A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die (1972)
The Dirty Eight
"A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die" or "Una ragione per vivere e una per morire" as it is also known is rather an amusing movie. It's amusing not because it's a comedy, it isn't, but because it blatantly draws on "The Dirty Dozen" using a similar storyline of a group of convicts sent on dangerous mission but instead of a war movie it's a western. And then for good measure it is made in the style of the Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns, so you get the close ups of faces accompanied by powerful musical flourishes. Because of this, because it is so much of an imitation it ends up unintentionally quite laughable and the casting of James Coburn, Telly Savalas and Bud Spencer can't help lift it to be any better.
Sometime after having handed over a Union Fortress to the Confederates without putting up a fight disgraced Colonel Pembroke (James Coburn) finds himself brought in with a bunch of convicts. Explaining that he wants a chance to redeem himself he saves several men from being hung, enlisting them on a deadly mission to retake the Fortress and overthrow the Confederate army leady by Major Ward (Telly Savalas) who now control the strong hold. But are Pembroke's intentions as honourable as they seem or has he some ulterior motive for regaining the Union Fortress.
Within the first 15 minutes of "A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die" starting it is impossible not to realise that it basically draws on "The Dirty Dozen". The scene where Col. Pembroke walks along the gallows learning of the crimes of the condemned men before he gives them a chance to be pardoned is in essence the same as one in "The Dirty Dozen". And the influence continues through out the movie as we watch him have various problems with the men who he is in charge off. If that wasn't enough it even brings in a touch of "Kelly's Heroes" as suddenly there is supposed to be some buried gold in the fortress. All of this makes "A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die" pretty obvious for the most.
Although having said it is obvious it also tries to throw a few twists into the works as we start to question why Pembroke really wants to return to the fortress. And this then leads you to wonder whether his band of criminals will continue to support him. It's not a big enough sub plot to make "A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die" to feel original but it does stop it from feeling a complete and utter rip off of other movies.
All of which is shot in the styling of a Spaghetti Western with close ups of eyes, musical flourishes and in place of a pocket watch we get a pocket compass. It could have worked if director Tonino Valerii hadn't tried too hard to imitate Sergio Leone as what this ends up doing is making "A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die" feel like an imitation.
Another major issue is that although "A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die" stars James Coburn, Telly Savalas or Bud Spencer it basically all revolves around Coburn as Col. Pembroke. That causes an issue as although James Coburn delivers the mood and mystery surrounding his character it makes it hard going as pretty much every scene revolves around Pembroke. And when Pembroke isn't central it is Bud Spencer who although comes over as a nice enough criminal as Eli Sampson it just doesn't feel right. Then there is Telly Savalas who basically only appears for about the last half an hour and then doesn't really create the level of nastiness you would expect from the dictatorial Major Ward.
What this all boils down to is that you can't but help watching "A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die" and think of it as a pale imitation of various other movies. It doesn't quite work because it is all too obvious and at times is quite laughable in how much of a copy it is. Add to that a distinct lack of action and a reliance on James Coburn to make it work ends up meaning that it is quite disappointing.
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