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Sartana

From The Spaghetti Western Database

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The character of Sartana was created for the movie If you meet Sartana, pray for your Death, directed by Gianfranco Parolini and starring Gianni Garko in the title role. The film was made in 1968 when the glory days of the diehard spaghettis was coming to an end and the production of westerns was already in decline. Parolini’s movie was playful and fun-loving, even though the body count was still very high. Its succes would push the industry towards a more tongue in-cheek-approach of the genre and would bridge the gap between the diehard westerns (in the style of Sergio Leone) and the comedy westerns (in the style of Enzo Barboni's Trinity movies). It would also spawn four sequels.


The Origins and the Name

We don’t know for sure who invented the name of Sartana: the producer of the first Sartana, Aldo Addobati has always sustained that he got the idea when he saw Alberto Cardone's Blood at Sundown, in which the actor Gianni Garko played a villain called El Sartana, but one of the scriptwriters, Fabio Piccioni, claims that the name was chosen by a group of men who had written and discussed the script over a few glasses of wine in a bar on the famous Roman square Piazza del Popolo. One of those screenwriters was Guido Zurli, who was also supposed to direct the movie. But Zurli fell out with Addobati and was replaced by Gianfranco Parolini.

The character

In the first draughts of the script, Sartana was a more Zorro-like hero, a crusader helping the oppressed, but Garko and Parolini started to work on the character. Garko had accepted the role, but a clause inserted in his contract stipulated that the final script must be approved by him. Parolini loved the James Bond movies and thought it was a good idea to equip the character with a series of ultra-cool gadgets and props like the four-barrel Derringer with the playing cards cylinder. They both thought it was wiser not to give any specific information on his background and let people guess who and what he was. Is he a bounty hunter? An insurance agent maybe, or a man working for the government? Some have even suggested that he was a ghost. For this reason it has also been suggested that Sartana owed his cloak to Count Dracula, but his appearance was rather modeled after Mandrake the Magician, which also explains his talent for juggling and card tricks and his ability to appear virtually out of nothing.


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The sequels

Director Parolini would not be involved in any of these sequels: like Zurli, he fell out with Addobati and was replaced. The new director, Giuliano Carnimeo, preferred a more light-hearted approach; in the original movie Sartana had been an almost spectral gunman, in the sequels he would become a more Houdini-like illusionist: still lethal, but a bit more down-to-earth. While the character became more human, the movies became more gimmick-ridden and the gadgets more outlandish. The final Sartana movie, Light The Fuse... Sartana Is Coming, would feature an organ turned into a battle station (almost a weapon of mass destruction) plus a miniature robot in the form of a totem, called Alfie, who could be programmed to kill.

The script for first Sartana movie had been the work of a collective of screenwriters and they had come up with an inextricable plot full of twists, turns, changing alliances and other surprises. This peculiarity was respected in the sequels: the Sartanas would become notorious for their virtually incomprehensible stories (and for their long and bizarre titles). Three of the four sequels were (co-)written by Tito Carpi, one of the most prolific screenwriters in the history of Italian genre cinema. Some people watch the movies just for fun, others watch them for the fun of unraveling the plots.

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George Hilton

The actors

Gianni Garko appeared in three of the four sequels, but for Sartana’s Here ... Trade your Pistol for a Coffin he was replaced by George Hilton. On the set of that movie, Carnimeo discovered that Hilton fitted his ideas better than Garko: he had always been a supporter of a more parodist approach, but his plans had been obstructed by Garko, who felt that the daring mix of comedy and extreme violence of the movies would only work within a tongue-in-cheek context, and would become ridiculous if they turned the whole thing into a farce. Hilton agreed with a more farciful approach. As a result, the Hilton-movie shows a strong tendency towards the absurd. For this reason some fans don’t see it as an official Sartana.


After Sartana

After his conflict with Addobati, Parolini would start his own 'Sartana franchise' with the Sabata movies, starring Lee Van Cleef (twice) and Yul Brynner (once) as the black-clad gentleman gunslinger Sabata (*1). Garko played characters like Cemetery (who bears some resemblance to Sartana), Santana (who bears no relation to Sartana) and Holy Ghost (who seems more a travesty of Sartana). Some think Carnimeo's Hallelujah movies (with Hilton) are an even more light-hearted continuation of the Sartana venture, others think only the four movies with Garko count as genuine Sartanas.

The false Sartana’s

The name Sartana would also pop up in titles of movies featuring no Sartana-like character at all (*2). The Ed Wood of spaghetti westerns, Demofilo Fidani, made several low-budget oaters such as Django and Sartana Are Coming... It's the End and The Four who came to kill Sartana featuring a character called Sartana (played by an actor like Franco Borelli or Jeff Cameron) but with little in common with the original creation. Some of the best known false Sartana’s feature no Sartana, but only have the name in the title to cash in on the popularity of the original franchise, such as Sartana in the Valley of Death and Sonora - Sartana does not forgive


Notes:

  • (1) The character played by Brynner was originally called Indio Black, but the name was changed into Sabata on the set. Lipreading viewers noticed that Brynner is called "Sabata" (not "Indio") by those actors who mouth their lines in English. See: Adiós Sabata Review


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The SARTANA series:
Simon Gelten
Simon Gelten is a long time contributor to the SWDb. "I'm not as old as Tom B. but I'm working on it. I hope to catch up with him by the end of the next decade.", he says. Simon saw all movies by Sergio Leone and several by Sergio Corbucci in cinema, most of the time in Eindhoven, the city where he was born. Currently, Simon is living in Turnhout, Belgium. Simon is active within the database as both Scherpschutter and his alter ego Tiratore Scelto.
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