Tuesday, April 13, 2010


A horse-drawn wagon rolls hurriedly through a wilderness as a man settles down to a dubious picnic lunch: a chalky looking loaf of bread and two hard-boiled eggs. The man will eat the eggs, but saves the bread for another time. It's our old friend Sartana, dapper as ever but now looking more like George Hilton than Gianni Garko. He's gone back to the grubby three-day growth look of his earlier outings instead of the blond moustache Garko adopted later. Appearances aside, Sartana didn't come out here just to have a snack. He wants to kill a man; the driver of the wagon has a price on his head. But someone beats him to it. A gang of bandits pop out of trapdoors in the earth and blow away the driver and his escort. They gather up the riderless horses, but what of the wagon's contents? They don't seem to care. In fact, they throw a stick of dynamite at it and ride away.

Sartana's curiosity is piqued. Why didn't they loot the wagon? He wants to take a look for himself, but that means preventing the explosion. That should be a simple matter, for a gunhawk like him, of shooting away the fuse before the fire reaches the dynamite. But Sartana doesn't do things the easy way. Instead, he tosses his water canteen far into the air and shoots a hole through it. The water puts out the fiery fuse. It takes our hero a full credit crawl before he reaches the wagon. I don't know what he expected, but he finds sacks of sand in a safe.

If it all seems familiar to Sartana, he doesn't let it show, but it reminded me of one of his earlier films in which the villains faked stage robberies as part of an insurance fraud scheme. The rest of this film, directed by "official" Sartana hand Giuliano "Anthony Ascott" Carnimeo, traces the hero's effort to track down the gold that everyone else believes has been stolen. His detective work pits him against the bandit gang and an evil banker, along with various satellite villains. The main thing is that there be plenty of people for him to shoot.

Sartana is like The Shadow of the spaghetti west. His gimmick is that he sees all and knows all. The gag is that he's always at least one step ahead of the opposition. His gunplay tends toward the cartoonish, the gunfights ending up like sight gags. There's an almost classical slapstick quality to his showdowns this time out, since he almost always cheats. He always seems to have a gun hidden somewhere, whether in his boot, in a deceptively empty holster, or in that nasty loaf of bread. The bread becomes the main running gag of the film, provoking the funniest line in the English dub when a bandit, on to his tricks, orders Sartana: "On your feet, and keep your hands away from that loaf of bread!" When Sartana makes a big reveal of three loaves of bread on a table during his final showdown with the bandit leader, you can't doubt that Carnimeo and writer Tito Carpi have tongues in cheeks more than ever this time out. There's no realism to the gunfights, since Sartana's enemies uniformly violate the Tuco Rule and talk, talk, talk (one even tells his men to count to three!) when they should shoot, shoot, shoot. The gags wouldn't work otherwise. It still works, somehow; I was amused by the brazenness of it all.

This is why they called it Boot Hill.

When Sartana plays with his food, he plays for keeps.

The filmmakers throw a couple of wild cards into a mix: a ruthless saloon girl played by Erika Blanc, and a rival gunfighter named Sabbath. This man (some online reviewers point out that, in some countries, he'd be called Sabata) is in some ways Sartana's antithesis. He wears white while Sartana wears black, for instance. He's also an effete, poetry-reading, parasol-carrying Englishman -- or at least he sounds that way in the dub. He reveres his mother's memory and insists on etiquette toward ladies; he kneecaps a thug who was threatening to rough up the saloon girl in order to make him "curtsy" properly. In this showcase role, the American actor Charles Southwood nearly steals the picture from a charismatic George Hilton. I got the impression that this film may have been a tryout for a separate Sabbath series that never happened, though Carnimeo and Carpi later pitted Hilton and Southwood against each other again in a film in the Alleluja series.

Erika Blanc (top) and Charles Southwood (below) complicate things for Sartana and keep us guessing which side each will end up on.

This last "official" Sartana film -- the last with either Carnimeo or Garko involved -- is a refreshing comedown from the ridiculous excess of Garko's last outing, in which Sartana turned a church organ into a machine gun. Perhaps with Garko out of the way Carnimeo could poke fun at the character and his conventions instead of simply escalating the outlandishness quotient. Hilton makes a good replacement, he's supported by a good cast, and he's backed by a nice score by Francesco (The Inglorious Bastards, Lone Wolf McQuade) de Masi. It's still the sort of gimmicky film that hardcore spaghetti fans aren't necessarily supposed to like, but I'll recommend it for being well-paced, action-packed, and pretty amusing in its silly way.

While the version included in VideoAsia's Spaghetti Western Bible Vol. 2 collection is full-frame, here's a widescreen Italian language trailer, uploaded to YouTube by MrSpaghettiWestern.


venoms5 said...

I think VideoAsia's version is from the old Unicorn VHS. It looks like it. I preferred the Garko movies over this one. I thought Hilton seemed kind of out of place here for some reason. I guess he never quite brought the character to life the way Garko did for me. Personally, Hilton's best movie, imo, is A BULLET FOR SANDOVAL (1969). Deadly serious that one. Also, A MOMENT TO KILL (1968) is a pretty good Hilton vehicle with Walter Barnes. If you haven't seen them, Sam, you might enjoy those, too.

Samuel Wilson said...

venom, I like the Garkos better except for the last one he did with the church organ. Hilton does get a demerit for disguising himself as a peon early on; Sartana should never be out of uniform, as he's really more a look or a style than a character. I've seen trailers for Sandoval that make it look quite good, but I don't recall hearing of Moment to Kill. Thanks for the tips.