Return of Sabata Review by Scherpschutter

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"If you wanna get money, if you wanna get rich

If you want a good life, you gotta be a sonnova…
Pom pom pom, pom pom"

If similar words are sung over the main theme, you know you have arrived in the declining years of the spaghetti western genre. The first Sabata movie had become an unexpected hit, but for some reason Lee Van Cleef had rejected the offer to appear in the sequel, and Yul Brynner had taken over the role. Lee himself had tried to convert his spaghetti western fame into Hollywood cash, but none of his films had been particularly successful, so when he was asked again to play Sabata, in yet another sequel, he went back to Italy.

The film opens with a wonderfully ambiguous scene, with Van Cleef, bathing in spooky green and red lights, eliminating several opponents. The proceedings are witnessed by a tribunal. What is this? Has Sabata become a state executioner? When the opponents are all down, a door opens, clowns come in, and … it becomes clear that we have witnessed a circus act. The postmodernist aspects of the genre had never been expressed in a more double-dyed way. If only the rest of the movie had been as witty and clever …


The premise is roughly the same as for part one: Sabata arrives in a Texas town and stumbles upon a case of corruption and extortion, involving a local dignitary and (in this case) a clan of Irish immigrants. He tries to get some order out of the chaos with the help of a few eccentric assistants, three of them members of the circus that had hired him for their Wild West attraction. The first Sabata had been a gimmick-ridden, fast-paced fun movie, tongue-in-cheek, but not yet slapstick, and still quite violent. Van Cleef had played a sort of cross between Colonel Mortimer and James Bond, a gunman as fast as lightning using all kinds of circus tricks; the character had no depth, not even a sketchy background, but the script kept him so busy, that nobody cared. In this sequel, the story only picks up after forty minutes or so; until then, the succession of scenes feels haphazard, as if we’re really in circus: there’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that: clowns, acrobats and gun juggling, it’s all there.

A couple of fantasy weapons are added to Sabata's bizarre collection: a rolling gun drum (see screenshot 3), the kind of invention Leonardo Da Vinci would've been proud of, plus a sort of “squeeze gun” (1). At the same time his character is betrayed: Sabata had always been an a-sexual character, only interested in money (one of his associates was therefore characterized as a womanizer), but this movie has him flirting with a newly arrived prostitute, a tart with a heart (and an ample bosom), played by the gorgeous Annabella Incontrera. The film was not born under a lucky star. Van Cleef had asked a caravan with a bath (not for himself, but for his wife, who had accompanied him to Europe), but his request was not granted. Parolini had an eye (or both eyes) on Annabella Incontrera, and was busier with her than with his movie, and Nick Jordan (Aldo Canti) - the acrobat - caused a lot of trouble on the set. He was evasive about what was bothering him, and could ‘explode’ from one moment to another (2).

Return of Sabata had the (dubious) honour to appear on Harry & Michael Medved's infamous list of The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (3). I don’t think the film deserves this dishonour. Okay, it's not good, the first half is excruciating, but it manages to straighten its back along the ride and the final thirty minutes or so, aren’t bad at all. They offer a few great stunts involving Jordan and Karis (a human catapult) and a fairly spectacular shootout, set in and around the familiar Villa Mussolini. A genre icon like Van Cleef inevitably nourishes high hopes; I still remember how I felt after watching it upon its initial release, in the early seventies. I could not fathom how a film starring Lee could be so lousy. But all things considered, it’s not that bad. If you take it for what it is, a campy fun movie, it might indeed procure some campy fun. Pom pom pom.

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Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Reiner Schöne, Annabella Incontrera, Giampiero Albertini, Ignazio Spalla (Pedro Sanchez), Jacqueline Alexandre, Aldo Canti (Nick Jordan), Vassili Karis, Gianni Rizzo, Giovanni Cianfriglia, John Dulaney - Music: Marcello Giombini - Director: Gianfranco Parolini

Sabata (1969) | Adios Sabata (1970) | Return of Sabata (1971)

--By Scherpschutter

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