RETRO RELAPSE is a series of older articles from various places where I used to write before Talking Pulp.
*Originally written in 2015.
Spaghetti westerns are better than westerns, at least in my opinion. Sure, there are fantastic American-made westerns but as a whole, the Italian-Spanish (sometimes German) films are superior. There is more grit, more bad ass shit and a level of violence that adds realism and authenticity to a genre that has typically been family friendly in the U.S.
The greatest film of all-time is a spaghetti western. And many of the other greatest films ever also fall into this genre.
I have spent the last several months watching a lot of these films. I have always been familiar with the greats but I had to delve deeper into the more obscure reaches of the genre. A special shout out goes to the Spaghetti Western Database for the hours of research I was able to accomplish in mostly one place. Also, thanks to Amazon, Hulu and YouTube for providing several of these films. The rest were an adventure to track down.
This list is the result of my hundreds of hours of film watching.
1. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
2. Once Upon A Time In the West
3. The Great Silence
4. The Big Gundown
5. For A Few Dollars More
7. A Fistful of Dollars
8. The Mercenary
9. Face to Face
10. Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot!
11. A Bullet For the General
13. Duck, You Sucker! (A Fistful of Dynamite)
14. Day of Anger
17. Return of Ringo
18. Death Rides A Horse
19. Cemetery Without Crosses
20. My Name Is Nobody
21. The Grand Duel
22. A Genius, Two Partners and A Dupe
23. A Pistol for Ringo
24. If You Meet Sartana, Pray For Your Death
25. The Dirty Outlaws
26. Django, Prepare a Coffin (Viva Django)
27. Run Man Run
29. Navajo Joe
30. Four of the Apocalypse
31. Massacre Time
32. Shoot the Living, Pray for the Dead
34. Django Strikes Again
35. The Return of Sabata
36. A Few Dollars For Django
37. Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming
38. Machine Gun Killers
39. Beyond the Law
40. Ace High
41. The Bounty Killer (The Ugly Ones)
42. Trinity Is Still My Name
44. Django the Bastard
45. God Forgives, I Don’t
46. Minnesota Clay
47. God’s Gun
48. They Call Me Trinity
49. Ringo and His Golden Pistol (Johnny Oro)
50. Arizona Colt
The Sabata films were made during the height of the classic spaghetti western era.
All three films were directed by Gianfranco Parolini. He started the series just after he birthed the Sartana film franchise with his film If You Meet Sartana, Pray for Your Death. That movie became a big hit but he was not brought on to direct the sequel (or any of the others after that).
The character of Sabata was then created and became a sort of spiritual successor to Parolini’s Sartana.
Also known as:Ehi amico … c’è Sabata, hai chiuso!, roughly translated as Hey buddy … that’s Sabata, you’re finished! (Italy) Release Date: September 16th, 1969 (Italy) Directed by: Gianfranco Parolini (credited as Frank Kramer) Written by: Renato Izzo, Gianfranco Parolini Music by: Marcello Giombini Cast: Lee Van Cleef, William Berger, Pedro Sanchez, Aldo Canti, Linda Veras, Franco Ressel, Antonio Gradoli, Robert Hundar, Gianni Rizzo
Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA), United Artists, 102 Minutes
The iconic Lee Van Cleef took on the role of Sabata and made it something spectacular. While his roles in the Sergio Leone films The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and For A Few Dollars More are more widely known, I’ve always seen Sabata as his best role, overall. He was great in the Leone films and proved that he was a stellar actor but the character of Sabata showed Van Cleef having the most fun and thus, the character felt closer to the real man than the other roles.
Sabata is a bit gimmicky but that is what makes it unique. It is gimmicky done well.
The character of Sabata is a master trick shooter and he has all types of trick guns and wacky tools at his disposal. If you think he’s out of bullets, think again because there is a secret barrel in the gun handle or a tiny gun hidden away in an unorthodox place.
The first film is the best, by far. The plot was the strongest in the series and the cast of characters, many of whom return in different roles throughout the other films, just gelled so well in this installment.
The character of Banjo, played by William Berger, is an annoying yet awesome banjo-strumming minstrel who could be a villain or a hero. You never really know. And as for his banjo, it packs a surprise.
The effeminate villain Stengel, is the best baddie of the series. And his scheme is the most impressive out of all the criminals Sabata comes to face in the series.
This is Lee Van Cleef at his best and he looks like he is having a damned good time, as does everyone else. I just kind of wish the characters of Banjo, Carrincha and Alley Cat would have also gone on to be in the sequels. Their lack of presence in the later films, are one of the reasons why this is the superior movie of the three.
Adiós, Sabata (1970):
Also known as:Indio Black, sai che ti dico: Sei un gran figlio di…, roughly translated as Indio Black, you know what I’m going to tell you … You’re a big son of a …. (Italy) Release Date: September 30th, 1970 (Italy) Directed by: Gianfranco Parolini (credited as Frank Kramer) Written by: Renato Izzo, Gianfranco Parolini Music by: Bruno Nicolai Cast: Yul Brynner, Dean Reed, Pedro Sanchez, Gianni Rizzo, Joseph P. Persaud, Susan Scott
Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA), United Artists, 104 Minutes
The second film doesn’t star Lee Van Cleef. It stars Yul Brynner as the title character. While I like Brynner, Van Cleef’s portrayal of this character was so good in the first movie, that it just doesn’t work as well with a very different looking Brynner as the lovable Sabata.
The odd thing, is that Van Cleef turned the movie down as it conflicted with the filming of The Magnificent Seven Ride, where he was playing the character made famous by Yul Brynner. They could’ve just swamped films and both franchises wouldn’t have had character consistency issues.
Adiós, Sabata is still an enjoyable film. Despite Brynner not feeling like Sabata, looking at it as it’s own thing, it was well done and a good vehicle for Brynner.
The characters are less dynamic than the first film and the story just feels like a cookie cutter western plot that’s been seen a dozen times over but the spirit of the series is still alive.
And even though it is a better than decent movie, it is still quite forgettable other than it is wedged between the two Van Cleef films.
Return of Sabata (1971):
Also known as:È tornato Sabata … hai chiuso un’altra volta, roughly translated as Sabata is back … to end another time (Italy) Release Date: September 3rd, 1971 (Italy) Directed by: Gianfranco Parolini (credited as Frank Kramer) Written by: Renato Izzo, Gianfranco Parolini Music by: Marcello Giombini Cast: Lee Van Cleef, Reiner Schone, Giampiero Albertini, Annabella Incontrera, Jacqueline Alexandre, Pedro Sanchez, Gianni Rizzo, Aldo Canti, Vassili Karis
Produzioni Europee Associati (PEA), United Artists, 100 Minutes
Return of Sabata, in my opinion, has one of the most bad ass trailers of all-time. That’s why I am including it below instead of the trailer for the original movie.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t live up to the amazingness of the trailer. It is several steps behind the original film and it isn’t as good as the Brynner one either, even though Lee Van Cleef is back to play Sabata.
The plot is very thin, the film is mostly boring. There are a few good action sequences but not a lot happens in this movie other than the cool stuff you can see in the trailer.
It was great seeing Van Cleef back and the character doesn’t let you down. The problem, is that the plot surrounding the character just isn’t there. It is nice to see more of the original Sabata, as it is usually great to revisit familiar characters. However, he didn’t have much to do and we’ve already seen him do all of his cool tricks. The gimmick has run its course.
The movie is worth a watch if you want to complete the series but you really aren’t missing much if you pass on it.