Directors: Gianfranco Parolini (as Frank Kramer – he directed the first film, If You Meet Sartana… Pray for Your Death), Giuliano Carnimeo (as Anthony Ascott – he directed the other four)
Screenplays: Renato Izzo, Gianfranco Parolini, Theo Maria Werner, Tito Carpi, Enzo Dell’Aquila, Ernesto Gastaldi, Roberto Gianviti, Giovanni Simonelli, Eduardo Manzanos,
Starring: Gianni Garko, William Berger, Sydney Chaplin, Klaus Kinski, Gianni Rizzo, Frank Wolff, Ettore Manni, Antonio Vilar, Daniela Giordano, Nieves Navarro, Massimo Serato, George Hilton, Charles Southwood, Erika Blanc
Country: Italy, France, West Germany, Spain
Running Time: 96, 103, 91, 99, 93 min
In 1964, Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars was released and was hugely successful, heralding a wave of similar westerns coming out of Italy (and elsewhere in Europe). The spaghetti western boom brought many films hoping to create another character as iconic and marketable as Clint Eastwood’s ‘Man With No Name’. Some of these were pretty successful too. Django is the best example, but another character who was popular enough to spawn a number of sequels is Sartana. The films have fell into relative obscurity over the years, but Arrow Video are resurrecting them by releasing The Complete Sartana on Blu-Ray. Although supposedly ‘complete’, the set doesn’t include $1,000 on the Black (1966), which was the first film in which Gianni Garko played a character named Sartana. This isn’t an ‘official’ Sartana film though, funnily enough. He played more of a villain in it and it wasn’t until If You Meet Sartana… Pray for Your Death that the character became the protagonist and his general characteristics were properly introduced.
Usually when I review a box set like this I cover each title separately in its own mini-review, but I’m going to make an exception here as there are a lot to cover and the films are all fairly similar and share largely the same pros and cons. Hopefully I can still do the set justice.
If You Meet Sartana… Pray for Your Death was the first ‘official’ Sartana film and sees our hero (played by Gianni Garko, as with all but one of the titles here) in the middle of a messy insurance scam by a pair of bankers (Sydney Chaplin and Gianni Rizzo). They hired some Mexicans to hold up the local stagecoach carrying a chest of gold and then hired killers Lasky (William Berger) and Morgan (Klaus Kinski) to take out the Mexicans. It doesn’t quite go to plan though, particularly due to Lasky’s greed and evil nature, not to mention Sartana’s involvement.
I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death opens with Sartana robbing a highly secure bank, or at least we and any surviving bystanders are led to believe it’s Sartana. Our favourite anti-hero is of course innocent and must clear his name before the queue of skilled assassins (as well as a bunch of gun-toting wannabes) track him down. Along the way he’s ‘helped’ by the untrustworthy Buddy Ben (Frank Wolff) and forever chased by the compulsive gambler Hot Dead (Klaus Kinski again in a different role).
Have a Good Funeral My Friend… Sartana Will Pay opens with Sartana witnessing the murder of his friend Benson at the hands of some hired guns that he swiftly deals with. Sartana was going to buy some land from Benson, but it seems like everyone in town wants it, despite it being barren and worthless. As you might have guessed, there’s a rumour of gold on the land though, so all parties fight and double cross their way to claiming the stake.
Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming is Gianni Garko’s final outing as Sartana. The legendary anti-hero gets himself sent to prison so he can break out Grand Full (Piero Lulli), a fellow gunslinger. Full is involved in a counterfeit money deal which has gone wrong. The real $500,000 meant to buy the bills and the $20 million worth of fake notes have disappeared and the three main parties involved have been murdered. Full is blamed for one of the deaths, but only because the crooks after the money want to torture him into giving up the location of the fortune. Sartana weighs in to sort out the mess and gets caught up in another complicated web of treachery and greed.
Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin (you’ve got to love these epic titles) sees George Hilton take over on Sartana duties. The character witnesses the robbery of a shipment of gold (what else?) whilst out collecting bounties. Keen to investigate (and get his hands on the money no doubt), he heads into Mexico and uncovers yet another complicated tangle of allegiances and double crosses over a hidden hoard of gold. To spice things up a bit though, Sartana’s rival spaghetti western anti-hero Sabata (Charles Southwood) shows up and the finale sees them face-off against each other in an enjoyable showdown.
You could easily pick holes in the films in this set. Just by reading the synopses you can see the stories are all fairly similar – Sartana gets mixed up in some murder/robbery and we later discover some greedy bankers have set everything up to get their hands on loads of money. These stories often get a bit messy as they go on too, particularly the first film which probably has the weakest script. A lot has been cribbed from the Dollars films too such as the music box from For a Few Dollars More, as well as some of the camera angles placing holsters/guns close in the foreground against the target in the distance.
However, if you can accept the series was produced to cash in on the success of spaghetti westerns around the world at the time, and simply sit back and enjoy it, you’re in for a treat. It’s certainly one of the better examples of the genre and I enjoyed every title in the set. Even the final film Sartana’s Here, although suffering from the loss of Garko who is more suave and charismatic than Hilton, is a lot of fun due to its enjoyably daft moments. For instance, in the intro we see Sartana put out a dynamite fuse by shooting a water canister in midair.
Speaking of ridiculous moments, one of the joys of the Sartana series is the character’s ingenious use of tricks and gadgets to outsmart the bad guys. These are often utterly bonkers and reach new heights of silliness later in the series, such as the windup toy named Alfie, who hides guns and explosives in his strange shell. It’s all part of the series’ charm and sets it apart from the Dollars trilogy which were a little more down-to-earth.
Away from the goofy entertainment value though, the films are pretty well made for their budgets. They’ve got your usual catchy spaghetti western scores and they’re all nicely shot, with some inventive camera work. I particularly liked the way the camera would spin down to its side whenever a character was shot in I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death (and less frequently in some of the other films). There are a lot of POV shots too, which I’m not always a fan of, but here they’re used wisely and often add to the energy of the films.
And they are indeed energetic. The series is very violent and action packed, with little downtime throughout the five films. On top of all the gunfighting there’s some great stunt work too, with Sartana proving a rather acrobatic character. There’s a lack of on-screen blood so it’s not too brutal, adding to the cartoonish charm of the series. In this way, I was reminded of Commando at times. Both have ridiculously high body counts but little blood and never take themselves too seriously.
All in all then, the series is not going to trouble your braincells (other than to get your head around the multitude of characters and betrayals), but if you’re in the mood for a lively, bullet-strewn western romp, you can’t go wrong with Sartana.
The Complete Sartana is out now on Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Arrow Video. The films look very good. The first, If You Meet Sartana… Pray for Your Death sees a few lines pop up on the screen from time to time so is the weakest looking of the set, but otherwise the picture is decent and the others look great. Audio is solid too, with both Italian and English dialogue tracks available across the board.
There’s an endless wealth of special features too. They include:
- Brand-new 2K restoration of If You Meet Sartana… Pray for Your Death from original film materials, carried out by Arrow Films exclusively for this release
– Brand-new 2K restorations of I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death, Have a Good Funeral My Friend… Sartana Will Pay, Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming, and Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin from original camera negatives, carried out by Arrow Films exclusively for this release
– Original Italian and English soundtracks on all five films
– Uncompressed mono 1.0 PCM audio
– Audio commentary on If You Meet Sartana… Pray for Your Death by filmmaker Mike Siegel
– Audio commentaries on I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death and Have a Good Funeral My Friend… Sartana Will Pay by Spaghetti Western experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke
– Gianfranco Parolini on If You Meet Sartana… Pray for Your Death, a brand-new interview with the writer-director
– Fabbio Piccioni on If You Meet Sartana… Pray for Your Death, a brand-new interview with the writer
– Sal Borgese on I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death and Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming, two brand-new interviews with the actor
– Ernesto Gastaldi on I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death and Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming, two brand-new interviews with the writer
– Roberto Dell’Acqua on Have a Good Funeral My Friend… Sartana Will Pay, a brand-new interview with the actor
– Sartana Lives, an archive featurette on Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming featuring interviews with actor Gianni Garko and director Giuliano Carnimeo
– Sartana Shoots First, a brand-new interview with George Hilton on Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin
– Erika Blanc on Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin, a brand-new interview with the actor
– Tony Askin on Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin, a brand-new interview with the actor
– Brand-new video essay on the major actors and supporting players in the official Sartana films
– Galleries of original promotional images from the Mike Siegal Archive for all five films
– Limited edition packaging with reversible sleeves featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin
– Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films by Roberto Curti and an extensive Spaghetti Western timeline by Howard Hughes
I really enjoyed some of these features. Notably, one of the commentaries finally explained to me why Italian (and Chinese) movies from the era are always dubbed! It’s basically because Italian studios weren’t soundproofed, to save money, and so they always expected to post-record the audio and shot as silent. The interview with Gianfranco Parolini is hilarious too. He constantly goes off on a tangent during the interview and makes a few wild claims about things he invented. It’s a riot.
It’s surprising to see what is now a relatively obscure collection of films treated to such an extras-stuffed package. The series isn’t perfect but it’s a lot of fun and the mountains of commentaries and interviews make it even easier to recommend. Another stellar job from Arrow.
Please note – Although the stills are in black and white, all films are shot in colour. These are just the best publicity images I could find.