Sabata Chronicles - EXTRAS

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Guns & gadgets

Weapons and gadgets have put their stamp unto the Sabata series. Like Sartana, Sabata has a preference for miniature guns (but let's not forget that Colonel Mortimer already 'out-tricks' the hump-backed Klaus Kinski in For a Few Dollars More). Sabata has a four-barreled miniature gun, based on a derringer, with a three extra bullets in the grip. Like in the case of Mortimer, the miniature seems to appear from his sleeve, as a result of some kind of conjurer's trick. Instead of pigeons, Sabata produces bullets. In Return of Sabata, he wears one of his miniatures under his shoe.

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In the first movie, Sabata uses a Mortimer-based rifle with an extendable barrel. If he uses the three extra bullets from the grip when he seems out of bullets, he uses the rifle when his opponents seem out of range (they look at each other and say: Nobody can shoot that far). It all adds to the larger-than-life impression of the character. The rifle used by Yul Brynner's Sabata in Adios Sabata, is quite bizarre: it has a horizontal magazine, for seven cartridges and one cigar. It also has a short, cut-off barrel, which would give, in reality, the weapon a larger impact on a short range, but make it less accurate and appropriate for long-range shooting. But the Sabata movies offer no illustration of ballistic logic. The ultra-weird squeeze gun used in Return of Sabata was apparently not a fantasy weapon, but it's hard to imagine that it could be used in a mid-range duel. Return also has a rolling gun drum, a sort of design Leonardo Da Vinci could have thought of.

Villa Mussolini

If, in a spaghetti western, a white mansion appears, with a large courtyard, a well, and annex buildings with colonnades, it's a good guess that the scenes were shot on the premises of a location called "Villa Mussolini" by western fans and non-western fans alike (1). However, the name is confusing. The villa was never owned by Mussolini (another Villa Mussolini, in Riccione, was) and only named after him because he came here for horse-riding. It's located just outside the GRA (Grande Raccordo Anulare), the circular road of the City of Rome, in the direction of Tivoli.

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The location was no doubt chosen because of the Spanish 'Colonial' look and often used to suggest a Mexican hacienda. Franco & Cessio (Franchi & Ingrassia) used it as such for their parody Due nipoti di Zorro. Among the first spaghetti westerns using the location, are Django Kill! and Massacre Time. In the latter it was the location of a what looked like an upper class party, with all the guests dressed in white (and special guest Franco Nero nearly whipped to death). It was used in the first Sartana movie, If you meet Sartana, pray for your Death and the Sabata franchise would adopt it, using for both its 'colonial' and 'upper class' connotations. Scenes for over thirty spaghetti westerns were shot here, and the location was also used for non-westerns alike, such as historic dramas (I Barbieri di Sicilia) and war exploitation movies (SS Lager 5, La Soldatessa alle Grande Manovre).

Friends & Foes

The Sabata movies do not transmit any direct political message, nor do they take an ideological stance, yet they reflect some typical Italian ideas about politics and society. The unification of Italy in the Nineteeth Century, the so-called Risorgimento, had been more favorable tot the industrial North than to the rural South. The transition from a near feudal society to a modern state, involved great internal tensions and struggles (cfr: Bertolucci's 1900). The situation had also been favorable for the growing power, in southern areas, of Italian crime rings like mafia and camorra (2).

The villains in the first Sabata movie are a corrupt banker, a corrupt saloon-owner and a sadistic land owner, the usual line-up for these type of movies. They're not the laughing Mexicans or the unshaved brutes from the Dollar movies, but dignitaries, well-dressed, well-to-do members of society. Sabata is dressed in black, the traditional color of the villain, and his allies are usually lowlifes or outcasts, such as the unwashed, foulmouthed Garrincha or the fitness freak Alley Cat. Some of his friends reflect the rebellious times in which the movies were made: with his long hair and shabby clothes Banjo looks like a hippy; Ballantine, the piano playing philanderer from the second movie, is played by Dean Reed, in real life a communist who made himself a career as an actor and pseudo-Elvis in East-Germany.

The upper class and colonial connections, become obvious in the two most colorful villains of the franchise, Stengel and Skimmel.

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Stengel is wonderful campy villain, a pseudo-intellectual from Texas, reading Machiavelli and Nietzsche, quoting and paraphrasing their lines as if they were his own. One of his henchmen is called Oswald and killed by him because he 'knows too much', a clear reference to the theory that Southern red-neck landlords were behind the events on Daily Plaza. His Oswald and other victims are shot in his private execution room in his mansion. The mansion, the room, the banquet table - it all breathes class, upper class.

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Skimmel is an officer in the Austrian imperial army occupying Mexico. He's ready to double-cross anybody, even the emperor, and doesn't shy away from mass murder. Compared to Stengel, he's less a slyboots, but twice as cruel. The scene in which he uses Mexican peons for target practice, even outdoes the famous Major Jackson scene in Django in sheer brutality. Like Stengel he has an opulent private room, with a personal portrait and - most of all - a model ship with mini cannons shooting mini cannonballs, as lethal as they are small.

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--By Scherpschutter

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