Blu-ray Review: The Complete Sartana

The era of the Spaghetti Western was short in years, but overwhelming in numbers. After Clint Eastwood’s A Fistful of Dollars became an international success in late 1964, filmmakers in Italy saw their was gold in the deserts of Spain. They all had dreams of making loot with an international cast on horseback. In the decade that followed over 500 westerns hit the screens with a majority of them happening late ’60s. Filmmaker did their most to create a cowboy as memorable as Eastwood’s Man With No Name character. A few succeed with Franco Nero as Django, Giuliano Gemma as Ringo and Terence Hill’s Trinity. The names were sought out on marquees across the globe. The problem in the Spaghetti Western business was as soon as movie came out with a cool named character, there was a producer eager to slap that name on their movies and act like it was a sequel. Sartana was another major character during and the producers made sure they made five official films between 1968 to 1970 to keep fans happy instead of surrender the screen to the imitators. The Complete Sartana collects the five films of about the mysterious and tricky gunmen.

If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death (1968 – 95 minutes) sets up the character as almost supernatural in his ways and attitude. The man wears a black hat and cape with red lining so that he resembles a Wild West magician. The movie starts off gently enough with an old man and his wife in a coach going across a desert passage. They feel safe with their security until the old man takes a bullet. Who fired that lethal shot? It’s Morgan (For A Few Dollars More‘s Klaus Kinski) that’s their sweet angel of death. But the perfect hit goes wrong when Sartana (John Garko) arrives. Morgan’s crew is picked apart with only ringleader fleeing for his life. Another stagecoach heads down another trailer and gets robbed by a Mexican crew. Before they can secure the gold shipment, they get slaughtered by another crew led by Lansky (Super Fly T.N.T.‘s William Berger). Things get even messier when Lansky comes up with a simple way to divide up the loot. It’s all part of an insurance scam involving the a few sinister kingpins. Sartana wants a claim on the precious metal and a chance at revenge. As a first film in a series, If You Meet makes you want to see Sartana in action again. Director Gianfranco Parolini (Frank Kramer) isn’t an artsy cinematic stylist as he keeps the action coming. This would be his only Sartana film as he left to direct the three Sabata films starring Lee Van Cleef (The Good, The Bad and the Ugly).

I Am Sartana Your Angel of Death (1969 – 103 minutes) brings back Garko in the black robe. He’s a bit more of a magician this time even emphasizing it by having him perform card tricks in the opening credits. Sartana arrives in a town the same time a major shipment is arriving at a heavily bank. He drags a corpse inside to claim the Dead or Alive bounty. Trouble is that the outlaw isn’t dead and it starts a bank heist that involves fake security men shooting up the tellers. The bank puts out a fat bounty on Sartana except he swears he didn’t do it. This complicates his life since he has to find the real mastermind of the bank robbery while dealing with all the prime killers on his trail. Among the hunters is Klaus Kinski. Director Giuliano Carnimeo (Exterminators of the Year 3000) keeps it heavy on the action and the body count.

Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin (1970 – 92 minutes) has George Hilton (The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail) filling in as Sartana. Usually you don’t say that about a film, but Garko returned to the role for the other two films. Hilton’s fine in the role although he lets the cape and hat remind people that he is Sartana. Director Giuliano Carnimeo returns so you can tell this isn’t a knock off like the nearly dozen fake Sartana films. Sartana is in full bounty hunter mode as he’s after a wanted man that has a job on a stagecoach. Before he intercepts his victim, bandits hit the stage. Sartana gets his body, but discovers that a gold shipment being transported has been faked. Sartana goes undercover as a Mexican to find out where the real gold went. This is an interesting film for a Spaghetti Western since it appears they shot it in Italy.

Have a Good Funeral My Friend… Sartana Will Pay (1970 – 93 minutes) brings back Garko as Sartana and he’s ready to kick up the body count. Men getting ready for bed slaughtered by gunmen. Before the killers can escape with stolen gold, Sartana arrives and mows them down by the light of the burning bunk house. He heads into town bent on uncovering the person that ordered their killing. During his stay in town, he gets tight with Daniela Giordano (Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key). Sartana proves he’s deadly with playing cards during his visits to a casino run by George Wang (Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs). Garko picked the right script to return to the role. Director Giuliano Carnimeo uses a lot of zoom shots to push the action around a room.

Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming (1970 – 100 minutes) wraps up the official Sartana films with another tale of a gold heist. At a small town’s courthouse, the sheriff and his deputies do their best to eliminate the need for a judge. Sartana arrives in order to play executioner. Turns out he’s not just there to dish out harsh justice. He’s got a plan and needs a few important bodies. He shows up at a prison to turn himself in for the deaths. The warden thinks he’s nuts and does him into a cell. Except these are the normal clinks. They’ve put the bars over holes in the dirt. The warden and his men are doing their best to get a nearby prisoner to confess to what happened to the gold he stole. He won’t crack even when they pour acid and more on him. This is the reason Sartana dropped into the place. He breaks the two of them out using spy gadgets that seem borrowed from James West in The Wild Wild West. Unlike West, this gunman isn’t obligated to the government. The film gets weird when one of the showdowns involve Sartana playing an organ with firepower. It definitely shows the filmmakers weren’t just repeating the same formula. Carnimeo gets a bit arty with several of the shots along with playing with the zoom lens once more.

The Complete Sartana does an amazing job of shedding light on the Spaghetti Western Hero. He’s as badass as Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name yet the card tricks makes him more than a clone. The bonus features allow the directors, writers and actors to discuss what it was like to make 5 films in such a short period of time. The Sartana series is perfect for losing yourself in the TV screen during a hot and miserable weekend where you just want to enjoy the air conditioning and watch other people sweat.

The video is 2.35:1 for most of the films. The restorations bring out the magic of Sartana when he shows up and the bodies start dropping. The transfers look sharp and crisp without appearing like they escaped from the grindhouse circuit. The audio is Uncompressed mono 1.0 PCM with both the Italian and English dubs. You can take your pick. The movies are subtitled in English.

Audio commentaries include If You Meet Sartana… Pray for Your Death by filmmaker Mike Siegel, I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death and Have a Good Funeral My Friend… Sartana Will Pay by Spaghetti Western experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke.

Interview with Gianfranco Parolini, the writer-director of If You Meet Sartana… Pray for Your Death.

Interview with writer Fabbio Piccioni on creating If You Meet Sartana… Pray for Your Death.

The Mute Strikes Again (22:01) allows Sal Borgese to talk about his rise from newbie stunt man to actor.

Ernesto Gastaldi talks about writing I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death and Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming.

Actor Roberto Dell’Acqua discusses Have a Good Funeral My Friend… Sartana Will Pay.

Sartana Lives (24:14) covers Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming and interviews with actor Gianni Garko and director Giuliano Carnimeo. The director talks of how the Spaghetti Western was based more on history while American Westerns are historical. Garko looks like he can still strap on a holster and take care of buiness.

Sartana Shoots First interviews George Hilton on his turn in the cape during Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin.

Actor Erika Blanc shoots straight on Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin.

Actor Tony Askin on his time saddled up for Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin.

Video Essay on the major actors and supporting players in the official Sartana films

Galleries of original promotional images from the Mike Siegal Archive for all five films

Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films by Roberto Curti and an extensive Spaghetti Western timeline by Howard Hughes

Arrow Video presents The Complete Sartana. Directed by Gianfranco Parolini and Giuliano Carnimeo. Starring: John Garko, George Hilton, Klaus Kinski, William Berger, Gordon Mitchell and Daniela Giordano. Rated: Not Rated. Boxset Contents: 5 films on 5 Blu-ray discs. Released: July 3, 2018.

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