spaghetti western genre. I've seen at least parts of all those character series, and recently jumped into another, the Sartana series, starting with 1968's If You Meet Sartana, Pray for Your Death.
A stagecoach has been robbed, and all its passengers lay dead. As the robbers loot the bodies, a mysterious gunman, Sartana (Gianni Garko), steps in front of them and guns them down. Not long after, a second stagecoach is attacked, this time carrying a huge gold shipment for a town up the trail. The only issue? The strongbox doesn't contain any gold at all....it's just heavily loaded with rocks. Who's up to something? Sartana seems to know, pitting all sides against each other. Another gunman, Lasky (William Berger), has been well-involved with all the robbery, murder and betrayal and is suspicious of what Sartana is up to. Sartana has too many enemies though as he investigates the disappearance of the gold. His only option is simple; pit all sides against each other and swoop in at the opportune time.
This spaghetti western is everything that's both good and bad about the genre. When it's entertaining, it's very entertaining (movie specific: this one's bad but entertaining). When it's bad.....it's very bad. For director Gianfranco Parolini, 'Pray' plays more like a test run for his infinitely better 1969 spaghetti classic, Sabata. The basic premise is almost entirely the same story. Garko's Sartana is a younger Sabata (played to perfection by Lee Van Cleef). The tone is light with some acrobatic gunmen and generally goofy atmosphere. The music from composer Piero Piccioni is pretty forgettable, a disappointment considering how good some of his other scores (The Deserter) were. There are some cool locations although the movie hamstrings itself by using the same locations repeatedly. I swear Sartana rides through the same hilly sand dune at least four different times.
Belonging in the short list of coolest spaghetti western title characters, Sartana is a pretty cool anti-hero gunfighter. He's a gentleman and dresses the part, favoring a suit, vest, cravat and overcoat that resembles a cape. He uses a long-range Winchester rifle and a multi-barreled derringer pistol. Sartana is a gambler as well as an accomplished gun, an ability that plays well in an early card game. Mostly I like the character because it hints -- in not so subtle fashion -- that Sartana is some sort of angelic killer, an angel of death. He seemingly can't be shot (check out the opening scene HERE) or hurt by enemies while appearing at will out of thin air. I like Garko a lot in the role, one he would play three more times, bringing a lighter touch to the anti-hero gunslinger. He's smooth with a gun and a bit of a smartass with whoever he meets. It's different, and I liked it a lot.
Spaghetti western diehards will eat this one up in the casting department with some really odd and really cool casting. Berger is over the top and goofy as Lansky, a brutally efficient hired gun with murder and blackmail on his mind. He's also completely undone whenever Sartana plays the tune from the watch of a man Lansky has killed. Klaus Kinski shows up in a bizarre cameo as Morgan, a knife-throwing killer with little bells for spurs. He's around for about 3 minutes, but it's Kinski so it's cool. Fernando Sancho does what he does best, playing a slimy, greasy, cackling Mexican bandit/general -- here General Tampico Mendoza -- who gets caught up in the killing. Sydney Chaplin and Gianni Rizzo play the two conniving businessmen in town who are up to something, Heidi Fischer playing Rizzo's equally conniving wife. Spaghetti western regular Salvatore Borghese makes a too quick appearance as Moreno, one of Sancho's main henchman.
There is a part of almost all spaghetti westerns that are inherently stupid, but you just go along (well, if you're a fan at least). Unfortunately, 'Pray' has so many of these moments it's hard to take even remotely serious. I liked the movie, but I can appreciate it and all its badness. If you did a drinking game after every time someone maniacally laughs, you'd be drunk in minutes thanks to maniacal laughing coffin maker Dusty (Franco Pesce). Sancho cackles and laughs, eating the same greasy piece of chicken in countless scenes. Berger's Lansky literally crumbles at just the sound of a musical watch. The script is pretty bad in itself -- Sartana's bedroom kinkiness a highlight -- and doesn't offer much of a story. The "story" requires people to connive and worry, Sartana shows up, plans are thrown out and started over. An impressive body count here with some fun action scenes too. It's bad. No doubt about it, but I was entertained throughout.
If You Meet Sartana, Pray for Your Death (1968): ** 1/2 /****