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As well as being his only Spaghetti Western, A Long Ride From Hell holds the distinction of being Steve Reeves's (Hercules, Goliath and the Barbarians) final film. With early retirement from action films reportedly being forced upon him by a recurrent problem with a shoulder injury, it seems that Reeves was determined to fulfill an ambition to star in a Western feature before bringing his acting career to a premature close. Reeves proceeded to buy the film rights to Gordon Shirreffs's book The Judas Gun and set about co-writing the screenplay that became A Long Ride From Hell with Roberto Natale (Kill Baby Kill). The star also acted as the film's producer and he managed to assemble a cast and crew that featured some quality talent genre-wise. Budget-wise, this show looks to be a lower-middle tier genre entry but the spirited efforts of its seasoned cast and crew result in a fun and strangely likeable film that is able to transcend a good number of its budgetary limitations. Fast-paced and entertaining, A Long Ride From Hell serves as a decent enough cinematic swan song for Reeves.
It's good to report that Reeves actually makes for a pretty good Spaghetti Western hero: the impassive and stoic approach that he employs here suits the genre perfectly. And the show's script allows him to legitimately flex his famous muscles. Early on he's seen wrestling a bull to the ground while working on his ranch and he works up a further sweat during the grueling rock pounding sequences at the Yuma State Penitentiary. Elsewhere he's convincing enough with a six-gun and he gets stuck into a multitude of decently choreographed fistfights. But this flick isn't just a one-man show. Reeves receives good support from a whole host of familiar faces here. Wayde Preston (Today We Kill, Tomorrow We Die) and Mimmo Palmara (Execution) are convincing as a pair of particularly slimy villains. Sexy Rosalba Neri (Johnny Yuma, Days of Violence, The Castle of Fu Manchu) has an unusually sympathetic role as a hard done by but helpful prostitute while genre bad guy Nello Pazzafini (Ben and Charlie, They Call Him Cemetery, Run Man Run) excels as Sturges's brutal jailer. Sergio Leone regular Aldo Sambrell pops up briefly as an opportunist Mexican thug and popular genre bit-part players Spartaco Conversi and Bruno Corazzari make significant appearances too.
While his blocking and framing look a little rushed at times, director Camillo Bazzoni does an adequate enough job for the most part. This isn't the most stylish of genre entries but popular genre cinematographer Enzo Barboni provides Bazzoni with generally solid support. Curiously, the pair appear to have consciously elected to shoot into the sun whenever possible and the assortment of unusual back lighting effects that this produces gives the film an interesting and fairly unique look. Their approach ultimately results in a quite moody, muted and autumnal colour palette that seemingly serves to reflect the highly duplicitous nature of the villainous actions that unfold on screen and the desperate responses that these actions in turn provoke. Sturges's escape from prison involves a trek across a sun-drenched desert while his revenge mission takes him to a number of different towns. The towns are pleasingly busy and Bazzoni fills their streets with interesting extras and details. Carlo Savina's soundtrack score features a suitably rousing main theme and a really beautiful violin-led piece that appears during the desert trek sequence. Overall, Savina's score isn't quite consistent enough to be considered the composer's best genre work but it gets the job done nonetheless.
Naturally, there's plenty of action to be had here and most of it is well staged. The show opens with the callous massacre of Sturges's ranch hands as they round up horses in the wilderness. It's Sturges's subsequent investigation of this crime that places him and Roy close to the site of the train robbery, which itself features some callous and brutal gunplay. The prison break sequence has a pleasingly spontaneous and frenetic quality about it. When his fellow prisoners initially try to get him involved in their escape plans, Sturges turns them down flat but when the prison guards subsequently start tormenting him with cruel jibes about his brother's death, Sturges snaps and all hell breaks loose. While the film's finale features a decent enough running shootout and plenty of gunplay, the sequence doesn't climax with a Leone-inspired duel. As befits the final action scene of Steve Reeves's career, our hero decides to take on Wayde Preston's Mayner in a hard fought fistfight and he gives the villain the battering he so richly deserves.
English language versions of this film have been hard to come by over the years and Wild East have given the show a pretty good presentation here. By and large, the picture and sound quality here are both very good. As noted above, Bazzoni and Barboni's decision to shoot into the sun on numerous occasions results in a muted colour palette but it would seem that this aesthetic effect was intentional.
Wild East have acquired a couple of interesting extra features for this release. First up is a lengthy (58 minutes) interview with genre stalwart Mimmo Palmara in which the actor talks in depth about his work in Peplums and Spaghetti Westerns. The interview features some fun anecdotes and some great film clips. Also of interest is the At Home with Steve Reeves featurette. This consists of home video footage that documents Reeves genially paying host to the visiting members of the Italian Steve Reeves Fan Club.
Horror maestro Mario Bava's first Western probably has more in common with John Ford's work than Sergio Leone's but it remains an interesting and entertaining effort. Filmed at roughly the same time as Leone's A Fistful of Dollars, The Road to Fort Alamo is one of those early Italian Westerns that were specifically designed to fool Italian audiences into thinking that they were paying to watch an American production. On the one hand, it's hard to imagine the unlikely sounding names that litter the front credits of the Italian print used here having the desired effect. For example, Bava is credited as John Old, cinematographer Ubaldo Terzano is credited as Bud Third and the actor Alberto Cevenini is credited as Kirk Bert. On the other hand, the fairly impressive Western landscapes that Bava's matte paintings and special effects work conjure up on occasion just might have ensured success for the con trick. The show's exteriors were shot in the green and grassy woodland spaces that genre fans will recognize from later low budget Spaghetti Westerns that were filmed at locations on the outskirts of Rome. However, Bava's expertly executed camera trickery is able to convincingly add mountainous craggy rock faces and Western-style cacti to the Italian landscape.
The Road to Fort Alamo may be a low budget feature but Bava and Terzano's sure handed visuals make this a colourful and relatively well-constructed show. There are a multitude of good-looking, stylish and expertly composed shots present here that make good use of Bava's trademark colour gels and lighting effects. Bava fans will love the highly stylized studio sets that the director constructed and employed for the show's night time exterior sequences. Piero Umiliani's lively soundtrack score is a tad overdramatic at times and parts of it appear to possess a slightly incongruous Jazz influence. However, the rousing cues that the composer produced for the show's action-packed finale work a treat. Interestingly, Demofilo Fidani, who would go on to become the errant king of ultra-low budget Italian Western directors, was this film's art director. The Road to Fort Alamo is a B movie through and through but it has bags of (sometimes quite naive) charm. It also features some fairly interesting characters. Scratching around for cash in the bleak economic climate of the post Civil War years, Bud, Slim and Carson's motivations and their quick descent into serious criminality can be readily paralleled to the similar themes and concerns that are found in the Italian neorealist films that focus upon the economic hardships encountered in Italy during the post World War Two period.
While the desperate gang is successful in cashing the army cheque, their plans quickly go awry and subsequent events are marred by some highly disturbing and completely unnecessary bloodshed that is initiated by an increasingly deranged Carson. Brimful of tension and suspense, the bank-set sequence that details the cashing of the cheque has an effective film noir-like feel to it. The subsequent bloodshed horrifies Bud and Slim and their reaction serves to differentiate them from Carson and his more callous cohorts. The pair are happy to leave the gang but their earlier tussle with the representatives of civil society (the cheating gambler (Gerard Herter) and his cronies, the lazy and corrupt sheriff and the surly barman) leaves Bud and Slim with few places to go. Of the Union troops that rescue the pair, Captain Hull (Antonio Gradoli) is a typically pig-headed officer who refuses to accept the tactical advice of others while Sergeant Warwick (Gustavo De Nardo) is an open-minded and quietly astute individual. He instinctively knows that Bud and Slim aren't real soldiers but, given the convoy's precarious position, he isn't quick to judge them. Also travelling with the convoy is a female prisoner, Janet (Jany Clair of Hercules Against the Moon Men), who is being transported to Fort Alamo for trial.
The tired "warring Indians versus US cavalry" scenario rarely appeared in Spaghetti Westerns and in many ways Bava does a great job of making the overly familiar iconography - and the cliched set pieces - borrowed from similarly themed US Westerns seem reasonably fresh and exciting. While it remains an interesting looking show, The Road to Fort Alamo works chiefly because its story arc cleverly presents a quick succession of way too obvious and slightly hokey - but still remarkably fun and intriguing - narrative hooks that effectively serve to instill a sense of perpetual suspense in the viewer. Will Bud and Slim get the money back? Will Sergeant Warwick turn them in? Will Bud and Slim abandon the convoy? What will happen if they do? Will Carson cause more trouble for the pair? Will the Indians attack again? Will Bud and Janet get together? Etc, etc. Narrative contrivances also result in super brawny Ken Clark (Mission Bloody Mary, From the Orient with Fury, Special Mission Lady Chaplin) losing his shirt a couple of times but the muscleman actor gets along just fine as a Western hero. Euro Cult fans will get a kick out of seeing interesting performances by cult actors Gerard Herter (Caltiki The Immortal Monster, The Big Gundown 1) and Michel Lemoine (Seven Women for Satan). Lemoine's Carson is a pretty despicable character who naturally gets the comeuppance he deserves at the film's finale.
Decent-looking home video copies of The Road to Fort Alamo that were English language friendly have been in short supply over the years, so this DVD release by Germany's Koch Media is very welcome. The DVD sports very good quality German and Italian language audio tracks that are supported by optional English language subtitles. The presentation's picture quality is near enough excellent: the show's colours are vibrant while the picture is sharp throughout. Unfortunately, the accompanying documentary, The Long Road to the West does not have an English language option.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Der Ritt Nach Alamo rates:
1. Previously only available as part of their Sergio Sollima Italo-Western Box Set, Koch Media have recently granted their uncut version of The Big Gundown a stand alone release under the film's German title Der Gehetzte der Sierra Madre. This PAL Region 2 release features Italian and German audio tracks that are supported by English language subtitles.
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2009 Savant Wish List. T'was Ever Thus.