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Italy 1969/70/71
Directed by
Gianfranco Parolini
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

The Sabata Trilogy

Sabata is the first of a trilogy of Spaghetti Westerns all directed by Gianfranco Parolini under the pseudonym, Frank Kramer. The title refers to the moniker of an über-cool bounty hunter who arrives in a Texas frontier town just as its bank is robbed. Before you can say “make my day”, he’s wasted the entire gang and returned the safe for a sizeable reward but he smells bigger fish in the form of the dishonest civic leaders who were behind the job and decides that they are good for a few dollars more.

When it comes to Spaghetti Westerns there’s the Leone trilogy and the rest. The good news is that, sharing Leone’s producer, Alberto Grimaldi, Sabata is at the upper end of the spectrum. On the up side we have Lee Van Cleef as Sabata, a steely-eyed killer in de rigeur black attire and with some deadly weapons who, refreshingly, shoots first and, well, doesn’t bother to ask questions at all. There’s a catchy score by Marcello Giombini and the cinematography and general production standards are quite sound..

On the downside, there’s the rudiments of a plot, one dimensional characters, badly dubbed dialogue and ham-fisted acting from most of the support cast. These are all pretty standard characteristics of the genre, as is the tendency to flog quirky characters to death - here we have a  banjo player (William Berger ) with a rifle hidden in his instrument's neck, a knife-throwing drunk and an acrobat – none of whom are ever less than irritating. Toss in intermittent sight gags just to let you know that the film is really a giant leg-pull as well as Van Cleef’s wispily balding head and the film requires a good deal of indulgence. But let’s face it, if you wanted dramatic substance you’d be watching John Ford not Gianfranco Parolini.

As was the nature of this egregiously commercial genre, the success of Sabata engendered  a sequel, Adiós Sabata (1970) . Well, a sequel of sorts because the title character is played by Yul Brynner and the film was not originally intended to be a sequel. Both the title and Brynner's character name, Indio Black, were changed for the American release to cash in on the success of the original Sabata film. (In a twist of fate, Lee Van Cleef had been unavailable as he was committed to making The Magnificent Seven Ride! (1972) where he played Chris Adams, a role made famous by Brynner in The Magnificent Seven (1960).

Adiós Sabata was not as successful as the first film but Grimaldi got Van Cleef  back for a final wring-out of any life left in the Sabata name in Return Of Sabata (1971) but not even the presence of Van Cleef could save the film from a derisory reception. Few are likely to go this far but for hard-core Spaghetti Western fans the Sabata trilogy is the somewhat appealing trailer trash relative to Leone’s irresistible true blue blood triumvirate.




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