Blu-ray Review: The Complete Sartana | Under the Radar - Music Magazine

The Complete Sartana

Studio: Arrow Video

Sep 12, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Where the Western genre generally skews toward presenting a clear delineation between good and evil, light and darkness, law and disorder, the character of Sartana stands out as something a little strange but quite refreshing. Appearing in five canonical films between 1968 and 1970 and played by Gianni Garko in four of those, Sartana was a heroic gunslinger with no ties of loyalty and a dubious moral compass. And ooh, he’s clever – he’d rather outsmart his enemies than blow them away. (Though, with his lightning-fast draw, he’s more than capable of dropping half a dozen men before they can pull their pistols.) Sartana mostly uses his wits to relieve criminals of their ill-gotten fortunes; he’s sort of like Robin Hood, except instead of giving the money to the poor he keeps it for himself. Maybe Sartana would have been a bad guy in a lot of other Westerns, but the outlaws he often surrounds himself in these films are often much worse – or, at the very least, they’re just not as clever as he is.

For a full debriefing on where Sartana came from, you can read his whole backstory over at the ever-informative Spaghetti Western Database. In short, however, the character was dreamed up especially for actor Gianni Garko, who was already a hot name in the Italian Western industry – he held enough clout to have a rare script approval clause written into his contract when he signed on to the series. (This allowed him to help shape the character, as well as maintain quality control – at least, for a while.) The James Bond series was well underway and hugely popular by this time, and 007’s influence on our rogue gunslinger can clearly be seen in Sartana’s cool demeanor and use of far-fetched gadgetry. He’s also one of the more stylish screen cowboys: his trademark black coat, white collared shirt and red tie almost resemble a tuxedo, which he tops off with a magician’s-like cape.

Somehow the movies’ English-language titles were even flashier than Sartana’s outfit. None fewer than six words and all making liberal use of commas and ellipses, these are hands-down some of the best-named movies to ever be released.

In If You Meet Sartana… Pray for Your Death, a pair of no-goods butt heads over wagonful of gold that goes missing en route to its destination. (The bank, it turns out, cooked up the plan to commit insurance fraud.) That’s when the savvy Sartana swoops in, playing both sides in a plan to win the stolen gold for himself. Along the way he gets into a knife-throwing fight with none other than Klaus Kinski and terrorizes a ruthless gang leader with a tune from his musical pocketwatch. As the first Sartana movie, this is probably the most grounded and straight-forward Spaghetti Western of the bunch.  

I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death has our hero framed for a bank robbery he didn’t commit. (It seems when your trademarks include a flamboyant cape and gimmicky gadgets, it’s not hard for someone to cop your identity.) This time around Sartana has to do a little detective work, weaving from one lowlife to the next to find out who could have pinned the crime on him and why – and how he might be able to get his hands on all the money he’s been accused of stealing. You figure this would be an easy job for Sartana, except that his mug is pasted up on wanted posters all over the West that offer a big reward, and that every goon and hitman in the area – several of them close friends of Sartana’s – are out to bag his head and cash in on the prize. (Kinski fans: you’ll find Klaus here again, this time in a bigger yet unrelated role as a down-on-his-luck bounty hunter.)

With Have a Good Funeral, My Friend… Sartana Will Pay, our roving bounty hunter wanders onto the scene of a massacre, where some nasty baddies have murdered an innocent prospector. Sartana wastes no time wasting the thugs but then starts to wonder just what was going on before he arrived. This turns into a full-fledged investigation, and Sartana finds himself entangled with a beautiful woman claiming to be the rightful heir to the fortune.

Light the Fuse… Sartana is Coming - The Sartana series goes downright goofy with Garko’s fourth and final appearance as his most popular character. In it, our favorite anti-hero turns himself over to prison authorities so that he can then break out of jail with another criminal – one who knows where half a million dollars in gold and another million in fake banknotes is buried, and he’s willing to split it all 50-50 with his liberator. Complicating matters, though, is that the money was stolen from the site of a deal gone bad between two dangerous criminal leaders. Making this entry particularly special are two of Sartana’s wackiest gadgets: a wind-up toy sidekick named “Alfie” and a massive pipe organ that not only doubles as a machine gun, but a musical grenade launcher.

Although similar characters appeared under the same name in many later knock-off films, Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin is considered the last of the “official” Sartana movies, even when Garko had moved on from the role over creative differences in the series’ direction. He’s replaced here by Any Gun Can Play’s George Hilton, who isn’t bad in the role but still doesn’t fit the character the same way Garko did. Here Sartana has his eyes on another stolen gold shipment, but so do a group of bandits, a corrupt mine owner, and a foppish stranger clad fully in white and carrying a dainty umbrella. Where the Garko-led films all had an element to them that was squarely tongue-in-cheek, Trade Your Pistol is the closest one to straight comedy, with more outright gags than the movies had before. It’s all fun, but it is a decidedly different flavor than prior entries, and is presumably the reason why the series came to a sudden and abrupt end.

While he never reached the same heights as the Man With No Name or even Django, the Sartana movies have their own charm as the wild, Western James Bond-styled movies that they are. Garko plays a great anti-hero, and even though every one of these plots is more than a bit convoluted, the movies are a load of fun. Arrow Video’s done a wonderful job presenting the five films with all-new 2K restorations from the original camera negatives. They’re compiled together with many hours’ worth of bonus materials, from interviews with crew members and actors to a nice video essay about the character actors who pop up over and again throughout the series. The packaging is high-quality, too, with each film in its own full-size Blu-ray case, with a thick word-packed booklet and assembled within a heavy-duty cardboard slipcase. If you’re at all a fan of Spaghetti Westerns, you’ll get many evenings’ worth of entertainment from this set.



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