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The Swindle to End All Swindles:

Sartana Foots the Bill

by Tony Nash

(A Part of Western Wednesdays)

(Spoilers may be present)

(This review is of the Italian language version of the film)

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Buon Funerale Amigos!….Paga Sartana (Have a Good Funeral My Friend, Sartana Will Pay) (1970) PG-13 ****1/2

Gianni Garko: Sartana

Antonio Vilar: Banker Ronald Hoffman

Daniela Giordano: Jasmine Benson

George Wang: Lee Tse Tung

Luis Induni: The Sheriff of Indian Creek (as Luis Hinduni)

Helga Liné: Mary, the Saloon Woman (as Elga Liné)

Ivano Staccioli: Deputy Sheriff Blackie

Franco Pesce: The Undertaker of Indian Creek

Franco Ressel: Samuel Piggot

Federico Boido: Jim Piggot (as Rick Boyd)

Jean-Pierre Clarain: Elmo Piggot

Robert Dell’Acqua: Frank Piggot

Rocco Lerro: Ralph Piggot

Aldo Berti: Colorado Joe

Attilio Dottesio: Joe Benson

Written by: Giovanni Simonelli (story credit as Jean Simon) & Roberto Gianviti

Directed by: Giuliano Carnimeo (as Anthony Ascott)

Synopsis: After several prospectors are murdered when it’s believed they’ve found gold in an abandoned mine, gambler and gunslinger Sartana is determined to find those responsible. When he discovers a plot involving both a Sheriff and a Bank Manager, Sartana must play his hands very carefully. The question is, is what the dead men discovered really what it is?

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The fourth Sartana film in the franchise and the third film for actor Gianni Garko proved to be an interesting hybrid of Gianfranco Parolini’s original and Giuliano Carnimeo’s subsequent “Western James Bond” sequels. This go-around has Sartana investigating the seemingly senseless murder of a group of prospectors who’ve supposedly found a vein of gold in a worthless area of town. As he digs deeper into the crime he discovers several interested parties in the land including the city’s Bank Manager, The town Sheriff, and a Chinese immigrant running the local gambling house. When the niece of one of the dead men comes to town to inherit, Sartana has to work quickly to resolve all issues. What makes this Sartana film interesting as with its predecessors is the seemingly endless string of red herrings, false leads, and more questions then answers to a very suspiciously simple case of ownership and validity. While films one and two of the franchise did this very well, this one takes all that an extra mile as it’s clear there’s something totally else going on that not even Sartana is giving hints to, making audiences wonder what the true story really is to all this. The Mystery aspect to all the Sartana films, with the exception of the third film starring George Hilton, makes for a very interesting ride as few Italian Westerns toyed with what was really going in the story and were fairly straightforward.

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Gianni Garko, the original and best Sartana, goes back to the roots of the first film, while also gaining some new traits. In his opening scene, after dispatching a couple of hired killers, Sartana comes upon a wad of cash from one of the dead prospectors, and throws it into the burning house rather than keep it. While a gambler at heart, Garko plays up this Sartana with an essence of honor, clearly not wanting to take from the dead. Garko also adds a sense of justice to Sartana, as while he didn’t personally know the one dead man, he firmly believes no one should be killed in cold blood. The addition of a romantic side to Sartana is a nice and welcomed departure to the traditional Anti-Hero characteristics normally associated to such characters. This shows the character has some degree of humanity and is not just about gaining money. The mixture of the phantasm qualities of the first film and the gadget trickery of the subsequent sequels offers a unique difference to the character of Sartana as he’s at once mysterious, clever, and witty all at the same time. Garko wasn’t initially impressed with the change of the character from the first film to its sequels, but later did come to appreciate the three he appeared in.

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Antonio Vilar, another South American actor who found success in Spain and other parts of Europe, does quite well in the role of Hoffman the banker. Vilar play the character in the tradition of the slimy aristocrat often not willing to get his own hands dirty in the schemes he concocts, but actually will when the situation calls for it. In spite of success as Indian Creek’s Bank Manager, the idea of gaining possession of a crusty old prospector’s claim of having found gold is too much even for him. Working out a nice deal between himself, the Sheriff, and a lady Saloon Owner, Vilar’s Hoffman character creates what he believes to be a full proof scheme to keep suspicion off himself and others. It is only when Sartana shows up that this plan begins to unravel and Hoffman begins blaming others for a scheme doomed to get found out. Ironically, Vilar’s Hoffman actually had a good deal of side plans for when others failed, showing he did prepare for most eventualities, making him a better than average sophisticated baddie.

Image result for buon funerale amigos paga sartana

Image result for buon funerale amigos paga sartana

George Wang, a Cantonese-American actor who found mild success in Europe, is a surprise in the role of Lee Tse Tung. While Westerns were known for fairly stereotypical portrayals of both Native Americans and Asian immigrants, Wang as Tung is free of all dated and incorrect concepts of how Asians appeared and behave. Wang portrays Tung as a Confucius quoting businessman who owns and operates the town’s only casino. What makes this character unique is while Wang has Tung as generally tranquil and gentlemanly, there’s something clearly two-faced about him that makes the audience, and even Sartana, consistently weary of what his actual interest is in the events unfolding. Luis Induni, a Spanish actor born in Italy, gets a rare opportunity for a substantial role with the part of the Sheriff of Indian Creek. Like with Wang as Tung, Induni as the Sheriff is a double-dealing character also corrupted by the allure of gold. What makes Induni’s character different and tragic from the ones played by Vilar and Wang is that the Sheriff was clearly a good and decent man who somehow got caught up in the get rich quick scheme for the money out near the prospector’s place.

Buon funerale amigos!... paga Sartana (1970)

What gives the film an extra leg up in the franchise is the absence of screenwriter Tito Capri. While his work on films 2, 3, and 5 is good and worthwhile, his tongue and cheek atmosphere gave the series a somewhat silly vibe, though not necessarily bad, it did make others feel the franchise lost its edge.  This entry still sports some funny one-liners, and tongue and cheek humor, it still keeps a fairly serious, straightforward atmosphere that keeps the film within the areas of the traditional Italian Westerns that people have come to love and enjoy.

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A grey area that some might call a controversy or poor business/artistic practice was composer/conductor Bruno Nicolai’s (Ennio Morricone’s equally gifted protege) practically recycling his entire score for this film to another film he scored two years later in Il Mio Nome e Shanghai Joe (My Name is Shanghai Joe). Now with the main protagonist of that film being a Chinese immigrant, the melody of George Wang’s character’s theme being recycled in perfectly understandable, but to have re-used everything else seems a little lazy and excessive. Whether Nicolai gave his permission for this or was totally unaware is still up for debate, but because the Sartana film was the score’s original purpose, such ideas/theories shouldn’t spoil fans enjoyment of the film.

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Very different, especially from the first two films of the franchise, the 4th Sartana film still manages to pack in a lot of action and gunfights that will entertain Italian Western lovers new and old. A fine story and a twist that will leave everybody completely bewildered and off-kilter will be a welcomed difference to the usual fare people are used to within the genre. That the protagonist all along has knowledge he’s unwilling to divulge until absolutely necessary makes what the audience and other characters learn towards the finale feel totally out of left field and completely unexpected. The acting is very well done and the characters hold their own and weight very well. Mixing elements from the first film and the second film, there’s enough seriousness and playfulness to result in a fine homogeneous result that will appeal to most Italian Western enthusiasts.

(The fourth Sartana film showed no hints the franchise was losing steam, and that a combination of the original film and the first sequel led to an interesting different film that found its own strengths and stood as a worthy effort in its own right. Once again the mystery aspect plays a large part of the story, and the point of interest in this tale is not so much who’s pulling the strings to steal, but is what’s being sought after worth all the trouble. Arrow Video once again does a great job with the transfer and audio, making for an immensely enjoyable experience.)

(Look to my first posting of the Sartana franchise to see the link to purchase Arrow’s fine set)

All images courtesy of Images

for more information

IMDB/Have a Good Funeral My Friend, Sartana Will Pay

Wikipedia/Have a Good Funeral My Friend, Sartana Will Pay

Spaghetti Funerale Amigos!…Paga Sartana

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

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