The spaghetti western comedy Alive or Preferably Dead was supposed to launch the acting career of Italian boxing champion Nino Benvenuti. From the beginning it was a plagued production: Producer Turo Vasile confessed he had bought a mere idea for a movie without paying much attention to it, because he had been fascinated by the wonderful title. Giuliano Gemma was cast alongside Benvenuti; this seemed a good idea since Gemma had done some boxing during his military service. Actually it turned out that the two men had met in the gym when doing their military service without knowing each other. On the set they soon became friends (for life), but Nino’s boxing skills almost turned out to be a bigger problem than his lack of thespian talents. Gemma in an interview:
“Professional boxers have punches that are so quick and close to the body that they’re almost invisible, so we had to instruct him to slow down a little and to throw his punches wider. We also asked him to act and react more theatrically, and of course to hit in the right, that is the wrong place, otherwise he would have knocked everybody out with the first punch!”
Gemma was reunited with director Duccio Tessari, with whom he had made the two Ringo movies in ’65; like the first Ringo movie, A Pistol for Ringo, this movie is a blend of action and comedy, but the emphasis is more on the bright side this time. Actually, the affair is so feather light that the tougher, more serious scenes feel out of place. The story is as follows: two estranged brothers, the first a fashionable city gambler (Gemma), the second a farmer living out West (Benvenuti), inherit a fortune from their late uncle, on the condition that they manage to live together (like their mother would always have wanted) for six months. When Gemma arrives at his brother’s place, he insults the local bully (Huerta), who burns down Benvenuti’s house out of rage. The two brothers are now forced to do all kind of stupid things to make a living, such as robbing a bank (but the bank uses them to ‘rob’ the insurance company) and kidnap the corrupt banker’s daughter (but the banker’s glad to get rid of her for a while). Eventually their ‘inheritance’ will be completely different from what they were hoping for, but by then they have become inseparable. All’s well that ends well.
The opening scene, set in New York, near the turn of the century (quite a unique setting for a spaghetti western), is nice and some of the jokes aren’t bad, but the script is more a series of vignettes than anything else. Sydne Rome (replacing Elke Sommer, the first choice for the part) is sexy, and has a nice bathing scene with the two brothers approaching her from different sides, but she’s been given some of the stupidest lines in film history. Both Chris Huerta and Antonio Casas seem to enjoy themselves rather well, but they pop in and out of the movie like the birds of a cuckoo clock, performing their act every ten minutes or so. Gemma has a few inspired moments (and shows some new tricks, like shooting from behind his back when his hands are tied. In some countries it was called Sundance Cassidy and Butch the Kid, obviously in an attempt to capitalize on another movie. Alive or preferably isn’t completely unlikable, but seems mainly aimed at kids, while some of the more violent scenes (like Huerta’s men throwing red-hot charcoal on the brothers’ bare chests) may be a bit too scary for small children. (originally on spaghetti-western.com)