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Never Pay Someone to Kill a Man…..

Unless You’re Paying Sartana!!!

(A Part of Western Wednesdays)

by Tony Nash

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Some spoilers may follow)

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C’e Sartana…Vendi la Pistola e Comprati la Bara! (I Am Sartana…Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin) (1969) PG-13 ****

George Hilton: Sartana

Charles Southwood: Sabata the Sabbath

Erika Blanc: Trixie

Piero Lulli: Samuel Spencer

Nello Pazzafini: Mantas

Carlo Gaddi: Baxter

Luciano Rossi: Flint Brand (as Lou Kamante)

Federico Boido: Joe Brand (as Rick Boyd)

Aldo Barberito: Angelo

Luigi Bonos: The Posada Bar Owner

Marco Zuanelli: Dead Eye Golfay

Linda Sini: Maldida, Mantas’ Woman

Spartaco Conversi: Emiliano

John Bartha: Sheriff

Written by: Tito Carpi

Directed by: Giuliano Carnimeo (as Antony Ascot)

Synopsis: Bounty Hunter/Gunman Sartana witnesses a stagecoach robbery as he awaits the arrival of outlaws to collect reward money on. After surveying the goings on at a ghost town, Sartana discovers a plot between Mexican bandito Mantas and crooked bank manager Samuel Spencer to cheat the mining town of Appaloosa out of the gold they discovered. Teaming with Saloon owner Trixie and ally Sabata the Sabbath, Sartana begins to play Mantas and Spencer against each other. Complications arise when allegiances are uncertain of being compromised and questions of who can be trusted quickly become reality.

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The third film in the Sartana series is a little different from the first two, and the next two to follow. For starters, George Hilton replaces Gianni Garko as the lead and the film takes on a more lighthearted approach to its storytelling. This doesn’t take anything away from the film nor does it detract the popularity of its predecessors, if anything it gives the film its own voice and allows it to be just as fun as well. In a strange way the change of lead actor helps the filming style a great deal as Hilton was equally adept at playing straight roles and humorous roles well, and the lightheartedness and one liners of the character suit Hilton’s style well, something that would’ve been out of place with Garko. The film keeps the concept of the Sartana character looking to put a stop to a gang of baddies trying to outwit people in some way or another out of their money, though this go around is a little more straightforward, without the twists and turns that made the first two so unique. It’s still fun though to see Sartana working his magic with trickery and gunplay, staying one step ahead of his adversaries, keeping the audience wondering what he’ll do next. Sadly, the gadgetry is not on display in this one, but it makes the film so much more entertaining to see Sartana work with what’s only readily available to him.

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George Hilton, a Uruguayan actor who some believed overplayed everything in his roles, is quite excellent and entertaining as the replacement Sartana. The character is still out for himself for the majority of the film, but Hilton offers viewers a brief glimpse into the softer/gentler side of the character in a scene where he accepts a boy’s job offer to free his mother from bad guy Mantas’ men but doesn’t take money for it, even giving the grateful pair part of his earnings from a previous job to start life afresh in Mexico. Not all Italian Western characters went to this degree, but it wasn’t uncommon to see them do just one task simply because it was the right thing to do, without earning a dime from it. Hilton delivers some of the best one liners, and even lines in general in this film, showing that Italian Western Anti-Heroes were capable of dry humor, not the gallows humor normally associated with the genre. The character is not a comedic one by any means, but Hilton mixes enough seriousness with lightheartedness that it makes a perfect blend that allows Sartana to maintain his stoic mysteriousness, but at the same time remind viewers this Sartana is different from Garko’s.

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Charles Southwood, another of the many American actors who went to Italy to get their start, is a scene stealing amazement as Sabata the Sabbath. While only appearing towards the end of the film, for about 35 minutes in total, his automatic attention grabbing performance is not one to forget. A little like Clint Eastwood in his use of stares and body gestures, what makes Southwood’s role interesting is that the character is very proper, dresses all in white and grey, and has a love of reciting poetry. Like Sartana, Sabata has agility in keeping his enemies guessing as to where he is and how to get him. He may not be a trick shot, but he has enough stealth and ingenuity to be a proper ally, competition to Sartana, and offers an interesting solution to handling a group of banditos by hooking up a group of rifles to his horse reigns. Like Sartana, Sabata the Sabbath is a mysterious figure whom very little is known, except he’s a gunman and has encountered Sartana in the past. Unlike Sartana as well, Sabata the Sabbath is soft spoken, but when he speaks, it’s always neat to hear what he says. The duo constantly keep people guessing as to of they’re friends or enemies with profound respect and admiration for each other.

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Italian Western regulars Piero Lulli and Nello Pazzafini delight as supporting player villains Spencer and Mantas respectively. Lulli does the educated slime ball baddie and Pazzafini does the uneducated, but street smart bandito baddie. This contrast of villainy is similar to the one between William Berger and Fernando Sancho in the first Sartana film, but what separates the two is that Sancho and Berger had an uneasy alliance, while Lulli and Pazzafini have no alliance at all. Pazzafini’s wanted bandito is taking all the risks while Lulli’s slimy banker can keep his respectability without his partnering with Pazzafini being made public. Their predecessors were content with just double crossing and killing their partners while these two play up taking the money and running, leaving the other holding the bag to get hung. A nice touch is that Pazzifini had one of his first bigger roles in films, as he normally held secondary roles to the main villains. Here he gets to shine with good character development and show he was just as good an actor as others. Lulli has his usual good fare as the cowardly Easterner trying to survive in the Wild West.

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It should be noted that Gianni Garko only turned down the film because he thought the story and how his character was to be portrayed was too silly. Now it’s understandable that Garko would see the character a particular way, having played him twice already and of course there’s a more humorous feel to the film, so no one can really blame Garko in the long run. Garko did have a little humor in the roler, but he felt the character was better suited to being straightforward with a little humor thrown in to ease the tension. The fact that he returned for the fourth film of the Saga shows he didn’t mind some lightheartedness, just that the particular story of the previous film didn’t work for him.

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The third Sartana film has been argued about whether it should be canon in the Saga among Italian Western fans, but it’s still a fun and entertaining spectacle that everyone who’s a fan of the genre should see. George Hilton is no Gianni Garko by a long shot, but he’s not playing Garko’s Sartana, he’s playing his own interpretation of the character, which works very well for him and is believable. It is a different film after all, but works well either way. The cast is excellent, the camera work is cool to look at, and the whole vibe is just fun. It’s a playful film, but doesn’t go too far in the silliness or make light of any of the character’s situations. It’s not really fair to call it a Comedy Western as it doesn’t make too many attempts to be intentionally funny, though Sartana has some good dialogue worthy of a chuckle and some amusing music that works well in the scenes they’re used in. Sartana might not be the mysterious loner he was in the other films, but he’s still a wondrous enigma that keeps piling the surprises of his ingenuity and skill.

(Like with the first two, I highly recommend this film, in spite of many Italian Western fans citing it as an unofficial Sartana film. It mixes action and comedic styling well enough that it works on every level. Look to my writings on the first film if you wish to purchase the boxset.)

All images courtesy of Images and their respective owners

For more information’s Here, Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin

Wikipedia/Sartana’s Here, Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin

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

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