Sabata Review (Scherpschutter)

From The Spaghetti Western Database


Although Lee Van Cleef is wearing a kind of Colonel Mortimer outfit, Sabata is much closer in spirit to director Gianfranco Parolini's own If you meet Sartana, Pray for your Death (1968) than to Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More. 1969 was a difficult year for the Italian western industry. The production of spaghetti westerns was in decline, but Parolini's tongue-in-cheek Sartana movie, made on a shoestring, and with a hero who owed as much to James Bond as to the Man with No Name, had done reasonably well. But Parolini was at odds with his producer Aldo Addobbati and Addobati had therefore asked Giuliano Carnimeo to direct the second Sartana movie. When Alberto Grimaldi, from Leone's production house Pea, offered Parolini the chance to direct Sabata he gladly accepted. Grimaldi offered him a much bigger budget and the chance to work with genre icons like Lee Van Cleef and Carlo Simi.

Sabata witnesses a bank robbery in which a load of army money is stolen. He kills the robbers (from a distance, with one of his superior weapons) and takes the money back into town, but then discovers that the people behind the robbery are three respected citizens, the judge, the banker and a rancher called Stengel, the most dangerous of the three, a homosexual sadist who has a private room in which he executes people. Sabata threatens to inform the army and starts blackmailing the three dignitaries. Two of them are willing to pay, but Stengel convinces them to hire professional killers to eliminate Sabata. All gunmen are outsmarted by Sabata, but then Stengel asks Sabata's old acquaintance Banjo if he's interested ...


Parolini wasn't the only person who made the switch from Sartana to Sabata. William Berger had been in the first Sartana movie too, and so had Rizzo (the fat judge). Lee van Cleef had no experience with the more light-hearted approach to the genre and was therefore rather sceptic. Parolini took him to a showing of his war adventure movie Five for Hell, a kind of light version of The Dirty Dozen. Lee didn’t understand a word of it, but the cinema had been full of young Italians who apparently had the time of their life. Lee thought it was time for a career move ... His character Sabata would become one of the most colorful heroes within the genre: Like Sartana, Sabata has a preference for miniature guns and a staggering ability to pop up in the wrong place at the right time. Like Colonel Mortimer, he uses a rifle with an extendable barrel for long-range shooting. He is the proverbial new man in town who changes everything, and by challenging the local authorities he also attracts the attention of those who live in the margin. Significantly two outcasts obtrude themselves upon him, a foul-mouthed town drunk called Garrincha (or Carrincha), and a mute acrobat by the name of Alley Cat.

Spaghetti westerns had always had an ambiguous relationship with realism, but in Sabata the thinnest of lines is cut when Van Cleef throws a coin in a nickelodeon from across the room. A similar coin trick is used during the film’s finale, but this time to eliminate the main villain. For tricks like these, Parolini's movies were called 'circus westerns' (Garrincha and Alley Cat are the clown and acrobat of service!). But in spite of the light-hearted approach the body count is still quite high and the action pretty tough: we're not in Trinity land yet. Lee is a privilige to watch, as always, and excellent support is given by Franco Ressel, as Stengel, and Berger - in what is most probably is best spaghetti western part - as Banjo, the red-haired womanizer with a rifle hidden in the instrument that gave him his name. Linda Veras adds a touch of sexy class to the movie as Banjo’s love interest. Robert Hundar, the first ‘star’ of the now large production company Pea, was given a small part in the movie: he’s the first victim Stengel shoots in his execution room.

Vlcsnap-2016-02-22-17h21m52s496.png Vlcsnap-2016-02-23-10h50m50s360.png

The film has a typical labyrinth plot, with endless twists and double-crosses, in which no-one can be trusted. Not even when he's dead. The script seems very tight at first but loses focus along the way, turning the movie more in a series of sketches in which Van Cleef shakes off opponents who are after his life. It doesn’t really matter: this is not a film you watch for great story-telling or deeper meanings. It's an action movie in the true sense of the word, tongue-in-cheek, fast & furious. Carlo Simi's great production design does a lot for the movie; the western town of the Elios Studios never looked more colorful and lively and Stengel's torture room is a fascinating creation (see: screenshot 3). Giombini's score is excellent, although the main theme is used a few times too many.

Sabata (1969) | Adios Sabata (1970) | Return of Sabata (1971) - View Database Page

Director: Gianfranco Parolini - Cast: Lee Van Cleef, William Berger, Linda Veras, Franco Ressel, Pedro Sanchez (Ignazio Spalla), Nick Jordan (Aldo Canti), Gianni Rizzo, Antonio Gradoli, Robert Hundar (Claudio Undari), Spartaco Conversi, Janos Bartha, Romano Puppo, Marco Zuanelli - Music: Marcello Giombini</center>


One of the best of Parolini’s circus westerns, featuring Lee van Cleef as the titular hero, a gunslinger who owes as much to James Bond as to No Name. William Berger co-stars as Banjo, the ladies’ man with a lethal musical instrument. The two fight each other and a trio of corrupt dignitaries, the judge, the banker and a rancher called Stengel, a homosexual sadist who has a private room in which he executes people.

--By Scherpschutter