When Gianfranco Parolini’s Sartana proved a huge success, producer Aldo Addobbati wasn’t slow to rush a sequel, I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death into production. Parolini, however, had no involvement with it whatsoever, and it was directed instead – as were a further three subsequent films in the series – by Giuliano Carnimeo. Parolini, meanwhile, turned his attention to another, not entirely disimilar western character, Sabata, for a trilogy of films produced by Alberto Grimaldi’s PEA (with whom he had previously made Kill Panther Kill and who had scored previous successes with the genre in For a Few Dollars More and The Big Gundown). As Parolini recalls: ‘Grimaldi was a very clever producer; he had a great nose for business and for successful films. He asked me to do a film for the American market and, as usual, I agreed enthusiastically’. For the script, he called in Renato Izzo, who had worked on Sartana, and it’s a similarly twisty-turny, ‘characters fight over missing treasure’ type affair.
And he’s not the only stranger in town, staying at the very same hotel is Banjo (William Berger), an apparently aimless drifter – and former associate of Sabata’s – who’s got a knack for turning up in the wrong places at exactly the right time. But not everybody is happy about Sabata’s intervention: the robbery was actually organised by the local bigwig, Stengel (Franco Ressel), in alliance with the local judge (Gianni Rizzo) and casino owner (Antonio Gradoli), and they were hoping to pocket all the cash and claim back a hefty insurance payment as well.
It doesn’t take Sabata long to work out everything that’s going on, and he promptly starts blackmailing the villains, asking them for ever increasing amounts of money in exchange for keeping quiet. Stengel, of course, isn’t all that happy about this, and sets about disposing of him as soon as possible. His own men prove thoroughly inadequate at doing this, though, as do a succession of professional killers hired by Ferguson, so he turns to Banjo – who also happens to be an expert gunman – offering him a huge amount of money if he can dispose of his old friend.
Sabata is a really great looking film, boasting excellent production values and looking like it cost a good deal more than it actually did. Sartana was a nice looking film, but this is even slicker, and it’s backed up by an excellent soundtrack and superb cinematography from Sandro Mancori (who graduated from cameraman onParolini’s Kiss Kiss Kill Kill and So Darling So Deadly to director of photography here). It certainly puts most bigger-budgeted American productions of the time to shame, and the script is of a much higher standard than usual for the genre. The central narrative is pretty ordinary, but it’s packed full of bizarre sub-plots and whipcrack dialogue, mainly thanks to Izzo’s input: ‘Izzo was one of the major dubbing directors in the country and a very effective scriptwriter, especially for dialogue’, according to the director. Most surprisingly of all, perhaps, is the fact that it even makes a decent fist of providing the outlandish characters with a degree of characterisation.
This was Parolini at his most personable: it’s packed full of saucy girls, fabulous costumes, energetic acrobats, curious gadgets and mildly cheeky plays on religious themes. It whizzes along at a breakneck pace and is eminently likeable. It also picks and mixes aspects from his previous films, quite apart from Sartana: Sabata hooks up with a pair of hapless fellows, creating a not dissimilar trio to the ones with featured in The Three Avengers and The Three Fantastic Supermen; there’s a climactic tussle over a satchel full of money (Kill Panther Kill) and a power-crazed, urbane villain (Kiss Kiss Kill Kill). Parolini films are like those people who you warm to when they come into the pub… they may not say anything particularly interesting, but they make you feel so welcome you like being around them when they’re saying it.
Aiding its success considerably is a top-notch cast. Lee Van Cleef was in his pomp, and this was probably his best of his later genre roles. According to Parolini: “Van Cleef didn’t know me at that point, but he was an old acquaintance of Sergio Leone’s and Grimaldi’s, and he asked if he could see something that I’d directed. At the time Cinque per l’inferno was still showing, so I took him to see it at the cinema. The hall was packed with a rowdy, young audience, and they all loved the film. So, when we left, Lee was very happy.” He’s upstaged, though, by William Berger, as a likeable bastard who has complex relationships with both Sabata and the saloon girl Jane (Linda Veras). With his long hair and tight trousers, not to mention his iconic deadly banjo, Berger makes for a very contemporary villain, and those looking for subtexts could see his character s a critique on the whole hippy movement (of which Berger was a prominent member). Further down the credits, there are good turns from the likes of Gianni Rizzo, Robert Hundar and Antonio Gradoli, while Franco Ressel, who never really got the roles he deserved, is excellent as a playfully sadistic madman with a penchant for deadly games and pseudo-Nietzschen quotations.