The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Adios, Sabata

Spaghetti westerns had any number of popular characters from Eastwood's Man With No Name to Franco Nero's Django and even Giani Garko's Sartana. Their popularity and success often led to a series of movies that tried to capitalize on the name only. Like 1971's Adios, Sabata which was originally titled Indio Black during filming. But following the big-time success of 1969's Sabata starring Lee Van Cleef, the title got changed, and we get the 2nd movie in the Sabata trilogy.

With Yul Brynner taking over the role of Sabata (Van Cleef was making Magnificent Seven Ride!), this is one of the more eccentric spaghetti westerns with any number of weird little oddities sprinkled throughout the story from director Gianfranco Parolini. Following in the footsteps of the first Sabata, there's lots of acrobatics, characters/stunt men jumping off of hidden trampolines into action. It looks ridiculous, but at the same time it's a lot of fun. Usually, I hate it when people bring up gay subtexts in movies, but this one had it's fair share too, more on that later.

It's 1867 and French emperor Maximilian is still ruling over Mexico. Near the border, one of his officers, Austrian colonel Skimmel (Gerard Herter) is trying to put down the revolution in his district, keeping his keen eye by shooting Mexican prisoners as they attempt to escape his walled fortress. Skimmel is sending a large gold shipment north across the border into the U.S., but the Mexican revolutionaries catch wind of the plan and send a team, led by the portly Escudo (Ignazio Spalla), to attack the convoy and take the shipment. Joining him is gun for hire and soldier of fortune, Sabata (Brynner). But everything with the gold shipment is not what it seems, and there's double-crossings and betrayals at work, not to mention the slippery Ballantine (Dean Reed), a good source of info who's joined up for a crack at the gold.

It's a shame the character was changed to Sabata because Brynner is a cool enough actor/presence to pull off a new western gunfighter. His outfit is a little flamboyant with leather bellbottom pants with fringes, tight shirt cut low with fringes, and a red serape hanging over his shoulder, but otherwise Brynner's Sabata is a worthy addition to the list of supremely cool spaghetti western anti-heroes. Using an odd sawed-off rifle that loads from the side, Sabata must pick off about 50 people alone. His reward? A cigar that's at the end of every cartridge magazine.

As for some other eccentricities, let's start with the cast. Reed's Ballantine is a bit of a foppish westerner with his ruffled shirts and generally out of place wardrode, his painting prowess, his ability to play the piano, and his desire to always write everything down in his journal. Maybe I'm overanalyzing the character, but if there was ever a gay caballero in a western, this is it. The only link to the first Sabata is Spalla, who plays a similar character and gets to ham it up, including one great last line 'Why you son of a....I mean, I never knew your mother.' Escudo's men include Septiembre (Sal Borgese) -- maybe the coolest sidekick to come out of a spaghetti --, a mute who dispatches enemies with tiny metal spheres he flings from his shoetops, and Gitano (Joseph Persaud), a revolutionary who dances the 'flamenco of death' before a showdown. Odd little touches like that with characters is what makes these spaghetti westerns so crazy and so fun to watch.

Thinking of Leone's Dollars trilogy, he took a lot of criticism for the amount and type of violence in his movies, but in reality, there isn't a ton of actual violence. It was always in the build-up and the tension. Not so here with Adios, Sabata racking up an impressive kill count as revolutionaries and henchmen and Austrian and French soldiers are mowed down by the dozen. This western is action-packed with barely five minutes going by without a gunfight of some sort, and good action too thanks to some strong stunt work. Helping things out is composer Bruno Nicolai's musical score which is about as good as any other spaghetti score you'll hear made by someone not named Morricone. Listen to the music in the opening credits in that link, and try not to whistle along.

About as mindless as a spaghetti western can get, Adios, Sabata is near the top of my list when it comes to the genre. It's stupid and ridiculous with more crazy touches than I could even cover here, but that's the fun of it all. Shut the 'ole brain off for 2 hours and watch Yul Brynner throw one-liners left and right and mow down waves of bad guys in the process.

Adios, Sabata <---trailer (1971): ***/****

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