Friday, January 02, 2015

A LONG RIDE FROM HELL (1968)


Steve Reeves plays Mike Sturges, a rancher who, with his brother Roy (Franco Fantasia) and his mother, is raising horses in the desert southwest. Things are going well for the family Sturges until a herd of their animals is stolen on the way to market and all but one of the ranch hands with them are killed during the theft. Mike, Roy and another hand set out to track the herd but are ambushed by an old friend of Mike's named Maynard (Wayde Preston). Maynard and his gang injure the Sturges boys and leave them for dead near the scene of their next crime — a daring train robbery to lay hands on a shipment of newly minted gold coins.

The brothers' protestations of their innocence go unheeded and soon both are tossed into Yuma prison. The harsh conditions of the infamous hard labor pen take their toll on Roy, with his physical weakness drawing an outsized amount of attention from the sadistic guards. Mike knows there is nothing he can do and develops a stoic attitude refusing to even talk, regardless of the provocation. But when the cruel attentions of the head guard finally kill Roy, his brother snaps and within minutes stages a reckless escape that gets many guards and several inmates killed. Mike makes it to the nearest town and receives aid from a sympathetic prostitute (the luscious Rosalba Neri), who also helps him off the sadistic head guard when he comes calling for his regular Saturday night thing.


Mike makes it home to find his ranch lifeless and gone to ruin while his mother has died of a broken heart months before. Having nothing left to live for, Sturges decides to hunt down the men responsible for the destruction of his life and exact harsh revenge...

As you can tell there really isn't much in the bare bones of the story of A Long Ride from Hell to distinguish it from dozens of other spaghetti westerns. A man done wrong suffers hideously until he can turn the tables on his tormentors and take a full measure of revenge — pretty standard stuff even by 1968. The elements that make this film stand just a little out of the pack is a combination of a fine movie star making a strong play to break out of his usual ‘muscle man’ genre rut and some nice, stylish touches from director Camillo Bazzoni. He didn't have a long career in the director’s chair, with only eight other movies to his credit, but his lengthy list of jobs as a cinematographer show where his talent lies. Although this DVD doesn't present a perfect print of the movie it's clear enough to see that Bazzoni's eye for well framed shots and interesting blocking served the story well. The repeated use of angles that put Reeves against the empty sky display his despair at his fate or shrink him down to small size to emphasize lack of power demonstrate a desire to have form follow function — as much as possible. The occasional sloppy scene does break the effect from time to time but overall the director seems to have done well with his camera. My favorite directorial touch is the way in which Roy’s tortuous crucifixion on a large wheel is shown hovering over the prisoners as they break rocks under the burning sun. It’s a great image and I would like to know if it came from the source material or was created by the filmmakers.

As noted in Charles Ambler's brief liner notes on the back of the DVD case, this film was more than just Steve Reeves’ attempt to create a new movie persona for himself (even if he’s seen wrestling a bull to the ground in the opening minutes). He had bought the rights to Gordon Shirreffs’ novel The Judas Gun and worked as both producer and co-scriptwriter to get the film made. Having worked for years in the Italian film industry — starting in the late 1950s with the world-famous Hercules films — Reeves had plenty of insight into how to pull together a good cast and crew. Besides Bazzoni (working under the pseudonym Alex Burks) he hired scripter Roberto Natale, who had writtenBloody Pit of Horror and two Mario Bava films; composer Carlo Savina, who was responsible for the scores of dozens of peplum and western films before and after this one; and as director of photography Enzo Barboni, who'd go on to direct the Trinity comedy/westerns. In front of the camera A Long Ride from Hellboasts just as many high quality participants besides the already mentionedLady Frankenstein herself, Rosabla Neri. Mimmo Palmara, Nello Pazzafini and Silvana (Camilla 2000) Venturelli handle their roles very well and are only a few of the familiar faces for Euro-Cult fans throughout the movie.

4 comments:

Nick Rentz said...

What do you think are some of the worst spaghetti westerns and most underrated? I'll throw out Apache Blood, Boot Hill, the Django vs Sartana movies as a few of the worst. Most underrated would include The Unholy Four, Hate Thy Neighbor, Forgotten Pistolero, and Bandidos. I'll like to know yours.

Rod Barnett said...

Wow- good question. The the titles you threw out there are ones I'm unfamiliar with but I'll watch even a terrible Spag Western. I might regret it but I'll watch! I think I'll make up a list of underrated and post it here. Good idea, indeed.

Nick Rentz said...

I'll be eagerly awaiting your list. Who's your favorite Spaghetti Western star? My wife and I like Lee Van Cleef the most.

Rod Barnett said...

Lee Van Cleef is my default with Franco Nero in a close second.