Give a man an inch and he’ll take a mile. Allow Spaghetti Westerns license to play around in a big ol’ cowboy shaped sandbox and they will take the most cartoonish, pistol-popping, gun-blazin’, horse-chasin’, back-stabbin’ mile imaginable.
Certain conventions became synonymous with Spaghetti Westerns and the poetic licence taken by the European writers, directors and studios involved in the spin-out genre that was so prevalent through the mid-late 1960s: Extreme close-up shots of eyes, bullets ricocheting off stationary objects and eventually toppling their intended targets and the silent but menacing central character are but a few. Think Franco Nero’s Django dragging his coffin around, or Clint Eastwood’s original inspiration for the many Spaghetti Westerns that followed as the man with no name draped in his poncho as he holds Mexican stand-offs.
Alternatively, more studious fans of the genre might think of Gianni Garko as the repeater-rifle firing Sartana in Gianfranco Parolini’s Sergio Leone inspired series of b-movie Westerns. The cool-under-pressure anti-hero leads the five films collected in Arrow Video’s recently released limited edition Blu-ray box set; all equally bestowed with the most Spaghetti Western titles imaginable.
If You Meet Sartana… Pray for Your Death is the first of the five features and was released in its home country of Italy in 1968. The familiar face of Klaus Kinski was given top billing ahead of Garko, despite his bit-part role and still being some half-decade away from his most revered work with the legendary Werner Herzog. Mad as a box of frogs but always a welcome addition for viewers, Kinski’s presence suggested Sartana was set to be a fizzing Spaghetti Western packed with energy and gusto. Alas, the mind-boggling story of a potential gold store just waiting for the right criminal to pick it up was so utterly convoluted as to render the idea of a plot rather pointless and bloat out what should have been a straight-forward fun-filled 90 minutes.
So too do the sequels progress in a similar fashion. Bizarre and often confusing stories serve little more purpose than to get Sartana back in the saddle and shooting up some more ne’er do wells. And rightly so. The whole joy of any movie such as this – be it a well-loved classic like A Fistful of Dollars, or lesser seen hybrid genre films such as The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe (also starring the aforementioned Kinski) – comes from their over-the-top nature and outlandish propensity to set up and execute the most ludicrous of set pieces.
This is what the Sartana series has built its reputation on. Whether it’s a Mexican getting bopped on the bonce by a ‘keep out’ sign shot from its position swinging above his head, or a smoky saloon poker game replete with bout of fisty-cuffs erupting thanks to a cheatin’ swine; nobody is watching a Spaghetti Western for its layered and complex metaphors for American conservatism and subtext about nature versus civilisation like a traditional Western.
However, that isn’t to say the Sartana movies are not worth further research. The Arrow Video box set of the gorgeous 2k restorations is absolutely packed to the rafters with extras. There are the expected special features – such as audio commentaries galore with Mike Siegel, C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke, and interviews with those involved in the movies such as Parolini, Fabbio Piccioni and Sal Borgese – in addition to nice treats like a video essay on the major actors and supporting players in the official Sartana films, a stills gallery and a collector’s booklet with extensive Spaghetti Western timeline. It’s the sheer amount of extras as well as the quality of them that makes a release like this a must-have for hardcore genre fans.
The Complete Sartana collects all five films, presented in brand-new restorations: If You Meet Sartana… Pray for Your Death, I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death, Have a Good Funeral My Friend… Sartana Will Pay, Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming, and Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin, in which George Hilton replaced Garko in the lead role. Whilst the quality of the movies is inevitably variable, the quality of the release is without question.
The Complete Sartana was released on Monday 25 June from Arrow Video. Check out the trailer below and let us know your thoughts on this release in the comments section below.