Combustible Celluloid
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With: Lee Van Cleef, William Berger, Ignazio Spalla, Aldo Canti, Franco Ressel, Antonio Gradoli, Linda Veras, Claudio Undari, Gianni Rizzo, Spartaco Conversi, Carlo Tamberlani, Luciano Pigozzi, Marco Zuanelli, Franco Marletta, Andrea Aureli
Written by: Gianfranco Parolini, Renato Izzo
Directed by: Gianfranco Parolini
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for western violence and some sexual situations
Running Time: 111
Date: 07/22/2014

Sabata (1969)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Hola Sabata

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Hundreds of Spaghetti Westerns exist in the world, and like anything else, some of them are great, and many of them, like Sabata (1969), are just mediocre. You can practically feel director Gianfranco Parolini going through the motions, occasionally looking back to take notes on ideas that were successful in earlier films and gamely copying them.

He does get one honest-to-goodness element, and that's Lee Van Cleef, the star of many Spaghetti Westerns, but best known as Clint Eastwood's co-star in For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad & the Ugly (1966). He wears a similar black suit and black, flat-brimmed hat, although in this one he smokes cigars (like Eastwood's). Producer Alberto Grimaldi, who worked on those two films, is behind the scenes here.

But everything else feels rather stale, including a pale attempt at an Ennio Morricone-like score. It's lightweight, but not exactly funny, like nothing's really at stake. The supporting characters are truly odd ducks, like "Banjo" (William Berger), a blond ladies man that sits around the bar playing — you guessed it — his banjo, letting a sly smile slide across his face in nearly every scene. (The movie does use him fairly well in a final shootout, but I have to wonder if Parolini knew about Chrarles Bronson's "Harmonica" character from Once Upon a Time in the West, released the same year.)

Then there's Carrincha (Ignazio Spalla) a tubby drunk with a torn, grubby costume straight from wardrobe. He fought in a war and has a medal, a fact that comes up in nearly every scene he's in. And finally, there's Indio (Aldo Canti) an acrobatic Indian that lives on a rooftop and can leap over just about anything, even though he barely says a word.

They all team up, more or less to help Sabata (Van Cleef). He foils a bank robbery in which $100,000 is stolen. Sabata demands a reward for the safe, but instead the town officials try to kill him. After which, he ups his amount, and the cycle continues.

Aside from Sabata, the characters feel cartoonish, and the movie has a vaguely comic tone, even if it's not exactly funny. Overall, Sabata is lightly likable, but you have to already be a fan of this genre. If you come to the genre for the first time with this, you'll never return.

Kino Lorber somehow inherited a bunch of MGM titles and are giving them new Blu-ray releases. The fine-looking Sabata disc comes with a trailer.

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