Years before the Austrian Oak Arnie started his film career with a Hercules picture, there was another Mr Universe who hit the big time as the titular mythological brawler in a low budget peplum. Steve Reeves parlayed his success as a bodybuilder into a boom period as star of various sword and sandal adventures from the 1950s onward.
Despite wanting to break away from just playing musclebound heroes, Reeves reportedly turned down parts as James Bond and The Man With No Name in Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars. A few years later Reeves financed and co-wrote his own spaghetti western, and what would turn out to be his final film, called Vivo per la tua morte (I Live for Your Death! in English). Released here as the slightly less lurid A Long Ride from Hell, it’s a tale of betrayal and revenge in the old west.
Reeves plays Mike Sturges, a cowboy who finds his life spiralling out of his control after firstly his herd of cows is stolen and then he and his brother Roy are framed for murder and robbery. Mike and Roy find themselves sentenced to hard labour at the imposing, brutal Yuma prison. Before this, Mike gets a good idea who betrayed and framed the brothers and vows revenge. He bides his time in Yuma until circumstances force him to take action, setting off a violent retribution on those that Mike believes must get what is coming to them.
Made in a time when almost every genre was full of manly men doing manly things, A Long Ride from Hell is very much in keeping with that spirit. Reeves rarely says anything unless it’s to utter a threat or promise of violence. That violence is rarely bloody but usually loud (gunshots by the bucketload) and though there’s a promise of it occasionally becoming more lurid, it’s generally a straight-ahead western with few surprises and little of the humour that Leone incorporated.
Still, Reeves is in his own way iconic, and though he wasn’t going to to trouble Brando for acting chops, here his Mike makes an agreeable hero. Thoroughly wronged by plenty of ‘bad hombres’ there’s no moral quandaries here, just an entertaining 90 minutes of Mike quenching his thirst for vengeance until there’s no more bullets left to fire.
Umbrella’s release is completely bare bones and the soundtrack and video frequently feel no more than VHS quality. This isn’t going to interest the casual viewer, but for those who enjoyed Reeves as Hercules (and various other mythical and historical heroes) or those who enjoy Italy’s take on the most American of genres, it’s certainly fun to spend a bit of time with.
A LONG RIDE FROM HELL / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: CAMILLO BAZZONI (ALEX BURKS) / SCREENPLAY: ROBERTO NATALE, STEVE REEVES / STARRING: STEVE REEVES, WAYDE PRESTON, GUIDO LOLLOBRIGIDA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW