Saturday, 19 December 2009

Steve Reeves Spaghetti Six Shooter

Vivo Per La Tua Morte
Aka A Long Ride From Hell

‘‘I’ll remember, Freeman. I’ll remember everything. And one day I’ll kill ya. You’ll remember that !’’

The Herculean Steve Reeves trades loin cloth for denims and chariot for sturdy steed, as he rides tall in the saddle in his first and only spaghetti western. A fan of the genre but sadly due to an injury his foray into this forum of film was cut short in his prime. This then proved to be his initiation into the highly popular Spaghetti franchise of the Sixties, and ultimately his final big screen appearance. But, what a entry to make for the muscular man oak. A tale of injustice, suffering and ultimate revenge with Reeves as the star flexing his muscles to the tune of an Italian Spaghetti Western theme, that enhances his credible appearance.

Whatever ill doing is thrown at him he dishes back out come closing credits, and with a well regarded novel of the time transposed to screenplay the story is a solid one, and translates to screen very well. Finally then, A Long Ride From Hell, arrives Uncut on DVD thanks to Wild East, and it is a release that cries out for any Spaghetti Western lovers collection.
Steve Reeves plays the role of Mike Sturges, the elder brother and head of the family small ranch. Raising cattle and horses to trade at market to maintain a steady income for his dependants. When some of his men are attacked by masked cattle rustlers whilst taking cattle to town he rides off in pursuit, along with his younger brother Roy and his long time trusty foreman. Come night time they make camp at the side of the railway and become unwittingly embroiled into a spiralling decent into Hell. They are visited by an old friend of Mike’s named Marlin Mayner, who warns them not to stay as the Southern Pacific Railways have trigger happy agents patrolling the area. Mayner reveals himself to be an agent himself for the railway, but there is something that is not quite right about this chance encounter !?. When Mayner takes his leave, Mike takes a ride by horse around the surrounding area and is soon set upon by a gang of well armed men. He is shot in the leg, but left alive to bare witness to the events that quickly transpire with reckless and violent abandonment. The well organised gang of horseback riding professionals attack a train carrying a bullion of gold, as it comes to a stop to fill up with much needed water. The assault is swift and savage as no one is left alive in the barrage of bullets and explosives, ripping the train apart and leaving the robbers to escape with the gold.

Mike Sturges stumbles through the wreckage and finds his foreman dead at the scene. He crawls back to his nearby camp in search of his brother, only to finally pass out with exertion. He is forcibly awoken as morning breaks as the sheriff and his men arrive and take Mike and his wounded brother Roy as being members of the attacking gang left behind due to their injuries. Sheriff Freeman is a nasty piece of work and acts on the spot as judge and jury towards the Sturges brothers. He is prevalent in assuring the two of them get sent to do hard time at the infamous Yuma state penitentiary, knowing full well that Mike’s younger brother Roy will not survive the incarceration. Mike knows full well he has been set up and that Freeman is far from the law abiding officer behind the badge he wears.

Yuma is hell in the Arizona desert, an arid environment where the prison guards are vicious and more corrupt than the majority of prisoners that they lord over. The head warder is Bill Savage, a particularly nasty individual who takes against Mike Sturges immediately, but in order to break him he picks upon his weaker brother. Roy is tortured as an example to the inmates and as a direct act of provocation against Mike. The rage within Mike grows each day and with an inmate insurrection, led by a guy named Mason, coming to the fore Mike acts when coldly informed by Savage that Roy has died !. In the rock breaking quarry amidst the scorching heat Mike’s contained fury erupts and he strikes out at a guard, takes his gun and shoots all who stand in his way. Mason rallies the inmates and all hell breaks loose as the prisoners take on the guards in hand to hand combat, and an exchange of bullets as they overpower the weapon wearing guards.

The movie plays out in pretty much three acts and each is as satisfying as the last, but it is perhaps the survival instinct of our protagonist in Yuma that stands out. The final third act of course has Mike Sturges fully fit and focused on exacting his vengeance upon the bad guys. He uncovers a deep rooted conspiracy that involves the sheriff and the Southern Pacific Railway itself, as well as unveiling the connection with his one time friend Marlin Mayner.

Steve Reeves did a great job in getting this production up and running and takes the lead role extremely well. He does perhaps overlook the traditional dishevelled look associated with Spaghetti Westerns that stood Clint Eastwood so well as the anti hero. Reeves chooses to stay mostly clean cut looking and sporting a head band even when breaking rocks during the hard labour at Yuma Penitentiary. When he does sport stubble it adds more credence to his character. As a hands on producer what he did do with clear distinction is gather around him a very solid cast of co-stars. The cast roster reads extremely well and Director Camillo Bazzoni gets great performances out of the likes of Mimmo Palmara and Wayde Preston particularly.
Shot in Spain with a predominantly Italian crew and production the film does play more like an American western, which of course is how a great deal of these films were shot as they were aimed at the bigger financial market of American audiences. The unmistakeable opening credits are born out of iconic Italian Spaghetti Western themes, as are the regular bursts of background jingles throughout the movie to keep the pace moving along. Steve Reeves is less engaging as a western hero than he was as the god like Adonis in his epic sword and sandal cinematic roles. It would have been intriguing, however, to see him have gone on to do more westerns as he would have become more comfortable and ultimately more at ease in the genre.

Mike and Mason evade capture longer than most of the less savvy convicts that break jail with them. Hot on their tail though is the slovenly warder Bill Savage, but Mike Sturges will not hide from this evil man when the inevitable face to face time arrives, and of course it does !. There are far greater problems to overcome though as beyond the solitude of Yuma is the searing Arizona desert heat, and laying in wait are the multitude of ruthless bounty hunters !. Mike has a reason to survive beyond the reasonability of most men, and his inner fortitude to return back home and take revenge upon those that done him wrong keeps him alive.

With the trend of so many Italian movie stars throughout the years seeing them go from the sword and sandal epics into westerns, then onto crime flicks during the Seventies and ultimately then etching out an extended career with the Action movies during the Eighties, who knows how much more we could have seen of Steve Reeves as an actor ?. Seeing him alongside Franco Nero and Maurizio Merli kicking crime into touch whilst racing around the streets of Rome in a police car would have been potentially big fun. Imagine then being asked by an Antonio Margheriti or Enzo G. Castellari, in his mid fifties to head up an all Action jungle commando flick as a seasoned mercenary or Vietnam commander in those glorious Eighties adventures. Now that could have been very cool indeed.

With A Long Ride From Hell, Steve Reeves bows out on a pretty memorable note though and it is satisfying to know that for him personally he got to achieve a personal goal in making a Spaghetti Western. Hercules with a hat, on a horse, now that’s some mighty movie muscle pulling power for sure.
Review Paul Cooke / Source NTSC Region 1 DVD
A Long Ride From Hell (1968)
Director Camillo Bazzoni
With Steve Reeves, Wayde Preston, Guido Lollobrigida,
Mimmo Palmara, Silvana Venturelli & Nello Pazzafini


  1. Is this out dvd somewhere? I think Reeves was great, but I've only seen him in peplums and it would be nice to see a western for once :)

  2. Fred, the movie is indeed out on US NTSC Region 1 DVD from Wild East. Be sure to grab their version as other releases are in Full Screen & I dare say Wild Easts is the best quality version of the movie.
    There is a Wild East DVD up on Ebay presently: