Now that Sony has control of the United Artists library one of their first special editions is this trilogy of Sabata
Spaghetti westerns directed by Italian Gianfranco Parolini under the anglicized surname Frank Kramer. Flush from his successes with Sergio Leone, producer Alberto Grimaldi seized the opportunity to billboard his "rediscovery" Lee Van Cleef in a series of his own. Grimaldi chose Parolini after seeing the director's work in 1968's Sartana
films are acceptable Spaghetti thrillers that never approach the quality of the Leone films. Parolini was sometimes called the Fellini of the Italian western for his large and colorful casts, but the overwhelming impression imparted by the trilogy is that of a zoom-happy series of pleasantly mindless showdowns and gun-downs. Spaghetti aficionados may be able to discern a personal style at play.
The first two Sabata
films are variations on the "treasure hunt" format of Leone's The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
. Lee Van Cleef plays a more fanciful version of his character from Leone’s "Dollars" films. The striking, hawk-nosed gunslinger Sabata is associated with circuses and uses trick weapons, most notably a derringer with extra barrels hidden in the handgrip. He has a buffoonish but dedicated sidekick, an expert at knife throwing, played by the portly Ignazio Spalla under the name Pedro Sanchez. Aldo Canti (as Nick Jordan) is a circus acrobat on Sabata's team who enlivens the proceedings with impressive stunts. Canti springboards into high windows to help Sabata gain access to guarded buildings; it's fairly amazing to see him leap from fifteen and twenty-foot heights and land neatly on his feet.
Both 1969's Sabata
and 1971's The Return of Sabata
establish our hero in the middle of a corrupt situation, competing with a less-scrupulous false partner for the spoils. In the first film, a town's leading citizens fake a bank robbery in order to abscond with the cash. William Berger is an anachronistic longhaired musician-swindler who hides a Winchester in his banjo.
When gunplay is afoot Van Cleef commands the screen with confidence to spare; his inimitable gravel-toned voice is a definite asset in dialogue scenes. But his impassive face expresses next to nothing.
Parolini stages the action almost as a comedy but his unfolding of events is slow - the random and continuous gunfire soon loses its impact. Each movie could easily be trimmed by a reel or more. The first two perk up considerably for set-piece battle finales that make good use of cleverly timed gags and sharp camerawork. After so many predictable situations, they even manage a fresh surprise or two.
For the record The Return of Sabata
pits Van Cleef against Giampiero Albertini's McIntock, a robber baron who claims he's funding town improvements by collecting heavy taxes. The loot ends up as yet another loose treasure to be fought over by feuding adventurers. A traveling show has a more direct role in this sequel; Sabata is introduced earning his keep in a gunfight entertainment that uses magician's tricks, much like Christopher Lee's hi-jinks as Scaramanga in the later 007 film The Man with the Golden Gun
. The overall circus atmosphere probably added to Parolini's reputation as the Spaghetti Fellini.
1970's Adiós Sabata
is a Sabata
film in name only. Filmed as an "Indio Black" movie, Parolini decided after the fact to give Yul Brynner the Sabata name. Lee Van Cleef was tied up doing a Magnificent Seven
sequel, so both franchises suffered from being denied their established leading men. This time around "Sabata" is a lone adventurer hired to steal gold for Mexican revolutionaries. Ignazio Spalla returns for sidekick duty but a new man plays the requisite acrobat. Yul Brynner struts through the Sabata role with even less visible acting than did Lee Van Cleef, striking noble poses instead of giving a performance. He wears a ridiculous black buckskin 'hero' outfit with a gaudy leather fringe, as if auditioning to join The Village People.
The plot's idea of novelty is to make every character a duplicitous thief. There's yet another good-looking sharpie (Dean Reed) after the Army's wagonload of gold. It comes as no surprise that the evil General in charge also wants the loot for himself; he's played by Gerald Herter, a venerable villain remembered from Riccardo Freda's Caltiki, the Immortal Monster
. The General's scheme is predictably scuttled by the resourceful Brynner. As in the previous two films, the busy plot is merely an excuse to stage stylized duels and shootouts at regular intervals. For Sabata
's main audience of kids that was probably a satisfactory formula.
MGM/Sony's DVD set of The Sabata Trilogy
presents these three Techniscope spaghettis in fine enhanced transfers with good color. There are no original Italian tracks but we at least get to hear Lee Van Cleef and Yul Brynner's natural voices. The music soundtracks by Marcello Giombini and Bruno Nicolai sometimes sound like surfing music. The original Italian titles are used as main theme lyrics for the first two pictures: "Ehi amico... c'è Sabata, hai chiuso!"
The set's three separate slim disc cases come in an attractive shiny-gold card box. There are no extras.
For more information about The Sabata Trilogy
, visit MGM
. To order The Sabata Trilogy
, go to
by Glenn Erickson