The Complete Sartana Bluray Collection review
From The Spaghetti Western Database
This is a review of Arrow Video's Complete Sartana box consisting of five BluRay discs containing all Sartana movies. This impressive release has hit shelves in the UK June 25, and in the US and Canada July 2 2018 and already gained some raving reviews and first reactions, including from our community in the forums. With a box like this it usually takes a while to get a detailed review, especially since in this case we didn't have access to a pre-release edition, and it takes some time of course to review five movies including all the bonus features.
El moreno: You look just like a scarecrow.
Sartana: I am your pallbearer.
The cardboard box contains all five movies (click here to learn a bit more about the character of Sartana and this movie series) in a cardboard box, plus a small collectible booklet. All discs come in a slim-case with a reversible sleeve. One side is the Arrow-commissioned artwork, the other is the original poster motif (there is little debate among fans which one prevails).
The 55-page booklet is replete with nice color images from the film series, an in-depth essay on the films by Robert Curti, another by Howard Hughes chronicling the genre's rise and fall, and lastly a few words about the restoration of these films for the present release, offering some technical insight about the origin of the audiovisual sources and processes used.
So let's dive in, shall we? What follows are short reviews of the movies with a particular look at their presentation on these discs....
Lasky (William Berger) and another band of thugs, among them Morton (Klaus Kinski) knowingly or unknowingly, find themselves on competing ends of an insurance scheme to screw over the stage coach gold transport, hatched by the local bank, his associate and a gang of bandits led by General Tampico (Fernando Sancho). What they didn't reckon with was Sartana (Gianni Garko), a mysterious stranger killing them all off one after another, playing them against each other and making sure that whoever swapped the cache of gold with rocks would eventually pay for it.... (click here to read a full review of the film).
This original vision of Sartana kicked off the whole series with a blend of sassy humor and cold blooded violence. Garko and Berger try to outdo each other with gimmickry and smarts, but both Sartana as well as Lasky take almost until way through half the movie to grasp what's going on and properly position themselves against each other. They are very unlike, Sartana being more like the snake like Morton, who exits the scene rather unglamorously quite early on. The overburdened script has its problems with logic in some spots, but ultimately, Sartana is a timeless classic in how it managed to pull off the sinister, dust and tumbleweed kind of stranger-kills-all spaghetti western with a good dose of humor right out of Clint Eastwood's playbook, spinning off an entire sub genre and probably earning director Gianfranco Parolini and Gianni Garko a coffin full of dollars. Having them all ride in and out of the same Roman sand pit from different angles must have saved them an extra nickel, but still, the director didn't return to the franchise and went on to produce a Sabata movie instead. Overall, a cult classic that still manages to entertain today.
The disc offers Italian and English audio options, both DTS mono tracks. I decided to watch the movie in Italian with English subtitles (always a good trick to get a full grasp of the movie since usually no version is like the other and you'll notice the dub isn't a precise translation of the original, which goes for most spaghetti westerns). The track is not entirely complete, there are a few tiny bits where the audio is English. Overall, its a decent sounding track with some noticeable crackling that creates a nice retro atmosphere. The English track sounds very similar, but has probably a tad more of a warmer tone and is a bit easier on the ears, the difference is minimal however. It is an excellent track. The image transfer on this disc is the "worst" of the box, objectively. Its a scan as good as the others but the material on hand was obviously in worse shape comparatively, so you see plenty of scratches, lines, speckles. The rest of the movie it is way better than during the opening credits, so tolerate those grindhousey looking bits, and then rejoyce how nice the rest of the picture looks. DNR and compression struggle a bit in the brighter, dustier exteriors but look great with closeups and most of the interiors. It's a marvellous transfer with just a few drawbacks. Rich colors (blacks almost too black), good contract and little edge enhancement. Sartana never looked this good.
The bonus features are plenty. Peckinpah-expert Mike Siegel, who also provided a German-language commentary on the German BluRay for The Great Silence, lends his expertise here (in English) for this full-length commentary. As always he's very knowledgeable, the commentary is full of trivia, technical information about filmmaking and historical facts. It makes for a great time also because Mike goes into the entire series, not just this one, starting with Blood at Sundown. But there is more: There's a rather funny new 22minute Interview with Gianfranco Parolini who is in great spirits reminiscing. Then there's a 16min visual essay to the many faces of the Sartana series by Jonathan Bygraves (a nice addition to our Sartana intro article by Simon). The finishing touches on this disc are a gallery of promotional article from Mike Siegel's archive. Pardon my french but that's a shitload of pictures.
This time, Sartana gets framed for a bank robbery by a group of murderous thugs, whose elusive and incognito leader donned our hero's cape and gadgets. Sartana sets out to play off various thugs against teach other, including the rowdy Bill Cochram (Federico Boido), but he's only slowly closing in on whoever was pulling the strings of the heist. It could even be the Sheriff (Sal Borgese), the local casino owner (Ettore Manni), one of the bounty hunters who are after him, including Holden (Klaus Kinski) and the evil Degueyo (Gordon Mitchell), or even his long time friend Buddy Ben (Frank Wolff).... (click here to read a full review of the film).
The film takes the Sartana character to the next level. Once again we know nothing about him but his trademarks. He's both a mystery gunslinger and a down to earth guy who like a poker game, at the same time. We're not sure of his motives, as he's just as ruthless a killing machine as the rest of them, but being framed for a daring bank robbery that he didn't command, doesn't sit well with him. Getting to the bottom of it turns out to be tricky with all these bounty hunters after him so he has got to get dirty. All tricks are being employed, corpses fall left and right, ladies swoon and the undertaker's business is booming. Carnimeo though, unlike his predecessor, isn't held back by either logic or budget (well maybe budget a little bit, but the movie looks considerably more opulent). Italian filmmakers are notorious plot twisters, so if at some point you're losing track of what's going on you're duly forgiven. Same here, as Sartana shoots himself through the thick of this story, you better pay close attention to all the twists, turns, motives and intrigues, because this might be a cheap 'sghetti but it's no simple script. We're treated to a fine second instalment of the saga, with lots of fun, tricks, action, interesting stylistic devices (copying left and right, from Leone to Corbucci) and a decent enough soundtrack.
The disc presents the movie in a gorgeous looking transfer once again. This first sequel switches to a broader scope format, which does the movie justice. It looks impeccable, aside from some moments of faded colors and a few scenes where inferior material was used. Colors are clear, contrasts good (again, almost too good) and the print free of blemishes. Edge enhancement and DNR are only slightly visible. The audio is again pretty solid, with the English track sounding a bit brighter and more high-pitched, which is great for dialogue but overall the Italian track sounds a tad more realistic with some minor depths.
For special features, we're treated to an audio commentary by C. Courtney Joyner (screenwriter and novelist) and Henry Peake (editor for True West magazine), both Sartana enthusiasts and zealots. They did their homework and take you through the movie with wit and humor. Then there's "From the life of a stuntman", an interesting brand-new interview with fit, happy and healthy actor and stuntman Sal Borgese (24min), "Violent tales for kids", a brand-new interview with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (19min), who has some great insights and laughs left from that time, and lastly a gallery produced from the archival materials provided by Mike Siegel (once again tons of pictures, tons...).
Is it Hallelujah or Tressette? No, it's Sartana but not as we know it.
That is to say, this is an official Sartana film released in the middle of the cycle but without the iconic presence of Gianni Garko. This seems odd and apparently George Hilton didn't think it was right either but Garko was busy and the producers were determined to keep cashing in on the popularity of the Sartana brand. So, with Carnimeo back on board as director the film was made and, perhaps surprisingly, turned out to be a pretty good entry in the series.
Hilton looks sufficiently Sartana-esque to be familiar but his man in black is noticeably different in character and tone. We still have the gadgets and cape but we also have an increased comedic element with guns in loaves of bread. We also have our man dressed as a Mexican peasant, not something you could imagine Garko doing. But this all suited Hilton's image and he makes a pretty decent Sartana in general and "Trade your Pistols" is a fun film which has plenty to enjoy. Not least of which is the great supporting cast which includes the lovely and apparently very pregnant Erika Blanc, perennial bad guys Piero Lulli, Rick Boyd and Luciano Rossi as well as the always welcome Nello Pazzafini and newcomer Charles Southwood as, ironically, Sabata.
The plot involves the usual twisty-turny shenanigans surrounding gold shipments and how each character tries to get their hands on them but, in truth, that is all, as usual, secondary to the general fun of the Sartana show. And Garko or not, this is a pretty good example.
This Bluray offers the film in it's best possible light and if you have only seen the fullscreen version put out on various cheap box sets this release will transform the film to a new level for you. The picture quality is excellent with only a slight difference in quality during one brief scene but this is short and hardly noticeable. English and Italian audio are available and the special features include excellent new interviews with Erika Blanc, George Hilton and Tony Askin as well as a picture gallery from the collection of Mike Siegel.
Our fearless black caped hero finds himself among the aftermath of a massacre while looking for his friend Joe Benson. Dispatching the villains who killed his friend, he finds that they were after a comically large gold nugget, and while further investigating the incident, finds that old Benson's mine was in a bidding war between two powerful men in the town of Indian Creek, Chinese casino owner Lee Tse Tung, and banker Ronald Hoffman. As Sartana digs deeper into the mystery he finds himself the new target of these two powerful men who have both the town and a plethora of dangerous killers in their pockets.
While Carnimeo's earlier films are bit more grounded in reality, his fifth film as a director shows his steady ascent into the wacky atmosphere of his later films. We're treated to Sartana getting into a fantastic Kung Fu fight, a 32 caliber financial manifest, a lead pocket watch, the most stereotypical depiction of a Chinese man ever to grace Spaghetti Land, and a comically large body count. It all fit's perfectly into the film's comic book like aesthetic, with the viewer constantly being engaged with multiple creative gunfights and eccentric baddies, all while dramatic camera angles frame the brilliant choreography and zip us along the action. Bruno Nicolai's score features a wonderful galloping theme laden with the I Cantori Moderni, electric guitar's and trumpets, which helps the flow of the film moving along. It's certainly a feast for the eyes and ears, and while it may suffer from some pacing issues at points, it's imperfections are far outweighed by the lighthearted fun it provides.
As with the previous two films, the fourth Sartana installment is of the same high quality in both visuals and audio, this is greatly appreciated as my first exposure of this film was through the awful Video Asia release, which to say in the least amount of naughty words was horrendous and a blight upon us all. Arrow is definitely to be commended by taking the time to scan and release the original camera negative, which according to the booklet was restored at R3Store Studios where there was apparently a great deal of repair work done. Honestly it hardly shows to be honest, while the print is very clean and sharp, it lacks that ugly plasticy appearance that happens when there's too much photo restoration and DNR, but thankfully the remaining grain doesn't interfere with the black levels of the film, which are absolutely wonderful and sometimes even downright impressive. Most notably during the mine scene and a moment where Sartana's silhouette looms in the frame of a door with his shadow stretching across the floor. Something else of note was the color balance, previous releases gave Sartana this ugly orange skin tan and bluish green hue along the screen, but here the colors are bright and vibrant, allowing me to fully enjoy the fireworks being launched over Villa Mussolini and the ostentatious Lee Tse Tung Casino set. There are only a few instances of noticeable damage on the screen that I noticed, including what appeared to be chemical lines stretching across the screen for a few seconds, and some small hairs that are present along the upper and lower black bars of the screen, though these issues were very mild and hardly affected the viewing experience.
Audio quality, being 1.0 mono track's and scanned from an optical negative, is understandably not to modern day standards, and may turn off those who are accustomed to large 5.1 surround sound mixes. For those of us who come from a time where releases were washed out under a sea of hiss, static and pops, your ears will be pleasantly surprised here, as the audio quality features some nice frequency range with music and vocal dubbing being distinguishable and clear. However during the beginning of the film there's some instances of warbling on the English track, and some moments of choppy hissing in the background, switching between the Italian and English audio tracks it seems the Italian version has barely more frequency range and less age related issues, but otherwise are mostly the same. There's really nothing to complain about here though, it's of much higher quality than most releases I've been exposed to.
Bonus features for the disk feature an audio commentary with C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke, an interview with actor Roberto Dell'Aqua (who played one of the Piggot brothers) and an excellent selection of high quality scans of posters and lobby cards for the film. As with all Arrow Video releases there is reversible artwork for the box. The only small negative is that there are no trailers for the film included, but to be honest, it's of little concern considering the bounty we have.
The final film of the official series and everyone is on top form. Garko is super suave as usual, Nicolai's score is catchy and fit's the mood of the film perfectly, Carnimeo's direction is stylish and visually interesting while the writing team push the envelope of exaggeration just a little further so that we get to enjoy all the nonsense a cannon loaded church organ can offer.
Is this the perfect Sartana film? I must be honest and say that the previous outing is my own personal favourite but this one does come pretty close. The plot is the usual "who is the real villain?" mystery peppered with lots of opportunities for our man in black to outsmart an array of adversaries before predictably winding up holding the cash but this is just as it should be in a Sartana flick. It's James Bond meets Mandrake meets Sherlock Holmes meets Ringo and a good level of over the topness fits perfectly and keeps the viewer smiling. And smiling is what these films are about after all. If you want grim realism you are in the wrong shop. What Sartana offers is tongue in cheek fun played out with style and no slapstick; the perfect balance of fantasy played straight yet without taking itself in any way seriously. Light the Fuse brings the series to an end in style and this boxset to a great conclusion.
The BluRay is a brand new 2K restoration and offers the film in excellent picture quality. Both Italian and English audio are included as well as some nice interview extras which include archive interviews with Carnimeo and Garko as well as a new interview with screenwriter Gastaldi and the second half of the new interview with Sal Borgese; the first half of which is included on the I am Sartana, Your Angel of Death disc.
In truth, Sartana has never been presented better and this box-set is a very welcome addition to every Spaghetti Western fans collection. I guarantee you will not regret the purchase.
Included in the box set along with the five Bluray discs is an impressive 56 page full colour booklet containing 2 extended essays along with full cast and credits for each of the films and a host of photographs and poster art.
The first of the essays, “If You Meet Sartana...” by Italian film author Roberto Curti, charts the story of the Sartana series and central protagonist from the origins of the name in Alberto Cardone’s $1000 on the Black to the development of the character by Parolini and Garko using elements from the Bond franchise as well as influences from the comic strip crime fighter magician Mandrake. Curti gives interesting background info on each production, their budgets, personnel changes and places them in the context of their timing in the genre and in so doing provides a useful understanding of how the series came about, why it was so popular and why it has remained so enduring over time for fans of Italian westerns.
The second essay "Westerns Italian Style: Once Upon a Timeline" is from British author Howard Hughes and gives a more general history of the genre in year by year chronological order; highlighting the major releases, how they influenced ensuing productions, the boom years, and their eventual decline in popularity. This is an essay as much for the newcomer as the long term fan but still offers some interesting insights. In particular it illustrates the ever-present comedic element in the history of Italian westerns from the earliest pre Leone days to the post Trinity parody boom and the inevitable spoof of spoofs. The essay ends with a brief look at the melancholy end to the genre in the form of the Twilight Spaghettis.
The booklet is rounded off by a full description of each of the restorations which make up the disc contents of the box set, detailing the source prints used, the level of resolution attained and the restoration house which produced the finished articles. Overall this booklet is an impressive addition to the films and makes for a nice little read that will inform the novice but still please the longer term fan of this fabulous genre.
Conclusion: It goes without saying that this box was on the one hand highly - and we mean very highly - anticipated, and on the other hand delivers on almost all fronts. All movies are presented in absolutely great images and sound quality, there are plenty of extras to keep you busy for a couple of weekends and it's all made with love. The only flaw one might have is that it's not as multi-lingual as it could've been. Fans around the globe would've appreciated it more if it also had Spanish and French audio or subtitles, maybe German even. But how are we to complain. The Complete Sartana BluRay Collection is an absolute marvel, a hands-down unlimited purchase recommendation and our new favorite thing to showcase in our shelves. Viva Sartana!
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