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Il Imprenditore Returns:

Sartana, the Angel of Death

(A Part of Western Wednesdays)

by Tony Nash

(all opinions are of the author)

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Sono Sartana, Il Vostro Becchino (I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death) (1969) PG-13 **** ½

Gianni Garko: Sartana (as John Garko)

Frank Wolff: Buddy Ben

Klaus Kinski: Hot Dead

Gordon Mitchell: Deguejo

José Torres: Shadow (as José M. Torres)

Sal Borgese: Sheriff Fisher Jenkins

Ettore Manni: Baxter Red

Renato Baldini: The Judge of Poker Falls

Federico Boido: Bill Cochran (as Rick Boyd)

Tullio Altamura: Omero Crown

John Bartha: The Sheriff of Hot Iron

Samson Burke: The Judge’s Right Hand

Written by: Tito Carpi, Enzo dell’Aquila, & Ernesto Gastaldi

Directed by: Giuliano Carnimeo (as Anthony Ascott)

Synopsis: When a gang with a leader dressed like gambler/gunslinger Sartana rob the Hot Iron Bank of $300,000, the cleaver fast draw must work fast to clear his name. Complicating matters is a $10,000 reward offered for Sartana’s head being sought by three men: Southern Aristocrat gunman Deguejo, stealthy Mexican tracker Shadow, and down-on-his-luck gambler Hot Dead, all former associates of Sartana. Helping Sartana stay free and alive is his friend, the grungy, but loyal, outlaw Buddy Ben.

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Sartana’s second appearance is just as fun as his first, perhaps a bit more because he gets fairly creative in catching his quarry and eluding those out to get him. Framed for a crime he didn’t commit, Sartana has to play detective again and try to figure out which of several individuals could’ve pulled off the job. Gianfranco Parolini had intended to continue with the Sartana character, but when the producer suggested a more light-hearted approach to the character, Parolini refused and gave up his rights to the character. This approach doesn’t do Sartana an injustice, though it’s understandable Parolini intended for the character to have different types of adventures. The light-heartedness of the film adds a great deal and makes it a fun ride anyone can enjoy. It’s not quite as silly as the later ones would slowly become, but some of the music allows for a good chuckle that allows the pace to remain steady. The James Bond craze was in full swing and having Sartana become a master of various weapons and other trickery made the character far more interesting and exciting to watch on-screen, audiences wondering what he would come up with next to outwit the bad guys. Granted Sartana had this aspect in the original film, but heightening it up for the first follow-up gives the character a special edge the keep one step ahead of the competition.

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Gianni Garko reprises the role of Sartana in an equally good performance as the original. Gone is the supernatural feel of the character, but the stealth and gadgetry remain the same. Like before, who Sartana really is remains a mystery, though this go around it becomes clear he has a penchant for gambling, particularly poker, and has acted as an unofficial bounty hunter. He’s still got the qualities of the traditional Anti-Hero of the Italian Western, but he differs in that he appears to be generally honest, only taking revenge on the people in on the plot to ruin his name and reputation. When three former associates decide to go after the bounty on his head, Sartana shows he valued their friendships and may find it hard to do them in. Frank Wolff, in his final Western role before his suicide two years later, is a blast as Buddy Ben. This guy is grungy and dirty, but he has a quality that often lacks in the Italian Western baddie: a code of ethics. When he first shows up on-screen, he’s looking to take out two men who betrayed him after a botched hold up, showing he takes the breaking of one’s word seriously. At first he seems a little too eager to help Sartana, but because he has a cast iron alibi, and clearly owes Sartana a favor from the past, Sartana accepts his aid. Wolff’s role is primarily as muscle to aid in breaking people for information in clearing Sartana.

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In a trio of extended cameo appearances are Klaus Kinski, Gordon Mitchell, and José Torres, billed under the name José M. Torres, three stalwarts of the Italian Western genre. Kinski plays Hot Dead, a surprisingly likeable gambler with a history of bad luck. Even though he wants the bounty on old gambling buddy Sartana, he would actually find it horrible to do so, especially since he owes the latter money, which for him is a worse sin than murder. Playing likable people was rare for Kinski, but he shows he was capable at it, and it was a real shame he didn’t do more of it. Mitchell plays Deguejo, a Southern Aristocrat who fancies himself a big game hunter. The thrill of the cat-and-mouse game is what draws him to the bounty, in spite of having aided Sartana in a few quests to bring in bad guys. Mitchell’s character is neither bad nor good in the film, he’s merely a presence doing what he loves to do, even if it means his life. Torres plays Shadow, a Mexican tracker/bounty hunter. He sees himself as a friend to Sartana, in spite of wanting the bounty, feeling Sartana would be more likely to die with honor, knowing it was a friend bringing him in. This is the toughest for Sartana as he and Shadow are clearly close friends.

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If there’s any flaw at all, it’s that Frank Wolff, Klaus Kinski, Gordon Mitchell, and José Torres weren’t given more screen time. Wolff is listed as the co-star, but he serves primarily as sidekick to Gianni Garko, which he does well at and isn’t a bad thing, but it would’ve been interesting if Buddy Ben had a little more to do. Kinski, Mitchell, and Torres were really guest stars with extended cameos, but it would’ve been neat to see them tracking Sartana, and maybe asking questions to where he’d been, what he was doing, and where he was going, and culminating it with a massive showdown, with the bad guy in the shadows finally getting his. Not that the finale is terrible, it works well, but it’s still nice to dream about what could’ve been. All of these actors were great character players of the genre who worked well in the roles they got, and brought quite a lot to the table.

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Parolini and others may feel the Sartana sequels got a little silly after a while, but the 2nd outing for the character is still a lot of fun and action packed. The story is well put together and the kill shot scenes are interesting to look at. The mystery aspect of who was the man impersonating Sartana was interesting as well as the man’s face was never shown, only seen from the back, meaning anyone could be the man in the shadows. All the characters are nicely fleshed out and all look as if they have something to hide, save the trio vying for the bounty, and keeps the audience guessing and in the dark as to who the head man really is. True the original aspects of the Sartana character being sacrificed for a more secret agent type is a shame, and would’ve been neat to see that aspect of the character continued, but what he ends up becoming isn’t bad either, and if anything, adds a bit or mystic to him. Sadly, the 1970’s brought about the early part of the demise of the Italian Western with the adding of comedy elements, but this is hardly what the Sartana films are,though the tongue-and-cheek aspect can hardly be seen as comedy. Even if the sequels aren’t up to par with the original, they’re still fun to watch and give viewers a good time with plot and suspense.

(The second Sartana film is just as good as the first, even a little better in it’s well revealed outcome. Like with the original it’s highly recommended and has a nice transfer of both image and sound from the fine people at Arrow Video. As I have a link to the Sartana Box Set in my review of the first film, no link will be added here. If anyone is interested please go to the first Sartana film review.)

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

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