By the early ’70s, the whole spaghetti Western thing had gotten pretty wheezy, but that didn’t stop enterprising international producers from hiring American tough guys for more tedious slaughter in the arid plains, usually set to insanely overwrought music by Ennio Morricone or one of his numerous clones. In the forgettable A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die, the old Dirty Dozen formula of convicts recruited for a suicide mission is applied to Civil War intrigue. At the beginning of the movie, Union officer Colonel Pembroke (James Coburn), an otherwise hard-as-nails military man, is pilloried by his superiors for surrendering a supposedly impregnable Union fort to ruthless Confederate officer Major Ward (Telly Savalas). Pembroke offers to redeem himself by retaking the fort, but the only men the Union will give him are a group of condemned scoundrels. To motivate these lowlifes, Pembroke claims that his real motivation is recovering $500,000 in gold from the fort, but it’s clear he’s compelled by something deeper. The eventual revelation of what’s driving Pembroke is potent enough that it should have been articulated at the beginning of the movie, because this simple revenge angle gives the story clarity it lacks until the revelation. However, murky motivation is the least of the picture’s problems, because the movie also lacks distinctive characterizations, interesting drama, and really much of anything resembling narrative momentum; between the set-up and the finale, all the characters do is quarrel and wander without much interference from outside parties. This makes A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die quite boring, no matter how effectively Coburn scowls from beneath his cowboy hat. Plus, as in most spaghetti Westerns, much of the dialogue is dubbed, with supporting actors clearly speaking Italian on-set. So while this movie may indeed provide a reason for its characters to live and a reason for its characters to die, it certainly doesn’t give viewers a reason to watch.
A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die: LAME