Adiós Sabata Review
From The Spaghetti Western Database
In the Italian language version, the character played by Yul Brynner is called Indio Black, but for the international market he was renamed Sabata. Lip readers have noticed that Brynner is called "Sabata" (not "Indio") by those actors who mouth their lines in English. Apparently the re-baptism took place while the film was still in production. According to Alex Cox, Lee Van Cleef, the original Sabata, rejected the offer to star in it because the producers didn’t want to pay the fee Lee was asking (1).
There’s no good reason, other than the presence of Brynner, to deny this one a place in the Sabata trilogy. It tells a story that is very close in structure to the original movie, with several actors in identical roles (and a few other actors in similar roles). Brynner is wearing a fringy uniform instead of a black cloak, but the character is roughly the same, a mysterious gunman spiraling his way through a labyrinthine plot populated with foes who may be friends, and friends who may be foes. The story is set in Mexico, in Maximilian times. Sabata is asked to rob a wagon load of gold from the Austrian army with the help of a small group of revolutionaries. They obtain the wagon, but it’s not filled with gold, but with sand. Behind all this, is the evil Colonel Skimmel of the occupying forces, who wants the gold for himself. Sabata plans to steal the gold back from Skimmel, and finally gets the better of the Austrian, but is then outmanoeuvred by one of his associates …
Sabata’s side-kick (the inevitable Spalla) screams a revolutionary battle-cry every now and then, but this can hardly be called a Zapata western. Basically it’s the story from the first movie in a new setting. Skimmel, the monocle-wearing dandy (who likes to shoot Mexican prisoners in Major Jackson style) is a replacement for the homosexual sadist Stengel, Dean Reed’s piano playing Ballantine is an ersatz Banjo, and instead of Alley Cat (not a great loss) we get Sal Borgese as a sort of Diego Maradona avant la lettre, who fires tiny cannonballs with his feet. But if the story elements are similar, the story-telling is more straightforward: there are no false duels here, and if the plot is confusing, the confusion seems accidental, not intentional. Even the ambiguity of Dean Reed’s Ballantine is of a transparent nature. The postmodern jokes in relation to "identity", are more related to objects than characters. The movie's luckiest strike in this aspect, is a model ship with mini cannons firing real cannonballs, as lethal as they are small.
Reactions to Brynner’s performance have been mixed. Apparently he behaved like an enormous pain in the a... on the set. To begin with he refused to say a word to Reed, who was a communist, and had torn the American flag in reaction to the country's foreign policy (in relation to South America). He also refused to look smaller than Reed, who was in fact several inches taller, so Parolini had to “level” the two actors for every scene they had in common. To make things worse, Brynner suffered from arthritis in his fingers, and had trouble handling that bizarre weapon of his, a lever action rifle with the horizontal magazine carrying seven cartridges and one cigar (2).
Generations of fullscreen and truncated versions have jeopardized the reputation of this movie. Watched in its full length and widescreen beauty it’s remarkably enjoyable, on a par with the first Sabata. The violence is quite strong, notably during the scene with Skimmel shooting the Mexicans. There had been scenes of bandits shooting peons in films like A Pistol for Ringo and Django, but none had been as provocative as this one; Giusti draws a parallel with a similar scene in Schindler’s List, with Joseph Fiennes shooting Jewish prisoners (3). I have never been a fan of Reed, maybe because of his hair, that doesn’t seem to fit in a western, but he turns in a decent performance here, and so does Borgese. Even Spalla is (more or less) endurable. Bruno Nicolai's score is highlighted by a whistling theme reminiscent of a the famous whistling theme of Roberto Pregadio’s score for The Forgotten Pistolero. This is a Parolini movie, so occasionally it glides off into his circus world, but overall it's a very enjoyable genre example.
Dir: Giancarlo Parolini - Cast: Yul Brynner, Dean Reed, Ignazio Spalla, Gerard Herter, Sal Borgese, Franco Fantasia, Joseph P. Persaud, Rick Boyd, Bruno Corazzari - Music: Bruno Nicolai
- (1) Alex Cox, 10.000 Ways to Die, pag. 277
- (2) (3) Marco Giusti, Dizionario del Western all’Italiano