Tuesday, December 20, 2011

IF YOU MEET SARTANA, PRAY FOR YOUR DEATH (1968) aka "Se incontri Sartana prega per la tua morte" is the first in a series of spaghetti westerns featuring the enigmatic, black-clad wanderer Sartana (played wonderfully by Gianni Garko). Directed by Gianfranco Parolini on a shoestring, "SARTANA" became one of the most successful and influential of Italian westerns helping to push the genre more towards a "tongue-in-cheek" attitude (which would sadly eventually degenerate into parody). Obviously influenced by Sergio Leone's "Dollars" movies, Sartana had his own catchphrase he would give to those he was about to kill: "I am your pallbearer". The plot of this film is filled with twists and turns and may require several viewings before you get a grasp on it. First a stagecoach carrying a strongbox full of gold is robbed by a gang who is then attacked and killed by Morgan (Klaus Kinski) and his gang. However, Sartana shows up and kills all of Morgan's gang except Morgan who escapes. It is discovered that the strongbox is actually just full of rocks! A group of town bigwigs including a politician and bank manager (Sydney Chaplin and Gianni Rizzo) are trying to perpetrate an insurance fraud by having a Mexican gang led by General Don Jose Manuel Francisco Mendoza Montezuma de la Plata (make sure you get that name right, pardner!!!) aka "Tampico" (Fernando Sancho) steal the strongbox. Another stagecoach is robbed by the Mexican gang but is which is then killed by Lasky (William Berger) who tells his gang to meet up with him later. Lasky then has his now-partner Morgan go off to kill Sartana after losing all his money to the enigmatic stranger in a card game. Morgan tries. Morgan fails. Lasky collects a gang to go kill Sartana but the gang is in turn killed and Lasky gets away. Lasky blackmails the bigwigs who in turn tell Tampico that it was Lasky who killed the Mexican gang. Tampico captures Lasky and beats the snot out of him so he will reveal the real location of the gold. Lasky tells them that only Sartana knows. And on and on and on. There are plot twists and turns about every five minutes and everybody is double-crossing everybody else and it all adds up to a fun spaghetti western. Gianni Garko makes a great anti-hero as Sartana. Besides his dark attire, Sartana is also given a 007-like gadget (director Parolini was a fan) of a four-barreled derringer with a playing card cylinder which fakes out shot-counting opponents by giving Sartana more shots than he should have. Klaus Kinski's character is given the nicely flamboyant touch of having little bells attached to his spurs while Sartana himself frequently opens a musical watch to unnerve his victims. The entire film was shot in the Lazio area near Rome and the hacienda belonging to Tampico is actually a villa once owned by Mussolini! There would be four more official Sartana movies with all but one starring Garko. These sequels would be lighter in tone (leading to the eventual deterioration into parody of the genre) as directed by Giuliano Carnimeo. This trend would eventually lead cheeky fans to alter the title of the first Sartara movie to 'Se incontri Sartana, digli che รจ un stronzo' which means "If you meet Sartana, tell him he's an asshole!" Ah, the fickle fancy of genre fans.

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