A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die is also known as Massacre at Fort Holman. At the time that it was made, Italian westerns had begun to copy themselves, as this was shot on the same set as The Deserter, in the same Almería, Spain locations as Leone’s films — you can see the homestead from Once Upon a Time In the West and the fort in this film was also used in El Condor — and even takes songs directly from Day of Anger.
It goes even further into Xerox territory by doing what several other Italian westerns had done: take an existing property and make it a cowboy film. This time, that movie is The Dirty Dozen.
Is it any wonder this was released by K-Tel?
What it has over most of its competitors is star power with James Coburn, Telly Savalas and Bud Spencer in the cast.
Disgraced Union Colonel Pembroke (Coburn) — reduced to looting a church — is arrested and tries to commute his sentence by saying that he has a plan to recapture Fort Holman, which he had previously surrendered to Major Ward (Savalas) and the Confederate army without firing a shot. He assembles the army which will help him take it back out of prisoners, including a deserter named McIver (Guy Mairesse, a murderer — of his commanding officer — and rapist — of his commanding officer’s wife — named Pickett (Benito Stefanelli), Fred the horse thief Fred (Ugo Fangareggi), medicine thief and black marketeer Will (Adolfo Lastretti), half Native American — and killer of his fellow soldiers for selling alcohol to the Apache — Jeremy (Joe Pollini, who was also the assistant director), Sergeant Brent (Reinhard Kolldehoff) — who somehow is wearing the cross of Pembroke’s dead wife — and a looter named Eli Sampson (Spencer). Only one of the group refuses, a religious pacifist agitator, who doesn’t want this strange opportunity for freedom and would rather the certainty of the gallows.
Pembroke tells them that there’s gold inside and that he’s a convict just like them. The truth is that he only gave up the fort because Ward had taken his son and promised he’d be returned if he complied. He did and his son was killed.
By the end, everyone — save Pembroke and Sampson — is dead. War is bloody and ruthless and unforgiving, but so is revenge. Blake lies dead, killed with his own sword. Probably the same sword that killed Pembroke’s son. But even if he has vengeance, he’ll never have his boy back.
Director Tonino Valerii also made Day of Anger, My Dear Killer, My Name Is Nobody and the JFK assassination in the west film Price of Power. He’s pretty good, even if his name doesn’t come up much in the conversation on Italian directors. This was written by Rafael Azcona and Ernesto Gastadi, whose list of credits could fill our entire site.
You can watch this on Tubi.