Sabata (1969)

a.k.a. - Ehi amico... c'è Sabata, hai chiuso!

An entertaining but unchallenging Lee Van Cleef Spaghetti Western. USA R1 Sony/MGM DVD; from the Sabata Trilogy boxset.

The Film

When the Italians took the Western genre as their own, their lasting contribution was the lonely gunslinger. Dressed in black, riding out of nowhere to help the good and punish the wicked they are known by a single name. In this case the man is named Sabata.

A bank in the small town of Daugherty is holding $100,000 for the army; a well planned robbery makes quick work of the guards and the bank walls and within moments the safe is on the back of a wagon heading out into the countryside. Meanwhile, a stranger dressed all in black (Lee Van Cleef) arrives in town and makes a name for himself, shooting the loaded dice off a casino table. With the alarm raised about the robbery, the townsmen set off in persuit, but it is Sabata who catches up with the thieves and shows off his incredible aim by picking them all off in seconds. Taking the wagon back to town, he claims the army reward of $5000, but has other plans. He finds out that the town leaders were behind the robbery, using the proceeds to buy land that would shortly be needed by the railroad and worth even more. Managing to obtain evidence that they were behind the robbery he proceeds to bribe them ever increasing amounts and they make continual efforts to get rid of him...

For anyone expecting a realistic Western, Sabata is not the place to look; with acrobatic stunts, hidden guns and insane sharpshooting it is a strongly action based film with the focus on being straight forward fun. On the plus side, the film's basic plot does make sense, although it is explained via some rather clunky exposition. The script also works in numerous excuses to show off Sabata's talents. However, for the most part it is pretty unimpressive. The opening is a good scene setter, and the end climax is strong, but the rest of the film consists of the town leaders getting people to unsucessfully eliminate Sabata, while the titular character bargains with them for even more money, by the end, the evidence that Sabata has is completely forgotten and the film becomes simple good versus bad. Disappointingly, after an exciting climax, the ending is rather drawn out, as though the writers had several ideas that they wanted to get in before the film ended.

Fortunately, the film looks and sounds fantastic. Director Gianfranco Parolini (credited as Frank Kramer) is backed by a solid crew of Western veterans, many of whom would return for the next two Sabata films. A mixture of tracking shots, fast cuts and zooms convey a good atmosphere of action and excitement. Parolini frames the film nicely, with the action using up the scope widescreen frame very well . Much of the film takes place at night, fortunately, these scenes are very well lit, and are certainly not the cheap 'day for night' shots used in some lesser films; the gunfights especially, look very impressive in the dark. The Spanish locations and Italian studio sets look amazing and are populated with a very nice mix of extras. The stunt-work is very impressive, and done with minimal cuts, so you know that someone actually made the jumps. The music is a bizarre mix of church organ, 1960s jazz and bango but works very well. The church music and night-time sets, especially the candle lit interiors of the town leader's houses give the film a neo-gothic vibe.

Lee Van Cleef is the biggest name on the cast, unlike most Western anti-heros, he gets plenty of dialogue and gives a stand-out performance as the black-clad anti-hero, remaining calm and unphased throughout. The rest of the cast give fine performances as well, notably William Berger as the curious Banjo.

Despite a clunky, unimpressive storyline, the film boasts great action scenes and is very well directed. Partly recommended, but certainly not for anyone trying to get into the genre for the first film, there are many more superior films.

In brief:

Anyone famous in it? Lee Van Cleef - Western star, made famous in Sergio Leone's For a Few Dollars More (1965)
Directed by anyone interesting? Gianfranco Parolini - Director of the other Sabata Trilogy films, and WW2 film Five into Hell (1969)
Any gore/violence? A little blood, plently of Western-style violence.
Any sex? No
Who is it for?
Action film and Spaghetti Western fans should enjoy this.
Good soundtrack? A very strange mix of music gives the film a good backing.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio  - 2.35:1. Anamorphically Enhanced. Colour
The picture quality is fantastic with only a minimal layer of grain and occasion print damage.
Audio Original English mono - Dolby Digital - sounds great. At points it is very slightly out-of-sync but not for long.
French dub track is also included.
Subtitles English and French.
Run TimeMain Feature: 1hr 46m 07s
Extras The disc features:
  • Trailers: MGM Westerns reel plus cinema trailers for: Glory, Major Dundee and The Professionals and DVD trailers for Silverado and Good the Bad and the Ugly  (12m 06s)
AvailabilityThis disc is currently only available as part of the Sabata Trilogy collection. Single disc release due from MGM/Fox on 22nd May (details unconfirmed at present).
Region Region 1 - NTSC
Other regions? Japanese, Italian and English R2 discs, none are much better, Japanese disc has original trailer.
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. Print used is English language.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 5th February 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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