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The Double Crosses Are Endless:

The First, and Most Original, Sartana Film

By Tony Nash

(A Part of Western Wednesdays)

(All Opinions are of the author alone)

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Se Incontri Sartana, Prega per la Tua Morte (If You Meet Sartana, Pray for Your Death) PG-13 (1968) **** ½

Gianni Garko: Sartana (as John Garko)

William Berger: Lasky

Fernando Sancho: General “Tampico” Jose Manuel Mendoza

Klaus Kinski: Morgan (as Klaus Kinsky)

Sydney Chaplin: Jeff Stewal

Gianni Rizzo: Al Alman

Franco Pesce: Dusty the Undertaker

Heidi Fischer: Evelyn Alman

Maria Pia Conte: Jane Randall

Sal Borgese: Lt. El Moreno

Sabine Sun: The Saloon Girl


Written by: Renato Izzo, Gianfranco Parolini, & Theo Maria Werner (as Werner Hauff), from a story by: Luigi De Santis, Fabio Piccioni, & Aldofo Cagnacci

Directed by: Gianfranco Parolini (as Frank Kramer)

Synopsis: Mysterious Bounty Hunter/Bodyguard Sartana discovers a ploy by bankers Stewal and Alman to steal a trunk full of insurance money for themselves. Their plan is to place the blame on the feuding Mexican outlaw General “Tampico” and American outlaw Lasky, claiming each had double-crossed the other. Soon all hell breaks loose and Sartana has all sides plotting against each other.

Image result for if you meet sartana... pray for your death

The original film in the only Saga of the Italian Western, Se Incontri Sartana is a surprisingly complex, action packed thrill ride that keeps the audience guessing as to what’s really going on, and whose who in all the mayhem. It’s the complexity that makes the film unique, because the audience doesn’t know who to trust, and if anyone knows more than they’re telling. This hardly slows down the fun and action of the film, and if anything, enhances it because of all the treachery and deceit all the characters seem to be capable of. The complexity also makes it hard to pinpoint down the plot exactly without giving too much away and spoiling things, but at the same time it’s a good thing because it allows the audience to make their guesses as to who the real bad guy is. Like any good Italian Western, the main objective of all the characters is money, though this time the audience really doesn’t know whose going to end up with the money, and who the puppet master behind the whole plot. In fact, so many double crosses happen in the film, not only does the audience lose track of them, but even as to who is double-crossing who. A bigger rarity in the Italian Western is that most of the characters seem to be in the dark about if they’re in control of their created situation, seemingly making judgments as they go along.

Image result for if you meet sartana... pray for your death

Deceit and treachery seem to be the name of the game for the villains of this Italian Western. Alliances and loyalties change at the drop of a dime, and the question of who is trying to cheat who out of the money is almost completely blurred. That the bad guys can’t even trust each other is something completely new for the Italian Western as their villains were usually just sadistic and greedy, but were at least loyal to an extent, only snitching or turn-coating causing partnerships to be terminated. While alliances were shaky to begin with for Italian Western baddies, they didn’t turn on each other without reason, even if the reason was petty. This consistent unease with the villains makes for a very interesting set of circumstances that add a good bit to the overall feel to them and allows for something a little different that keeps the genre fresh.

Image result for if you meet sartana... pray for your death

Image result for if you meet sartana... pray for your death

Image result for if you meet sartana... pray for your death

The cast of the film is superb and entertaining. Gianni Garko, an Italian born in Croatia, is excellent as the black-clad and mysterious Sartana. He really is like a ghostly specter walking/riding across the landscape, though he is in fact a living man. What the makes the character even more interesting is that nothing is ever really learned about him. Who is or what he does is never revealed in the film, even when he refers to himself as a dealer in death audiences don’t know if it’s the truth, adding to the hint of the supernatural theme of the character. Spaniard Fernando Sancho and Austrian William Berger, two stalwarts of the Italian Western genre, are both excellent as the Mexican bandit and American bandit respectively. These two characters are so dishonest they don’t even trust each other to betray them in the outlaw fashion. The only difference between the two is that Sancho’s Mendoza keeps his word whereas Berger’s Lasky is far too willing to change sides at the drop of a hat. While not to be trusted, their own codes of handling business are an interesting parallel that makes one wonder who’ll finally tire of the other and kill him.

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In a very short, but memorable, appearance, German actor Klaus Kinksi proves once again why he was a reliable, even if unstable, character performer. His brief appearance as Lasky’s sharpshooter Morgan makes excellent use of his eerie gaze and face, without any of the menace he was known for. That he could give a restrained performance shows Kinski’s willingness to play any type of character, though it often seemed that he preferred playing crazy characters. In a rare, but very nicely done role as a traitorous banker, is Sydney Chaplin, one of the many children of Silent Film icon Charlie Chaplin. While much more in love with theater roles, Chaplin shows he could do equally well in films too. Normally playing nice guys, Chaplin proves he was a capable slime ball as the weak Lothario Stewel, not only screwing his town out of money, but also screwing the man he was supposed to be in league with. Chaplin did appear in two other Italian Westerns after Sartana, but his preference for the stage deprived films, not just European and American, but in general, of his wonderful talents.

Image result for if you meet sartana... pray for your death

The only real flaw with the film lies in the soundtrack. Italian Westerns sometimes were forgotten about and the film stock and soundtracks tended to go into near disrepair. While the soundtracks are fine in terms of pitch and tone, little bits of the Italian soundtrack appear to be totally missing and English audio in their place. While this certainly doesn’t take away from the film and make the viewing experience horrible, those who prefer the original language audio with translated English subtitles (like this author) may be a little disheartened initially, but not completely off put to re-watches. This is only a minor flaw in the long run, and doesn’t spoil anything at all.

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Surprises abound in this mystery style Italian Western, always keeping audiences on their toes as to what’s really happening and who the mastermind really is. Even with a complexity that requires full attention from viewers, the film is still a blast to watch and have fun with. Paying attention in films isn’t always a bad thing as audiences can join in with characters like Sartana in putting the pieces together to figuring out the schemes of the bad guys so in a way, the viewer is sort of like Sartana’s partner, next to Dusty of course.  Sartana, much like The Man with No Name, Django, and Sabata, was an icon of the Italian Western Genre, what made him different was that he kept who he really was a secret, while his contemporaries tended to let a little of who they were come out in spurts. Not a mindless popcorn oddity by a long shot, but still gives audiences a worthwhile movie experience they won’t forget.

(I highly recommend picking up the Arrow Video Boxset of The Sartana Series, the transfers are excellent [from what I’ve seen so far] and offer clean and clear Italian with translated [removable] English subtitles and dubbed English audio options)

All images courtesy of images and their respective owners

For anyone in the UK, Region Free player owners, or Region B areas:

For anyone curious to try their skills at Italian



Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

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