C'è Sartana... vendi la pistola e comprati la bara
(for Len Liu's Guide to the Official Sartana Films, click here)
I do not consider this film to be an "official" Sartana film, but I have to admit, it comes pretty darn close to being one. It was directed by Giuliano Carnimeo (aka Anthony Ascott), after all. And franchise star Gianni Garko was originally slated to star in this film. For those of you who consider this to be an "official" installment to the Sartana franchise, this is actually the third installment in the series, premiering in Italy in August of 1970, about a month before Have a Good Funeral My Friend, Sartana Will Pay was released, although it may have been the last film to be shot. Of significance is that Garko declined to appear in this film. Hence, George Hilton took his place to portray the role of Sartana. Whether this film is truly an official installment of the Sartana franchise is a topic for debate. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining film with Hilton performing admirably in Garko's absence. Furthermore, this film just so happened to out-gross the three Sartana sequels featuring Garko in the Italian box office. Wild East recently released a good quality DVD of this film as a double feature alongside Django against Sartana. The release is infinitely superior to the pan and scan, public domain US releases that goes by the the name of "Fistful of Lead" .
Even if this is not a "true" Sartana film, it sure has a similar premise, revolving around the usual things…such as stolen gold and double crosses. Gold transports belonging to the miners are continually being stolen by a Mexican gang while on their way to Dodge City. The evil mining boss is behind the whole scheme of course as the gold actually never leaves his office. The bandits have been hired by him to rob the stagecoach transporting what is actually sand. Naturally, Sartana appears and deals with various parties, and of course, after eliminating the bad guys, intends to keep all the gold for himself. Things get complicated by the arrival of Sabbath, a parasol carrying, Shakespeare reading gunman who dresses in pearl white and who apparently has made a lot of promises to his mother with regards to his behavior. The plot is complicated but comprehensible if you pay attention.
As mentioned before, George Hilton portrayed the role made famous by Gianni Garko. Hilton was another of director Carnimeo's frequent collaborators, starring as "Hallelujah" in another popular Spaghetti Western movie franchise. Because Hallelujah and Sartana were similar characters, Hilton was of course a natural to replace Garko in this film. George Hilton's Sartana is dressed a little differently and is a little less gritty and more tongue-and-cheek than Garko. From watching the film, one cannot help but feel that Hilton is actually playing Hallelujah, and not Sartana. American import Charles Southwood plays Sabbath, who is every bit as deadly and clever as Sartana himself. It is interesting to see Sartana matched up with someone who can be considered his equal. Like Klaus Kinski's "Hot Dead" in I am Sartana, Your Angel of Death (1969), and William Berger's "Banjo" in Sabata (1969), Sabbath is a wildcard, neutral character, with a purposely ambiguous "friend or foe" alignment. Southwood, who also starred with Hilton in They Call Me Hallelujah (1971), does a good, if rudimentary job here. Other notable actors in the cast include Erika Blanc, Piero Lulli, Luciano Rossi, and Nello Pazzafini. Lulli plays his usual "evil rich guy" character that he's so good at portraying.
There is some good humor and one-liners in this film. The action isn't bad either, but not quite as outrageously violent as the "official" Sartana films. It's funny to watch Sartana get interrupted by bad guys every time he sits down and takes a loaf of bread out to eat. Sartana then proceeds to dispose of his would-be killers with his derringer like pistol hidden inside something or another. This happens several times in the film and can get a little repetitive. Carnimeo does his usual stylish and efficient directing, while the dependable Francesco De Masi provides a musical score which is good, if not quite as masterful as Bruno Nicolai's. I know I keep on coming back to the absence of Garko, but it's just not the same without him. As fine of a job Hilton and Southwood do in there roles, one can not help but wonder how much better this film would've been Garko had played Sartana and Southwood was replaced by someone like William Berger.
Due to the absence of Garko, I do not consider this film to be an official Sartana movie, but that does not mean it's not a good movie. In fact, it's quite a good! It has many of the same elements of your typical Sartana movie, plus Carnimeo is behind the helm. Overall, it's an above average and entertaining Spaghetti Western that will satisfy fans of the "official" Sartana films. Do not let the absence of Garko detract from this fine film, which is good enough to stand on its own merits. There is quite a plethora of "unofficial" Sartana sequels out there, and this is by far the best of the lot, nearly as good as the real McCoy.