By Linc Leifeste | July 22, 2014
Director: Gianfranco Parolini (as Frank Kramer)
Writers: Renato Izzo, Gianfranco Parolini
Starring: Lee Van Cleef, William Berger, Ignazio Spalla, Aldo Canti, Franco Ressel, Antonio Gradoli, Linda Veras, Gianni Rizzo
One of the first four films being released on Blu-ray on Kino Lorber’s “Kino Lorber Studio Classics” label, Sabata is a classic Spaghetti Western, with a cheesier sauce than most. A film that will simultaneously put you in mind of Sergio Leone, who clearly inspired director Frank Kramer (actually Gianfranco Parolini), as well as modern directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, who have surely given Sabata it’s deserved repeat viewings, it’s nowhere near as masterful as Leone’s Man With No Name trilogy (and let’s face it, Lee Van Cleef is no Clint Eastwood). That said, it’s a film that takes the wackier elements of Spaghetti Westerns and cranks them way up, adds a bit of James Bond gimmickry for good measure and lets ‘er rip. From the Morricone-inspired soundtrack, which is a blast, to the Man With No Name-inspired lead character, to the supporting character named Banjo who is clearly inspired by the Charles Bronson’s Harmonica character in Once Upon a Time in the West, in many ways this is Leone-lite, but with a lot more preposterous flair. And I mean that as a compliment. Sincerely I do.
The titular Sabata (Lee Van Cleef) rolls into dusty Daugherty, Texas, quickly befriends overweight, unkempt town drunk Carrincha (Ignazio Spalla), before entering a saloon and exposing a rigged dice game just as the dealer is about to take his latest victim’s last worldly possession, displaying his otherworldly marksman skills in the process. In the meantime, a group of outlaws rides into town and robs the bank’s vault, getting away with the $100,000 that was just deposited in there moments earlier. But Sabata soon tracks the thieves down and handily dispatches seven of them from a great distance, returning the safe to town and getting a $5,000 reward for his trouble. But it turns out that the robbery was actually the work of three prominent citizens of Daugherty: saloon owner Ferguson (Antonio Gradoli), Judge O’Hara (Gianni Rizzo) and ringleader Stengel (Franco Ressel). They have been made aware that the railroad will soon be coming through town and they need the money to buy up property which they can then sell to the railroad company at great profit.
But the mysterious Sabata has other plans. As he tries to blackmail the corrupt trio, they’re busy trying to hire one hit-man after another to get rid of him. There’s not a lot of suspense as the multiple efforts on Sabata’s life unfold but it’s still fun to watch as he handily outsmarts and outshoots his opponents. In the meantime, he also befriends a couple of extraordinarily eccentric town residents, Alley Cat (Aldo Canti), a mute, chiseled high jumper with a bizarre haircut who slightly resembles Ben Stiller and spends his time sitting on rooftops and howling like a coyote (so maybe he’s not exactly mute but he never speaks) when he’s not busy unnaturally jumping to great heights with the greatest of ease off of cleverly hidden trampolines, and Banjo (William Berger), a ne’er-do-well who looks like a burnt out John Fogerty and spends his days loafing at the town hotel, strumming on his banjo, and his evenings laying in the arms of his lover, Jane (Linda Veras), a prostitute with dreams of coming up with enough money to leave her call girl life behind and travel to Europe. But Banjo has a dark past and his banjo is more than it appears to be, and only time will tell whether he’s Sabata’s friend or enemy.
This is not high art nor Shakespearean drama but I have little doubt that this is a well-executed piece of film-making, with director Parolini making exactly the film he set out to make. But whether Sabata appeals to you will depend almost entirely on your tastes. A classic Western this is not. If you’re put off by preposterous storylines and implausible action sequences or if hammy, underdeveloped characters doing ridiculous things while speaking with poorly overdubbed voices aren’t your idea of entertainment, you might want to skip this film. But I’d say if that’s the case, the problem more likely lies with you than with Sabata.