ultra cool leading man quickly makes a deal to take back Fort Holman. It’s a post he himself previously commanded before surrendering it to the south.
Time for The Dirty Dozen connection. Coburn needs an elite force so how about some of the thieves, rapists and killers standing in front of the hangman. Given a choice their answers come easy. Differing from The Dirty Dozen, Coburn leaves the religious fanatic to the hangman unlike Lee Marvin in the classic war flick.
The trail ride begins to the Fort allowing Coburn’s new recruits the opportunity to ditch him and ride off. He promises buried gold at Fort Holman to keep them interested. The only one of the outlaws he can count on is the bearded Bud Spencer. Along the trail our group will ride into a creepy homestead that in itself could have been turned in to a western horror title where the farmer and his wife welcome strangers in but don’t expect them to leave. If you recognize the ranch from another western title than you have a good eye. It’s the McBain place from Once Upon a Time In The West.
It’s at about this point that Coburn’s main adversary enters the proceedings. Telly Savalas is the southern commander now in charge of Fort Holman. He and Coburn have a past history that’s going to come out over the last half hour of fireworks.
The highlight of the movie is the setting of the Fort and the caverns and swinging bridge to get into it. Telly is once again playing a no nonsense leader who puts men to death with little remorse when needed. He’s on a collision course with Coburn when Spencer under the guise of the South gets Coburn and the others into the fort.
The final battle is hell bent on explosions and gatlin guns and does it’s best to give us that Wild Bunch feeling. Bullets fly though the blood letting is tame compared to the Peckinpah film.
Thankfully both Savalas and Coburn haven’t been dubbed in the 92 minute version and it would be nice to piece the longer edition into this newly released print on blu-ray from Kino Lorber.
This spaghetti edition was directed by Tonino Valerii who also helmed the cultish My Name Is Nobody with Terrence Hill and Henry Fonda as well as the 1966 title Taste of Killing with Eastwood look-a-like Craig Hill.
If it wasn’t for a guy named Steve McQueen who knows, perhaps James Coburn could have received the tag, “King of Cool.” During the sixties and early seventies he sure seemed to fit the bill.