Release Date: September 2nd, 1970 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Frank Kramer Actors: Lee Van Cleef, William Berger, Pedro Sanchez, Nick Jordan, Linda Veras, Franco Ressel
heme music by Marcello Giombini introduces “Sabata” with an explosive, upbeat punch – as does Lee Van Cleef with his unmistakable silhouette, draped in a fashion essentially identical to his role in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” The score proves to be the second greatest driving force behind the success of the film, trailing only the eponymous lead character’s awe-inspiring gravitas – a cool, calm, collected presence, backed by a chiseled face, widely frowning mustache, narrowed eyes, and a permanently furrowed brow (along with the occasional wicked grin and the cheeky insight of recognizing his insertion in an over-the-top, badly dubbed import). He’s not completely unlike the standard Spaghetti Western antihero, but he certainly possesses the visual twist of a villain and a refreshingly overdeveloped personality.
A decorated army explosives expert, now a grizzled, slovenly drunk, gets thrown out of a saloon and lands in the dirt at the feet of the mysterious, black-cloaked Sabata (Lee Van Cleef). The setting is the dusty town of Daugherty City, Texas, where Sabata proceeds to save the rummy, Carrincha (Pedro Sanchez), from a crooked game with loaded dice, just before a bloodied soldier announces that the nearby bank has been cleaned out – robbed of $100,000 of Army funds. “Gentlemen! Someone around here lose a safe?” sarcastically inquires Sabata when he single-handedly returns the iron box, adorned with the slain bodies of the thieves. Shortly thereafter, Carrincha presents his very useful friend Alley Cat (Nick Jordan), a silent Indian acrobat, while a suspicious traveler (William Berger) with a knack for playing a banjo (and even an organ) starts following them around the settlement.
When Sabata discovers that three prominent town members were responsible for planning the bank heist, he strikes up negotiations for steadily larger and larger chunks of money for his silence. But instead of paying off Sabata, the businessmen choose to hire professional gunmen to take care of this new blackmail problem (ranging from a poor farm boy sharpshooter to decidedly more classy assassins). That proves to be a particularly poor decision as the paid killers drop like flies and Sabata’s extortion price keeps going up.
The adventure is exciting yet laughable in its excesses and overblown machismo, beginning with Sabata gunning down a wagon full of bandits – at a tremendous distance that the best Winchester couldn’t accurately shoot from half the yardage. Hilarity continues when the editing tries to be creative, most notably as the banjo player plucks a tune for Sabata to ascend the stairs to – ending in a speedy tempo and a busted instrument. The villains are also crafted to be specifically memorable: Stengel (Franco Ressel) is a pasty-faced, effeminate, stiff nobleman with a penchant for medieval decorations and inept henchmen; Ferguson (Anthony Gradwell) is a husky banker with a grim visage and large stature; and Judge O’Hara (Gianni Rizzo) is a nervous, cowardly, bespectacled fat man. When “Banjo” reveals his secret weapon – a rifle hidden inside his musical piece – it’s clear that director Robert Rodriguez borrowed from this moderately obscure actioner for his own humor-laced, modern thriller “Desperado.” Though it’s a little rough around the edges from a technical standpoint (it is, after all, a low budget foreign feature), the supporting characters are oftentimes incredibly obnoxious, and there are one too many showdowns, this high-octane, cult Spaghetti Western still offers plenty of unique, stylized fun.
– Mike Massie